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Susan Decatur letter

Identifier: GTM-140117

Scope and Contents

Autograph letter signed to Stephen Van Rensselaer. Georgetown [District of Columbia]: 21 February 1828, small 4to, 2 pp.


  • 1828

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Biographical Note

Susan Decatur was born the daughter of Luke Wheeler, who served for a time as mayor of Norfolk, Virginia. In 1826, several years after her husband's death, she began her efforts to obtain the prize money owed her husband for his capture of the "Philadelphia." In time, Susan Decatur became one of Georgetown College's most important benefactors at a time when the college experienced financial trouble. In 1834, she decided to donate $7,000 to the college, and she provided that sum of money in 1837 after being awarded a federal pension. Under the agreement with Georgetown College, Mrs. Decatur received an annuity payment of $644 per year until her death. At the time of her death on July 21, 1860, her claim for the prize money from the "Philadelphia" was still unresolved by Congress. Susan Decatur lived for a time in a house known as Decatur Cottage, which was located on land adjacent to Georgetown College on a site close to what is now the site of the White-Gravenor building. While the land is now part of Georgetown University, in Mrs. Decatur's time it was not on college grounds. The Decatur Cottage was built by William Brook, the father of carpenter Joseph Brook. For a history of Decatur Cottage and a description of its many inhabitants, see the "Georgetown College Journal" (Vol. 5, No. 7, p. 73-4, April 1877; Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 34, December 1877; and Vol. 6, No. 5, p. 52, February 1878). A photograph of Decatur Cottage is preserved in the University Archives photo file. Falling into disrepair by 1877, the house was torn down on November 21 and 22 of that year. Susan Decatur converted to the Catholic faith in 1828. Rev. John Curley, S.J. was her confessor. She was buried in the Old Georgetown College Cemetery located immediately to the northwest of the current White-Gravenor building. Her remains were subsequently moved to Holy Rood Cemetery and subsequent to that to St. Peter's churchyard in Philadelphia, where she rests beside her husband. The records of Holy Rood Cemetery are stored in the Georgetown University Library Special Collections Division.

Sources: Curran, Robert Emmett, S.J. "The Bicentennial History of Georgetown University: From Academy to University, 1789-1889." Volume 1. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1993. "Concise Dictionary of American Biography." New York: Scribner's, 1964. "Decatur House." Eds. Helen Duprey Bullock et al. Washington, DC: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1968. "Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume, 1607-1896." Chicago: Marquis, 1963.


0.01 Linear Feet (1 folder)

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Purchased from Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company, Philadelphia, PA 19137. Courtesy of Morgan Fund.

Susan Decatur letter
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
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