Construction on the President's House began in 1792 in Washington, D.C., a new capital situated in sparsely settled region far from a major population center. The decision to place the capital on land ceded by two slave states-Virginia and Maryland-ultimately influenced the acquisition of laborers to construct its public buildings. The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the president, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs. However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African Americans - slave and free - to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.

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A slave coffle passing the Capitol grounds. Library of Congress

A slave coffle passing the Capitol grounds, 1815 published in A Popular History of the United States, 1876. Library of Congress