July 01, 2015

Slave Labor in the Capital: Building Washington’s Iconic Federal Landmarks

By Bob Arnebeck’69
The History Press, 2014

Slave Labor in the Capital: Building Washington's Iconic Federal LandmarksBy Bob Arnebeck?69The H... In the late 18th century, the capital of the United States was a major construction site, with the iconic monuments and federal buildings we know today just beginning to take shape. Many of the workers who labored on these national landmarks were slaves.

In the early 1990s, Bob Arnebeck published Through a Fiery Trail: Building Washington 1790-1800, an account of the general history of the city’s founding. But the untold stories of the slave laborers and other workers kept calling him back to the source documents.

Slave Labor in the Capital is the rest of the story. Among the eye-opening facts Arnebeck discloses is that in 1798, half of the 200 workers building the Capitol and the White House were slaves. They quarried stone, felled trees, and formed and laid bricks. Arnebeck’s engaging prose pieces together a picture of the lives of these men, and amplifies the narrative with photos, floor plans, and documents.


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