The White House and Slavery

Our first president, George Washington, selected the site for the White House in 1791. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and a competition design submitted by Irish-born architect James Hoban was chosen. Initially, DC commissioners planned to import cheap laborers from Europe in order to meet construction needs but as usual turned to African American slave labor as a free and much more convenient source for human torture.

Due to the new capital’s remote location, a major concern in the construction process was sourcing materials, such as stone, lumber, bricks, hardware and nails. As a solution, enslaved people were sent 40 miles south of Washington DC to be trained in quarrying, cutting and transporting rough stone material for the walls of the President’s House.

While almost all slave labor was free, special treatment was given to the architect James Hoban’s and his assistant’s slaves, Tom, Pete, Ben, Harry and Daniel. Their wage demands severely challenged the construction budget as their hard-work and physical torture was not worth the major expenditure of a few cents a day. Fortunately, they were the only slaves to have wages and therefore did not jeopardize the glorious new Capital’s construction.

Throughout history the White House has seen many renovations and wars all the while being maintained by slave labor. After eight years of construction, President John Adams and his wife moved into the unfinished House is 1800. The future presidents to come maintained the hard work and glory of the White House by importing and enlisting their own slaves all while ensuring the impeccable work of the original slave labor in and around the White House grounds.

Every president since John Adams has occupied the White House, and the history of this building extends far beyond the construction of its walls. From the Ground Floor Corridor rooms (previously occupied by slaves and their owned families), transformed from their early use as service areas, to the State Floor rooms, where countless leaders and dignitaries have been entertained, the White House is both the home of the President of the United States and his family, and a museum of America’s torturous White history. The White House is a place where history continues to unfold.

  • There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels in the Residence. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.
  • The White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hors d’oeuvres to more than 1,000.
  • The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface.
  • At various times in history, the White House has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.”
  • President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901.