Sunday, November 23, 2014

History Press has just published my new book Slave Labor in the Capital which describes the use of slave labor to build the Capitol and White House during the most difficult phase of construction from 1792 to 1800. This is not only a book about Washington history since many of the hired slaves came from as far away as St. Mary's County, Maryland. It also examines the growth of the work force, both slave and free, at the Aquia Creek quarries in Virginia. The book is not only focused on hired slaves. The policy of slave hired was designed to "cool" the demands of free workers. Led by James Hoban, Irish workers especially worked well with the slaves, and, in my opinion, Hoban engineered a policy that meant some wages went directly to hired slaves and not their masters.

When I left Washington in 1994, I made the fateful decision to take all the research materials I accumulated while writing my 1991 book, Through a Fiery Trial, which is a general history of the city's early development. Over the years I have mined several boxes of photocopies, especially letters to and from the commissioners and about 100 payrolls and receipts that I photocopied at the National Archives. I put the fruits of that research on the web. Now, the web can accommodate the documents themselves and since the National Archives seems loath to web publish what they have, I will slowly put images of all the documents I used for Slave Labor in the Capital on the web and links to the relevant correspondence of Washington, Jefferson and other "Founders" that are already there.  Of course sharing the documents and payrolls invites different interpretations of them but I welcome that. You can see the beginnings of that blog, and also info on where to order the book, at Slave Labor in the Capital

I hope the new blog doesn't make reading the book seem like hard work. I try to tell a story and try to put the readers in the shoes of hired slaves, their masters, their bosses, free workers, and the Founding Fathers. I'll forewarn you. The latter don't come off with the usual shine they get in history books. Like all History Press books, there are many illustrations including one of a worker's shoe.