History Shorts: Who Built the White House?

History Shorts: Who Built the White House?


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The house was burned down by British troops in 1814 and only its outer walls remained. It was redesigned and reconstructed by both Latrobe and Hoban between 1815 and 1817. The portico on the south was built in 1824 while the north one was built in 1830. Both porticos were decorated by Italian artisans. Between 1949 and 1951, major renovations were done by President Truman, to reinforce the structure of the house at a cost of $5.7 million. The alterations made the house lose its historic beauty, but in 1961, it went through a major redecoration under First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The historic restoration was mainly inspired by French taste.


History Behind the Conception of White House Design

There is a famous proverb “Rome was not built in a day”. The same thing can be said about the White House. The W hite House has quite a history when it comes to its design. Its architecture story is one of the most interesting ones. When we look back at the history it can be observed that it was rebuilt, renovated, and expanded according to the requirements of the Presidents who lived there.

The history of the White House has seen lots of American presidents who have given their all to like at the nation’s most prestigious address. The White House History is very colorful and its importance increases to another level as we reach the historic date i.e. 4th July , our Independence Day . In the forthcoming sections of this write-up, we look at the history behind the conception of White House Design . We promise after reading this content piece it will be easier for you to comprehend the sparkling ways the White House Design was conceptualized.

Let’s start with the beginning. Like the presidency, the White House has also undergone various changes due to interesting conflicts, controversy, and surprising transformations. The stylish porticoed mansion that we find today was quite distinct from the austere porch-less Georgian-style house which was designed more than 200 years ago. But, the story of the White House design embarks in New York City.

The Humble Beginnings at New York

Source: internalvoices.org

It was during the year 1789 when George Washington was elected as the first President of the United States. By the time 1790 embarked, New York had successfully created a residency for the President and the family. It was popularly known as the Government House. It included an architecture consisting of neoclassical elements like columns, simple grandeur, and pediments. But, the sad part is unfortunately General George Washington did not get a chance to stay there. He wanted to shift the capital to a place which would have real estate as the major attraction.

George Washington commenced his research in Swampland near his Mount Vernon home in Virginia. Finally, it was decided that the capital of the country would be Washington D.C.

Shifting to D.C.

Source: blogspot.com

It was Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French-born artist and engineer who developed the plans for a “President’s Palace”. He was the one who initiated the design of a capital city for the new nation. Did you know? L’Enfant was the one who conceptualized the idea of a massive house of roughly four times the size of the present White House. He wanted to establish it to the U.S. Capitol building through a grand avenue.

It was only after the suggestions from George Washington that James Hoban, an Irish-born architect was selected to submit a plan for the White House. It is important to note that there were in total eight other architects who wanted to get this position but the final call was made to select Hoban. This was the first time that the presidential power of the executive presence was employed.

The White House envisaged by Hoban had a Georgian mansion which was in the Palladian style. It consisted of three floors with more than a hundred rooms. Many reputed historians have the opinion that Hoban’s ideas were loosely based on the design of Leinster House, a big Irish home in Dublin.

The First Steps

Source: ragantraining.com

Hoban’s neoclassical design in Charleston, South Carolina was highly appreciated by the then President, George Washington. On October 13, 1792, the President’s house was established in the new capital. Most of the labor work of the building was done by African-Americans. Some of them were free while the rest were slaves. Although President Washington did oversee the construction he never got a chance to live in the presidential house.

In the year 1800, the White House got almost complete. John Adams, the second President of America and his wife Abigail were the first people to move into the place. The cost of the house was estimated to be $232,372. But, it was much smaller in space in comparison to the grand palace L’Enfant envisioned earlier.

The Presidential Palace had a simple look made up of pale gray sandstone. With the passage of time, most architecture has become more stately. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a British-born White House architect integrated the porticoes on the north and south facades.

History of the Floor Plans

Source: cnn.com

It has been observed that the floor plans for the White House have been inspired by Hoban’s and Latrobe’s designs. Since it was a home with various large rooms, the domestic duties were conducted in the basement. With time there were lots of changes which were made to the building during the Presidential rule of Thomas Jefferson between the years 1801 and 1809. During his presidential rule the East and West wing of the White House were developed.

The White House Met With a Disaster

Source: youtube.com

Only after having an occupancy in the President’s House for 13 years, a disaster occurred. It was during the war of 1812, that invading British armies set it on fire. This way the White House and the partially developed Capitol got destroyed in 1814. Once again James Hoban was given the task to rebuild the White House, albeit with the original design. The only difference was that this time the sandstone walls were coated with lime-based whitewash. The official name of the building was termed as “White House” in the year 1902 thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt.

The next renovation took place in the year 1824. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a designer, and draftsman commenced completing the Capito, the presidential home and other buildings in Washington, D.C.

The President’s Backyard

Source: archives.gov

Latrobe had envisaged to develop the columns. Today, visitors can be seen being greeted at the north facade with stately columns and pedimented portico. While looking closely, you will observe that there is southside with a rounded portico also considered to be the personal “backyard”, Outdoor Areas for the executive. This is the place where the presidents spend quality time by planting rose gardens, vegetable gardens, and construct temporary athletic and play equipment.

Remodeling Work Done on the Presidential Home

Source: washington.org

With time, there have been lots of renovations that have taken place in the Presidential house. It was during the year 1835, that central heating and running water were installed. In the year 1901, the electric lights got integrated.

During President Trumen’s rule, the most controversial remodeling was the addition of the “Truman Balcony”. President Truman came to the realization that there was no access to the outdoors from the second private residence of the chief executive. This is when he suggested building a balcony within the south portico. The balcony got built in the year 1948.

The White House of Today

Source: vanityfair.com

Cut to present, the American President’s home consists of six floors, seven staircases, one hundred and thirty-two rooms, thirty-two bathrooms, twenty-eight fireplaces, four hundred and twelve doors, and three elevators. An amazing part, the lawns had an automatic watering system which was connected with an in-ground sprinkler system.

When you look at it closely it can be observed that the view of the White House is looking south towards the Washington Monument. There is a circular driveway that is connected to the North Portico. This is considered to be the front entrance where the visiting dignitaries are greeted.

Despite the fact that it has been more than two hundred years since the White House was designed it has withstood disasters, discords, and remodelings keeping the original design of James Hobbin intact. For more such interesting trivia visit Architectureideas.


Did enslaved people build the White House?

Enslaved laborers participated in every stage of building construction, from the quarrying and transportation of stone to the construction of the Executive Mansion. They worked alongside European craftsmen, white wage laborers, and other free African-American wage laborers.

Learn more about the construction of the White House here.

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

Stonemason Collen Williamson trained enslaved people on the spot at the government's quarry at Aquia, Virginia. Enslaved people quarried and cut the rough stone that was later dressed and laid by Scottish masons to erect the walls of the President's House. The slaves joined a work force that included local white laborers and artisans from Maryland and Virginia, as well as immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and other European nations.

This May 1795 payroll lists the carpenters who worked on the President’s House. The government did not own slaves, but officials did hire out enslaved laborers from their owners. Slave carpenters Peter, Ben, Daniel, and Harry were noted as owned by James Hoban.


FACT CHECK: Was the White House Built by Slaves?

Home » Fact Check » FACT CHECK: Was the White House Built by Slaves?

  • Claim: Was the White House Built by Slaves?
  • Rating: TRUE
  • Claimed By: SmithSonian
  • Fake News/Rumor Reported on: July 2017

Ancestors Who Built the White House

Pearl Duncan is completing a book,"DNA Inheritance: Sex Secrets, Strong Ancestors, Saucy Spirit, Shared Roots" about DNA and Ancestry.

The election of Barack Obama as President will highlight some of the unsung or lost heroes in American history. The White House Historical Association’s website, describes the work of a well-known architect and builder, James Hoban. Irish-born James Hoban is showcased on the site because he was the architect who designed and built the White House from 1 792 to 1799. He advertised in Philadelphia, appealing to "any gentleman who wishes to build in an elegant style." That was in 1785. Then he lived in Charleston, South Carolina from 1787 to 1793, and continued to market his "Joining and Carpenter’s business."

The site also says, "Hoban’s name has been connected to . . . the historic Charleston County Courthouse and the William Seabrook House."

One of the wealthiest cotton plantation owners in South Carolina, Captain William Seabrook of Edisto Island, hired the architect James Hoban to build the Seabrook Mansion on Edisto Island, between 1808 to 1814, (most historians say 1810). Captain Seabrook also built the Georgian mansion, Oak Island, as a wedding present for his son, William E. Seabrook, Jr. in 1828.

Because James Hoban lived and worked in Charleston, Captain William Seabrook hired out his slaves who were carpenters and masons to Hoban, the architect and builder. He traded the slave carpenters’ and masons’ skills and was paid for their work, and he also traded their labor for Hoban’s architectural designs. Slaves were expensive, so the plantation owners like Seabrook hired out the skilled workers. In that era, African and Caribbean workers built wealth for their owners from cotton, rice, indigo and sugarcane, as these products became king in the world market. But they also built wealth for owners as craftsmen and women.

Captain William Seabrook, wealthiest of the cotton planters, owned 1,500 slaves on Edisto Island in South Carolina. My brother-in-law, a Seabrook, a minister, whose family roots are on Edisto Island, and my nephew, a Seabrook, Jr., a dentist, declined DNA comparisons in 2000 when I uncovered their Edisto Island Colonial slave ancestors in genealogical records. So, I don’t know if they were simply named after Captain Seabrook and his family, or are related. They refused to do the DNA comparisons with white Seabrook descendants, because the raw sting of slavery was still in the psyche. In time, they adjusted to the news that Captain Seabrook, like other planters, hired out the skilled slaves to builders, architects and farmers, and collected their pay. The senior Seabrooks in our family were raised on Edisto Island and still have relatives there.

My sister, a Seabrook wife and mother, and I had no qualms about doing ancestral DNA comparisons. In my own research and DNA comparison, I uncovered dozens of genealogical records, which revealed a noble Scotsman on our direct maternal family tree. A Scottish court, which has been researching noble and royal ancestry since the 13th century, reviewed my records, and granted me a noble family’s coat of arms. Scottish and English lords, our ancestral cousins, now correspond with me from their seats in the House of Lords. The coat of arms I was granted in 2005 is listed online. My parents are still amazed at the people I found on our ancestral family tree.

As the Obama inauguration draws near, one of the things we must remember is that buried in the events of America’s most troubled history, are some of its people’s greatest triumphs. African-American ancestors were deprived as slaves, but African slaves, working alongside other Americans, built America. We are learning to separate the morsels of triumphant history from the eras of struggle. Genealogists are uncovering all kinds of records, people and events that historians missed, or were too myopic to see and tell.

One of the outcomes of the Obama presidential era will be that it will help us look back at earlier eras of American history and take pride in the accomplishments of all Americans, including slaves. We can look at the skillful, positive events and people of the slavery era and take pride in them. Many years ago, I found books, published by local historical societies in Virginia and the Carolinas. The books showed the names of the skilled black carpenters and masons, like the black Seabrooks, who built private mansions and state and federal buildings.

The skilled black carpenters and masons who were our Seabrook ancestors were some of the slaves who worked on Captain William Seabrook's mansions. They were hired out by him to the Irish-born James Hoban, the architect who designed and built the White House. So, in all likelihood, our family’s ancestors helped build the White House.

I found the names of black carpenters and masons in the index of early editions of the historical architectural books, published by local historical societies in Virginia and the Carolina. The publishers placed a "C" next to the names of the carpenters and masons, such as those who were the ancestors of my in-laws and nephew. The "C" stood for "colored." But by the 1990s, the local historical publishers removed the "C" from the names in the revised editions of the books. The accomplishments of these colonial ancestral black carpenters and masons who worked on the White House and on the statehouse in South Carolina were lost to modern political correctness. A footnote would have sufficed it could have indicated that at that time in America, African-Americans were called, colored. Let's not erase negative history by also erasing the good events and people of American history. That is one lesson we can learn from the new presidential era.

The black Seabrooks in our family are descended from colonial carpenters and masons who were slaves. We know that these ancestors helped build the White House, when they were lent by their owner Captain William Seabrook to the Irish architect, James Hoban. We celebrate that history. We celebrate Americans who prevailed.


Slaves at the White House Did More Than Just Build It

F ollowing Michelle Obama’s reminder to Americans that she wakes up every morning in a house built by slaves, the White House Historical Association on Wednesday released an updated explanation of the role of slaves in the history of the residence. And, while recent attention has largely focused on the executive mansion’s construction, the overview highlights another facet of that past: seven U.S. presidents owned slaves during their time in office there.

Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk, and Taylor all owned slaves while living in the White House.

In fact, slaves were lodged at the White House far past its construction. Jefferson was the first to bring his slaves &mdash a dozen of his household servants from Monticello &mdash to 1600 Pennsylvania. After Jefferson, Madison brought slaves from his Virginia estate. The earliest known account of slavery in the White House, Paul Jennings’ A Colored Man’s Reminisces of James Madison, comes from that period. In it, Jennings recounts being moved to Washington, D.C.:

When Mr. Madison was chosen President, we came on and moved into the White House the east room was not finished, and Pennsylvania Avenue was not paved, but was always in an awful condition from either mud or dust. The city was a dreary place.

Following the building’s destruction during the War of 1812, slave labor was also used to rebuild the mansion between 1814 and 1818. (Nor was the White House the only D.C. landmark built by slaves: in 2012, the U.S. Capitol Building unveiled a plaque commemorating the pivotal role of slave labor in its construction.)

In addition to the seven presidents who owned slaves during their terms, four presidents had slaves at other points in their lives: Van Buren, Harrison, Andrew Johnson and Grant. And George Washington owned between 250 and 300 slaves during his presidency, according to the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, though he left office before completion of the White House.


Earliest known photograph of the White House. The image was taken in 1846 by John Plumbe during the administration of James K. Polk. (Library of Congress/John Plumbe)

When First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage during the first night of the Democratic National Convention, she talked about how it felt to be a black woman waking up in the White House every morning—a building constructed with slave labor. It was a powerful moment in her speech, hearkening back to the generations of African-Americans forced into bondage in this country. Up until a few decades ago, little attention was paid to looking into who actually laid the foundations and put up the walls of the White House. But what documentation exists today shows that many of Washington, D.C.’s most iconic government buildings, including the White House, were built by slaves.

In 2005, Congress put together a task force to shed light on the subject. After months of research, the commission announced that while it would never be able to tell the full story of the slaves who built these buildings, there was no doubt that they were intricately involved in the work, Alexander Lane reported for PolitiFact.

“Indifference by earlier historians, poor record keeping, and the silence of the voiceless classes have impeded our ability in the twenty-first century to understand fully the contributions and privations of those who toiled over the seven decades from the first cornerstone laying to the day of emancipation in the District of Columbia,” Senate Historian Richard Baker and Chief of the House of Representatives Office of History and Preservation Kenneth Kato wrote in a foreword to the report.

From a geographical standpoint alone, it should come as no surprise that slave laborers were used to build the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C., was built on landed ceded to the federal government by Virginia and Maryland, and at the time the Potomac region was home to almost half of the country’s 750,000 slaves, Lane reports.

While the White House Historical Association reports that the D.C. commissioners originally tried to bring cheap workers over from Europe to build the new capital, their recruitment efforts fell short. As a result, they forced local slaves to provide the labor, often renting workers from their masters for year-long periods of time.

“Slaves were likely involved in all aspects of construction, including carpentry, masonry, carting, rafting, plastering, glazing and painting, the task force reported,” Lane writes. “And slaves appear to have shouldered alone the grueling work of sawing logs and stones.”

The payroll to slaveowners shows that the government did not own slaves, but that it did hire them from their masters. Slave carpenters Ben, Daniel, and Peter were noted as owned by James Hoban. (National Archives and Records Administration)

In addition to constructing the buildings, slaves also worked the quarries where the stones for the government buildings came from. Ironically, the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the Capitol dome was made with the help of Philip Reid, a man enslaved by sculptor Thomas Crawford, who was commissioned to build the statue. According to the Architect of the Capitol, Reid was paid $1.25 a day by the federal government for his contributions.


The White House Hotel: A short history

The White House Hotel was named after long-time owner Walter A. White, a Mississippi lawyer who moved to the Gulf Coast in 1890 and would later be appointed as a Circuit Court judge.

White purchased the Hotel's main property, originally the site of the successful Gorenflo Oyster Company, in the aftermath of a disastrous 1893 hurricane, which destroyed the oyster packing plant. Salvaging thousands of discarded oyster shells to fill in the enormous lot's swampy lowlands, White created a gently sloping knoll that would anchor his new Victorian residence on high ground while commanding a panoramic view of the Gulf. He also planted the seven live oak trees that continue to shade the property today.

Under the supervision of prominent architect George B. Rogers, who also designed Alabama's famous Bellingrath Gardens house, two large Spanish Colonial annexes were built in 1927 and 1929. These additions, which featured a private tiled bath for every guest room, now form the Center and East Wings of today's structure.

The hotel was sold in 1940 to Mississippi businessman Jimmie Love, Jr. who already owned the Buena Vista Hotel, and would later launch Biloxi's first television station, WLOX-TV.

After failing health forced him to retire, Love sold the White House in 1971, and it passed through a rapid succession of financially-strapped owners. In March of 1988, her doors were nailed shut under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

In 1989, James S. Love, III would borrow $700,000 from the People's Bank to buy the deteriorating old hotel that his father, Jimmie Love, Jr., had sold almost 20 years earlier.


Cora's Boarding House

After completing his new Biloxi waterfront home around 1895, Walter White could finally focus all his attentions on building his young law practice. To help make ends meet, his resourceful wife Cora began taking in boarders, mainly local schoolteachers. As White’s law practice grew, so did the number of tourists who were drawn to the invigorating beauty of Mississippi’s beaches. With visitors vying for the Coast’s few hotel rooms, Cora White saw a new opportunity. and by 1904 she had developed a steady clientele of summer guests. Mrs. White’s boarding business became so successful that she expanded by acquiring the Burke house next door. By 1910, one travel book was touting her establishment, now a row of seven Victorian residences, as “the leading hotel of Biloxi.” A year later, the savvy proprietress joined the first two homes together with a connecting building that became the grand front lobby and dining room, as well as a space for ballroom dancing, for the newly enlarged White House. She also added a generous front porch with classical pillars and a second floor balcony. Live music filled the downstairs rooms, and in July of 1915 the “Daily Herald” reported, “An orchestra of talented musicians from New Orleans has been secured for the White House.” With band members often decked out in summer linen suits, an orchestra played three sets a day for Hotel guests–beginning in the morning and ending after the dinner hour.


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