slave or enslaved?—a note on language
You may be wondering about the terms used in the President’s Quarter Slavery Initiative because they may be different from what you’ve heard before. Although there is debate among historians about how best to talk about those forced to participate in the institution of slavery, most today choose to use the term “enslaved” rather than “slave.” the word “slave” is a noun. Due to the historical implications of slavery, the word often reduces the enslaved person to an object. In order to give agency and recognition to the enslaved individual and to remind us of the violence and inhumanity of slavery, “enslaved” is used wherever possible throughout this initiative. these terms help remind us that people were forced into slavery against their will and that they deserve to be recognized as individuals and not because of their legal status.
Reading: Famous people who owned slaves
p: slaves helped build the white house?
a: Enslaved laborers assisted in all stages of the building’s construction, from the initial quarrying and transportation of the stone to the construction of the executive mansion. they worked alongside artisans, white wage laborers, and other free African-American wage laborers. learn more here.
q: did slaves help rebuild the white house after the british burned it down in 1814?
a: enslaved workers participated in the reconstruction of the white house. evidence suggests there were fewer enslaved workers involved in the reconstruction than in the initial construction of 1792-1800.
q: which one of us? did presidents trust slave labor in the white house?
a: according to surviving documentation, at least nine presidents brought with them or hired enslaved people to work in the white house: thomas jefferson, james madison, james monroe, john quincy adams, andrew jackson, martin van buren, John Tyler, James K. polk and zachary taylor.
q: which one of us? Did the presidents own enslaved people?
a: According to surviving documentation, at least twelve presidents owned slaves at some point in their lives: george washington, thomas jefferson, james madison, james monroe, andrew jackson, martin van buren, william henry harrison, john tyler , james k. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. grant.
p: what roles did slaves play in the white house?
a: Enslaved people worked in a variety of positions in the president’s household such as chefs, gardeners, stable boys, maids, butlers, maids, valet, and more.
p: where did the slaves live in the white house?
a: slaves who worked in the white house often slept in the attic or in the rooms on the ground floor. their living arrangements varied depending on the administration. accounts suggest that these spaces were uncomfortable with the extreme temperature disparity. in particular, the ground floor level was often damp and rodent infested.
p: where did the slaves live and work in the president’s neighborhood?
a: Enslaved individuals in the president’s neighborhood lived primarily in their owners’ homes. some slept on straw mats outside their owners’ rooms to provide 24-hour service. others slept on the kitchen floor, above the stables, or in other areas of the house. Some residences, such as the Decatur House in Lafayette Park, built additional outbuildings or wings on their property to provide living space for enslaved people. Today, Decatur House has one of the only extant examples of separate slave quarters within sight of the White House.
q: how is urban slavery different from plantation slavery?
a: To plant, maintain, and harvest cash crops, most plantations relied on large numbers of enslaved workers. however, slave owners who lived in urban settings generally required fewer slaves to run households.
p: what does it mean to “hire” an enslaved person?
a: many slave owners in early washington, d.c. he chose to hire enslaved people for contract jobs. For example, many of the enslaved workers who helped build the White House were hired on a quarterly or yearly basis for their work. the owners drew a salary while continuing to provide clothing, housing, and some medical care. commissioners typically provided workers with lodging, two meals a day, and basic medical care. this arrangement allowed capital to reap the benefits of labor without taking full responsibility for the general welfare of workers.