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Upon Whose Backs Were the Capitol and the White House Built?

  • Broadcast in Culture
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From 1790-1863 half the workforce that built the White House and the Capitol were enslaved people. In May of 2005 a bipartisan task force was created to recognize the work done by enslaved men in the nation's capital due to an investigative story in 2000 by WRC-TV reporter Ed Hotaling. He found US Treasurypromissory notes to those who hired enslaved workers. Headlines in the London Independent read "White House and Capitol built by $5-a-month slaves”. “Temples of Freedom Founded on Slavery", said the Times of London. 

When planning for the Capitol began, slave labor was not discussed. The government, architects and contractors sought white skilled craftsmen and laborers from Virginia and Maryland. One of the commissioners in charge of the construction was Thomas Jefferson and it was he who made the decision to use the least costly labor. In other words those enslaved. Approximately half of all those enslaved in the United States at the time lived in Virginia and Maryland and were hired out at much lower rates than free labor would have cost. The commission initially authorized the use of up to 100 slaves a year for the two largest projects in the District. 

In September 1794 George Washington appointed Dr. William Thornton as a commissioner for the Federal district. Thornton,an amateur architect, was also a slave-owning Quaker who helped establish the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color. 

Coutesy of: www.figah.us/Who_Built_the_WhiteHouse.html