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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.

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.

Hoban's Workshop

Hoban and Pierce Purcell set up a joint residence and workshop in Charleston at 43 Trott Street (now the eastern part of Wentworth Street). The business must have prospered, as they advertised on February 15, 1792, in the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser for carpenters who could finish work in an elegant style, "agreeably to drawing and directions given to them." Hoban also trained apprentices and slaves and established an "evening school" to instruct young artisans, one of whom may have been a pre-teen Robert Mills, later Hoban's apprentice and the future architect of the Washington Monument. Hoban also trained slaves for his building crew; in 1789, he placed an ad seeking a runaway slave carpenter named Peter, described as five feet seven or eight and well dressed in a brown coat, corduroy breeches, and a "three cocked hat."

Map of Charleston, South Carolina, for the Phoenix Fire-Company of London, 1790.

Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress