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When James Hoban set sail for America, and where he landed, are not certain. By 1785, Hoban was advertising his services in a Philadelphia newspaper: "Any gentleman who wishes to build in an elegant style, may hear of a person properly calculated for that purpose who can execute the Joining and Carpenter's business in the modern taste. James Hoban." Two years later, Hoban was in Charleston, South Carolina, with his brothers Philip and Joseph; he lived there for at least six more years.

Charleston, S.C. in 1780, published c. 1850 by G.P. Putnam, New York. The Charleston Customs House, or Exchange, was at the center of the port's bustling export-import trade in rice, indigo, and slaves.

South Carolina Historical Society

Charleston's County Courthouse, c. 1880. Laurens and Burke recommended Hoban to President George Washington. The recommendation probably included Hoban's supervision of the reconfiguration of the state house for use as a courthouse.

Courtesy South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

We know little of Hoban's life in South Carolina except that he formed a partnership with carpenter Pierce Purcell and became well known among the gentry for his ability as an architect and builder. He was a founding vestryman in 1791 of Saint Mary's Church, the first Catholic church established in the Carolinas. Among Hoban's references were some of the most prominent citizens of Charleston: Henry Laurens, a close friend of President George Washington; fellow Irishman Aedanus Burke; and American Revolutionary War General William Moultrie.

Hoban's name has been connected to public buildings and plantation houses in the Charleston area, most notably the historic Charleston County Courthouse and the William Seabrook house. A notable building in Charleston actually documented as a Hoban design was a 1200-seat theater on Savage's Green that no longer survives, though part of its foundations may still be observed at the junction of Broad and New streets.

A scene from Shakespeare's As You Like It performed at the Charleston Theatre in 1795. Watercolor by Charles Fraser.

South Carolina Historical Society

William Seabrook house (completed in 1810) as it appeared in the 1956 Southern Interiors of Charleston, South Carolina.

Dover Publications

William Seabrook house (completed in 1810) as it appeared in the 1956 Southern Interiors of Charleston, South Carolina. The divided stair was strikingly similar to Hoban's design for the main stair at the White House.

Dover Publications

City Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Charleston). January 17, 1789

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