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Source: The Daily Pennsylvanian
Date: May 31, 2007
Byline: Alissa Eisenberg

A clear view into Phila.'s past — scholars study first White House

President's House sparks controversy with Washington's slavery connection

While Ben Franklin still is Philadelphia's most beloved founding father, excavators in Center City are uncovering some ground-breaking information about a few other patriotic men.

The archeological dig at the President's House on 6th and Market streets in Center City that began on March 21 has yielded in recent weeks various artifacts that may give historians unprecedented information about this location.

Artifacts include clay pipe bowls that date a few years after President John Adams moved out in 1800.

"This is a rare opportunity for our community and students to discover history first-hand," said Mayor John Street in a press release for the commencement of the dig in March.

Both George Washington and Adams resided in the historic house, in which many important early American laws — such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 — were signed.

Funded by the city of Philadelphia and directed by National Park Serve Archeologist Jed Levin, the dig has revealed information about the layout of the house that was not recorded in historical documents.

Most of the house was demolished by 1832, but excavators have uncovered the foundation for Washington's bow window, a basement and an underground passageway that lead from the kitchen to the main house.

"There's a lot of interpretation for these" discoveries, said National Park spokeswoman Jane Cowley. "For example, one interpretation is that the underground passageway shows that [Washington] tried to keep slaves out of sight."

Edward Lawler, a scholar on the President's house, who has written about the site for the past 10 years, said, "The archeology is not just about presidents but also the enslavement of people ... you can see at the site the passageway which is about 5 feet wide and can picture slaves and servants delivering food but keeping out of sight."

According Independence Hall Association, at least nine African slaves lived in the president's quarters from 1790 to 1800, and many Philadelphians have expressed concern that slavery and liberty were ideas that existed together under the same roof.

"Slavery in Pennsylvania was abolished in 1780, and was the first government in the Western hemisphere to first abolish slavery," Lawler said. "But it was a gradual abolition and only future children of Pennsylvania slaves were freed. ... Slavery didn't legally end here until 1847, 14 years before the Civil War."

A commemoration project is planned to honor both the presidents and slaves at the site once the digging is complete.

Cowley said, "We're digging longer than expected and finding more than we expected to, so given the current findings the design of the commemoration is still in the preliminary" stages.

A viewing platform is set up for the public at the excavation site until July 4 and one can view the dig live on an Internet webcam on ushistory.org.

"Most people don't get to encounter archeology face to face," said Cowley. "But now they can."

 

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