Did you know that slaves built the White House, Capitol, and other government buildings in DC?
President George Washington, the first president of the USA, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs. President Washington and the administration turned to African Americans—enslaved and free, but primarily enslaved to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings. Most of these enslaved laborers were hired out from slave owners from southern Maryland, northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. on a contract basis. Over 200 known enslaved individuals labored to build the White House and the Capitol Building, and over 100 other known enslaved people worked in presidential households. Enslaved individuals worked in a variety of positions in the president’s household, including as chefs, gardeners, stable hands, maids, butlers, lady’s maids, valets, and more. Enslaved individuals working in the White House often slept in the attic or in the rooms along the Ground Floor Corridor. Their living arrangements varied by administration. Accounts suggest these spaces were uncomfortable with extreme temperature disparity. In particular, the Ground Floor level was often damp and rodent infested. The commissioners typically provided workers with housing, two meals per day, and basic medical care.