After years of protests and debate the President’s House, home of the first two presidents of the United States and nine slaves, opened Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Independence Mall.
The new outdoor exhibit “President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation,” will help to tell the full story of American history.
The site, like American history itself, tells a compelling and conflicting story.
There is the story of liberty and the nation’s Founding Fathers.
The site commemorates the location of the home and executive mansions of American’s first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800.
There is the story of slavery.
At least nine of Washington’s slaves also lived at the President’s House. Their names were: Moll, Oney Judge, Austin, Hercules, Paris, Giles, Richmond, Joe Richardson and Christopher Sheels.
While historians are still researching information on the nine slaves, the most is known about 17-year-old Oney Judge, Martha Washington’s personal assistant, who escaped from the President’s House in 1796 after learning she was to be given as a wedding gift to the first lady’s granddaughter.
Another slave named Hercules also escaped after being returned to Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. He was removed from the President’s House to avoid gaining his freedom under a law that ordered the release of enslaved Africans who lived in Pennsylvania for more than six months.
Some will find the story disturbing and may prefer that it remained untold or sanitized.
But the truth is that while the Founding Fathers were declaring that “all Men are created equal,” at Independence Hall, just steps away, Blacks were held in bondage.
The site is also adjacent to the Liberty Bell, a powerful symbol of freedom.
“This is where the dialogue begins,” said Mayor Michael Nutter to the crowd who attended the ceremony. “This is where the conversation of this contradiction must start.”
“You really can’t talk about the making of this nation without talking about slavery. This is an incredible opportunity to tell that story,” said Nutter, who as the city’s third African-American mayor is — like President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president — a symbol of the progress that the nation has made.
“We will struggle with this issue and this site shows the contradiction inherent in the birth of our nation, in the same house you had freedom and slavery.”
The President’s House exhibit tells a powerful, painful but necessary story.