The Octagon House

When one thinks of an octagon, one usually thinks of the typical shape of a stop sign. This is not the shape you see when you visit the Octagon House in Washington, DC.  I have mentioned the Octagon House in a previous post since President Madison lived there after the burning of the White House, but what more do we know about this oddly shaped home? And who is the man who built this unique house?

Colonel John Tayloe III was born in 1771, the only son of 12 children. His great grandfather was a member of the House of Burgess in 1710. His grandfather was a member of the King's Council in Virginia and owned over 3,000 acres of land.  His father was also a member of the council and built Mount Airy, the family plantation, in 1758.  

John Tayloe III went to school at Eton and Cambridge in England.  He was a devote patriot, having learned from his father and when he returned to America, he vowed to join in the cause. When is father died, he inherited not only the plantation, but several other plantations, a pig iron, and a shipyard where ships were built. His estate grew through his careful management.  Mount Airy, the family home was also enlarged and drew many visitors.  This is when he became close friends with George Washington.

At the age of 21, he married Anne Ogle who was the daughter of Governor Ogle of Maryland. He and his wife had 15 children. His eldest son joined the navy and had distinguished service in the battles of the Constitution. John Tayloe was a close friend of George Washington. It was Washington who convinced John to build a winter home in Washington, DC. At the time he built the house, he was also the owner of the Willard Hotel. The Octagon House was built in 1799.

He served the country as a captain of the Dragoons where he was sent to Western Pennsylvania to halt a whiskey rebellion. President John Adams made him a Major of Dragoons but he did not want to accept because he was already serving in the Virginia Senate. He did not want to leave this position because he felt this position was much more valuable and important than a military one. When the War of 1812 broke out, he was made the commander of the cavalry of the District of Columbia. He actually saw active duty during this time.

Many say the Octagon House is haunted. Two of Colonel Tayloe's daughters died in the house.  One daughter argued with her father about the British officer she was dating and fell down the stairs. She is said to be haunting the second floor.  Another daughter eloped and came home to speak with her father.  They too argued and she fell over the third floor railing. She is believed to be haunting the third floor. The rear of the house, behind a brick wall, was said to be a slave auction. Many African Americans are said to be haunting the house. The Octagon House is considered the most haunted home in all of Washington, DC.

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