How to buy the book

You can order at History Press as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other on-line retailers. I will send you a signed copy for $23, a little extra to cover shipping. I will send you both Slave Labor in the Capital and Through a Fiery Trial for $40. Send a check to me at PO Box 63, Wellesley Island, NY 13640-0063.

My lectures at Sotterley Plantation in St. Mary's County, Maryland, on September 23, 2015, and the DAR Library on December 5 are now blog posts below listed under book talks. The talk I gave
at the Politics and Prose Bookstore on February 28, 2015, along with Heather Butts, author African American Medicine in Washington, was taped by the bookstore. Take a listen.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Did slave bricklayers observe the dispute between Farrell and Hadfield?

We know from plantation records that slaves were bricklayers and it is tempting to assume that slave bricklayers helped build the Capitol and White House. Although both buildings were faced with stone, the inside of the exterior walls and the interior walls were made with bricks. The payrolls I saw in the National Archives showing who was paid for laying bricks only listed free white workers. However, some of the bricklaying was done by contractors and we can't positively say that they didn't hired slaves. However, I found no evidence that they did. 

Feuds between workers and their supervisors sometimes entered the commissioners' records. Thanks to the Englishman George Hadfield's dislike of the Irishman Patrick Farrell, who supervised the bricklayers at the Capitol, we have two long letter from Farrell to the commissioners describing how Hadfield insulted him in the presence of the bricklayers and undermined his authority.

In a May 1797 letter he wrote: "Mr. Hadfield told me in presence of the Bricklayers and I adjusting their work that if I had less Activity I should be better liked..." and "his insults and affronts on me have caused the men to take liberty that is hurtful to the building."

Clearly Farrell was not referring to hired slaves who would have no liberty at all, much less liberty to offend their supervisor.

Here is the letter transcribed followed by an image of it.

Washington City, May 26, 1797

Gentlemen, from my first Commencement in Business until my Conducting and Superintending the Brick and Rough stone work of the Capitol, being recommended by Capt. Hoban who had a Knowledge of my ability, always made it a Rule to act perfectly conformable to my Employer in a most Just and honest manner. But by which reasons I have incurred the displeasure and indignation of Mr. Hadfield, I solemnly declare I know not. Notwithstanding have experienced from him repeatedly the most insulting and ----- language and abuse in the presence of the tradesmen that could be given to any man of the least decency - declared in particular that he would break all the bones in my skin, without giving him the least provocation. Mr. Hadfield told me in presence of the Bricklayers and I adjusting their work that if I had less Activity I should be better liked and that my activity was well noticed he likewise said some time that I was kept on employment for mere charity. However his conduct and --- on the whole I pray may be discussed by the Honl Board and by the Principal tradesmen of the building that can inform ye of my conduct and behavior since my commencement. His insults and affronts on me have caused the men to take liberty that is hurtful to the building. Making it my constant study to act for the publick good and pleasing to your Honrs to whom I prefer the whole to be regulated and adjusted as ye shall judge most consistent. As Mr. Hadfield has publickly declared I shall be discharged from this employment, these matters only could induce me to trouble you Hope for your candid decision as soon as you shall think convenient which will be most gratefully acknowledged by your....

Patrick Farrell

 p.s. Mr. Hadfield never detected me in on error, tho he well knows there has been a great many, but his delicacy forbids him to tell who was guilty of them - I am despised by the architects and reprobated by the two employers for doing my duty. But now expect to have a free trade

Farrell also wrote a January 1798 letter to the commissioners which again suggests that there were no slave bricklayers:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

1799 description of rooms in the public buildings including apartments for servants

I'm not sure who wrote this December 14, 1799, description of the public buildings that gives the number and dimensions of most rooms inside them. It reminds us that these were not simple buildings easily constructed. Unfortunately, there is no description or characterization of the men who built them nor mention of the architects. Twice the writer points out that in the basements of the buildings their are apartments for servants.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tunnicliff's diary.

The Englishman William Tunnicliff and his wife managed a hotel for the Philadelphia speculator John Nicholson. They hoped to make their establishment on 6th near Pennsylvania Ave SE the center of Capitol Hill life. Tunnicliff's ambitious plans were premised on a steady flow of cash and credit from Nicholson. Like Lewis Deblois, William Prentiss and William Lovering, Tunnicliff wrote frequently to Nicholson begging for money, usually in vain.

Tunnicliff had the brilliant idea to send Nicholson what he called portions of his diary that noted every instance of his lacking money to carry on his and Nicholson's business. In these diary entries that are in Nicholson's papers, I did not find the word "slave" or "black." That is not surprising. White people in the 1790s rarely wrote about slaves and blacks in general or as a part of the community.

In 1797 upwards of 90 hired slaves worked on the Capitol and White House. Most of them lived in a log hut camp on Capitol Hill. But they were not a part of Tunnicliff's world. Judging from his diary, he owned two slaves. The diary mentions "our boy Sandy" ordered about by his wife, and "my man Tom."

As the diary shows Tunnicliff was overseeing construction which entailed hiring laborers. Since he paid those men directly for their day's work, they were not slaves. There is no mention of their having masters. Only commissioners had the financial resources to hire a large number of slaves. Nicholson did not give Tunnicliff enough money to finance his operations let alone allow him to hire slaves. As the diary shows, providing bread to workers substituted for actually paying them.

The preferred way to always have someone around who would do the menial tasks that always popped up in a rather inconvenient city was to buy a slave who would do the work and who could be sold when, as I assumed happened in Tunnicliff's case, his Washington dreams ended and he moved north.

In time slave hire in the city would become more sophisticated. Some slaves would hired themselves out. But in 1797 whites like Tunnicliff, Deblois and Lovering who tried to establish themselves in the city bought slaves as servants and to do odd jobs.

(You can find larger images of the letters at the end of the post.)