Roll for the President's House." Wage rolls for May 1795
list five slaves Tom, Peter, Ben, Harry and Daniel, three
of whom were slaves owned by White House architect James
Construction on the Presidents House began in 1792
in Washington, D.C., a new capital situated in sparsely
settled region far from a major population center. The
decision to place the capital on land ceded by two slave
statesVirginia and Marylandultimately influenced
the acquisition of laborers to construct its public buildings.
The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building
the new city under the direction of the president, initially
planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor
needs. However, response to recruitment was dismal and
soon they turned to African Americans slave and
free to provide the bulk of labor that built the
White House, the United States Capitol, and other early
concern in the construction of the new public buildings
in this remote location was the acquisition of building
materials, such as stone, lumber, bricks, hardware,
and nails. Black quarrymen, sawyers, brickmakers, and
carpenters fashioned raw materials into the products
used to erect the White House. Master stonemason, Collen
Williamson, trained slaves on the spot at the governments
quarry at Aquia, Virginia. There slaves quarried and
cut the rough stone that was later dressed and laid
by Scottish stonecutters to erect the walls of the Presidents
House. Sawyers listed on government payrolls, such as
"Jerry", "Jess", "Charles",
"Len", "Dick", "Bill"
and "Jim" undoubtedly were slaves leased from
their masters. Free and slave blacks burnt bricks used
to line the stone walls in temporary ricks on the Presidents
House grounds. Often working seven days a week during
the high construction summer months alongside white
workers and artisans, black laborers proved vital to
the work force that created both the White House and
Read more: William Seale, The Presidents House,
White House Historical Association, 1986; Robert J.
Kapsch, "Building Libertys Capital,"
American Visions, February/March 1995, 8-10.