Hired out by their owners to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, slaves helped construct both the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
Constructing the new city required a great deal of labor. White laborers were in somewhat short supply, but enslaved Africans were relatively abundant. They served as bricklayers, quarry workers, sawyers, and more. The capital could not have been built without them.
The Capitol’s dome was adorned with the Statue of Freedom on December 2, 1863. Philip Reid, while enslaved, had devised the means by which the statue’s plaster mold could be cast in bronze. Reid gained his freedom through the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of April 1862.
Image: Voucher for a slave who worked on the White House, paid to James Claggett, the slave’s owner, 1794. National Archives, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury
Learn more about the history of enslaved people in the United States: http://recordsofrights.org