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The President's House in Philadelphia

Problems with the Consensus Document

This report integrates three generations of discussions. First is a May 19, 2005 document submitted to INHP by the Ad Hoc Historians listing seven problems with the Consensus Document. Second, is INHP's July 12, 2005 response. Third, is Ed Lawler's July 15, 2005 rebuttal.

1. It exaggerates the doubt over the unidentified buildings shown on the 1785 Burnt House Plan between the kitchen and stables as having been the smokehouse and its proposed extension beyond what was expressed by members of the Roundtable on November 18, 2003, and beyond what the documentary evidence indicates.

2. It is internally inconsistent about where the stableworkers were to be housed, and proposes a solution that is contrary to the documentary evidence.

INHP Comment:

Items 1 and 2 center on the manner in which the text of the consensus document lays out the possible interpretations of evidence. While we all wish we could state our conclusions with more certainty, we would incur rightful criticism if we ignored potential alternative interpretations of the evidence. In this document, we strive to present an objective view of the evidence and acknowledge ambiguity. Ultimately, we will have a more nuanced interpretation at the site if we distinguish between what we know with certainty and what we can infer.

Lawler Comment:

Washington's secretary, Tobias Lear, oversaw the alterations to the house in October and November 1790. In a September 5 letter, GW stated: "There is a room over the Stable (without a fireplace, but by means of a Stove) may serve the Coachman & Postillions; — and there is a smoke House, which possibly may be more useful to me for the accommodation of Servants, than for the Smoking of Meat."

Lear corrected GW in an October 17 letter: "In the letter which you did me the honor to write from this place, you mentioned a room over the Stable or Coach-house which could accommodate the servants belonging to the Stables. But I find, upon examination, that there is no room for that purpose; neither do I see that one could be made there with any convenience. The whole is used as a Hay loft and Mr Morris' Coach-man has a bed in one corner where he sleeps; but neither a candle or fire could be carried there with any safety. The coach-man tells me that he is never suffered to carry a light into the loft[.] But I believe it would not be safe to trust your people under these circumstances, as they would be more apt to study their own convenience than the safety of the buildings; and they may be conveniently lodged in the smoke house." In context, it is clear that "your people" refers to GW's enslaved stableworkers. In a November 7 letter, GW agreed with Lear's proposal to house stableworkers in the smokehouse.

Coxey Toogood made these points in a February 26, 2004 e-mail, and I strongly agreed with her. Despite the unanimity of the two of us and Lear's explicit certainty, the Final Consensus Document proposes: "There is also the possibility that the stable workers slept in the second floor of the stable and coach house."

Whether the 10-foot square shown on the 1785 Burnt House Plan attached to the south wall of the Wash House was the smokehouse or not requires a bit of inference. It is not labeled, although it is the most logical place for one — close to the kitchen, but in a location where smoke will not blow into the house or the stables. In an October 30 letter, Lear proposed: "Smoke-house will be extended to the end of the stable, and two good rooms made in it for the accommodation of the Stable People."

By this Lear establishes that the smokehouse was located one-room's distance from the stables. From the 1785 Burnt House Plan we can see that the smokehouse cannot have been located east of the stables (because of the Coach House) or south of the stables (because of Minor Street). The November 2000 discovery of the Ice House pit beside the stables site means the smokehouse cannot have been located to the west. What is left is the north. And the 1785 Burnt House Plan shows the distance between the stables and the unlabeled 10-foot square as 11-feet 4-inches, delineated by three solid lines and a dotted one (probably an open shed).

Dennis Pogue of Mount Vernon led the discussion of this space at the November 18, 2003 Roundtable. While he stated that we must "infer" that the 10-foot square was the smokehouse, he expressed no more doubt that this had been the smokehouse than he did that the square attached to the Coach House had been the Cow house. No one contradicted him in that part of the meeting or raised other opinions at that time.

The "doubt" didn't appear until the subsequent e-mail exchange.

3. In December 2004, INHP committed to marking the unidentified buildings shown on the 1785 Burnt House Plan between the kitchen and stables, and to unambiguously labeling them "Smokehouse/Slave Quarters." In sentences such as the following, the Consensus Document minimizes the cultural importance of this space: "One reason for the intense interest in precisely locating this space is that for a period during Washington's occupancy it may have housed some of his slaves and servants."

INHP Comment:

Item 3. This comment refers to an event that occurred after the February 2004 publication of the consensus document. The consensus document has a section on "Slave Quarters." The last paragraph of that section states, "Because of the highly complex web of personal and social identities as well as the shifting nature of the occupants in the President's house, the roundtable suggests using the term ‘servant/slave spaces' to describe the actual circumstances of the residents." This discussion continued. In the report of the October 30, 2004 forum, page 3, note 2 states, "On Monday, November 1, Ed Lawler provided a similar tour to Superintendent Mary Bomar, Dennis Reidenbach, Steve Sitarski, Doris Fanelli and Patricia Schaffenberg. Mr. Lawler and the Superintendent agreed to place a sign on the brick pier at the site of the smoke house. We agreed to the wording ‘Smoke House/Washington designated that his stable workers, some of whom were enslaved Africans, be housed here.' Subsequently, at the wrap-up meeting on November 22, and at a smaller meeting on December 9, 2004 [the latter meeting included Ed Lawler, Michael Coard, Mary Bomar, Dennis Reidenbach and Doris Fanelli], we agreed to give the location the label, ‘Slave Quarters' [note the absence of the limiting article] indicating that it was one site, but not the only site on the property where enslaved Africans were housed."

The evolution of the decision on the marking and titling of this space is already appropriately documented in two public documents. We see no need to record post hoc actions into the Consensus document. The specific sentence that Ed objects to, "One reason for the intense interest in precisely locating this space is that for a period during Washington's occupancy it may have housed some of his slaves and servants" does not "minimize the cultural importance of this [smokehouse] space." It is a transitional sentence that introduces Washington's practice of bringing his slaves to Philadelphia.

Lawler Comment:

My understanding was that the whole point of giving the City these documents was to provide them with the best historical evidence. To me, that means current information. The Consensus Document is clearly outdated, and will be of limited usefulness to the City. In fact, sections such as this that have been superceded or are in need of correction will just create unnecessary confusion.

The wrap-up meeting was December 1, 2004, and the smaller meeting was December 8, 2004.

I was not able to make the December 1 meeting, and neither was Michael Coard. But we both heard reports, and of the agreement to call the unlabeled 10-foot square "Slave Quarters" [no limiting article]. At the smaller meeting, Superintendent Mary Bomar was unaware of the previous week's agreement to call this "Slave Quarters," and was still under the impression that the agreement from the November 1 walk-thru was in place — i.e. to call it "Smokehouse."

I proposed that the two terms be merged into "Smokehouse/Slave Quarters," and INHP agreed that these buildings would be labeled that way consistently, and that they would be outlined in the paving exactly as they are shown on the Burnt House Plan.

What I object to most is the degree of doubt created by "may have housed," and the minimizing effect of "for a period." With the discovery of the ninth enslaved African, Joe Richardson, having been a stableworker, there is the strong possibility that enslaved Africans worked in the President's House stables for most of GW's time in Philadelphia.

4. The housing assignments in the Washington-Lear correspondence make it clear that black and white servants were to be housed separately. This deliberate intention to segregate by race is obscured in the Consensus Document by sentences such as: "At least some of the black men seem to have been housed separately from the white men."

INHP Comment:

Ed objects to the sentence, "At least some of the black men seem to have been housed separately from the white men" which appears in paragraph 2 of the section "Slave Quarters" on page 5 of the Consensus document. While this sentence is removed from its context, we fail to see that it obscures the "deliberate intention to segregate by race." Because we do not have a complete record of household composition, we cannot say with assurance that the Washingtons always segregated the sleeping arrangements of their staff. We know, for instance that Molly and Oney slept in their owners' rooms. In the previous section of the report, "What We Can/Can't Know," on page 4, paragraph 3, we quote verbatim from Tobias Lear, "The four [divided] Garrets (each of which will conveniently hold 3 beds if necessary) will then furnish lodgings for the women Servants — the white men Servants — the Black Servants — and for Mrs. Lear's maid." Lear is clear that, in this instance, these groups were racially segregated.

Lawler Comment:

We have the servant housing assignments that GW and Lear discussed in the fall of 1790. And they are clear that the black men in the garret are to be housed separate from the white men — i.e. segregated. If there is evidence that GW changed his mind and the servant housing was later racially integrated, I am unaware of it.

To use the example of Oney Judge and Moll in the Consensus Document to demonstrate that the sleeping arrangements were not always segregated is offensive even to me, a white guy. An INHP official at the Deshler-Morris House told me that Oney probably slept on the floor at the foot of the Washington's bed. Is that INHP's definition of integration? Do you have any idea of the firestorm of righteous outrage that is coming if INHP tries to play games with the public on racial issues such as this?

5. The Consensus Document's proposal to use the term "servant/slave spaces" has been superceded by INHP's December 2004 commitment to using the term "Smokehouse/ Slave Quarters."

INHP Comment:

We agree that the consensus document's use of the term "servant/slave spaces" has been superseded by other terminology. Please see our response to item 3 above. This isn't troublesome since the new terms we have agreed upon are stated in the subsequent forum report. As stated in the cover letter, we don't see the consensus document as the final word on the subject of the President's House.

Lawler Comment:

Why is the Consensus Document not to be the final word on the President's House? Are the City and its designers to go through dozens of pages of conflicting information in several documents without the means of determining what's correct and what's current? What is the purpose of the Consensus Document in its current state? Why provide the City with a document whose usefulness is limited?

6. New evidence has come to light since the April 2004 completion of the Consensus Document. For example, the discovery of the presence of a ninth enslaved African in Washington's presidential household, Joe Richardson. His having been a stableworker raises the possibility that the Smokehouse/Slave Quarters was used to house enslaved Africans for almost all of Washington's six-and-a-quarter years in Philadelphia.

INHP Comment:

We applaud the emergence of new evidence. The subject of slavery in Philadelphia, which Ed's Pennsylvania Magazine article has reinvigorated, will continue to inspire new research and information. We will continue to make every effort to keep our interpretation of this site updated. We would be grateful if Ed could supply us with the full documentation for this new information.

7. Architectural historian Bernard Herman strongly praised Edward Lawler Jr.'s work on the physical building and NPS archaeologist Jed Levin urged that Lawler's floor plan be recreated full-sized in the paving of the entrance plaza of the Liberty Bell Center "in as much detail as possible." The Consensus Document should reflect this endorsement of Lawler's work by INHP's experts at the November 18, 2003 meeting.

INHP Comment:

Page 6, paragraph 3 of the section, "Power of Place" in the consensus document quotes Dr. Herman and expresses the roundtable's direction for ‘outlining the perimeter of the stable and the other buildings in the ground as much as practicable. We also favor the inclusion of the interior plan of the main floors of the buildings in the on-the-ground representation."

Lawler Comment:

Drs. Levin did not call for an outline of the buildings, he called for a floor plan "in as much detail as possible." Dr. Herman stated that it was the only way to make the house "real" to visitors, and called it "the framework upon which you ‘hang' the interpretation."

This was a major part of the discussion on November 18, 2003, but it did not appear for more than two months in the early drafts of the Consensus Document.

Dr. Herman expressed his frustration about this in two e-mails:

Lawler Conclusion: INHP's above comments only demonstrate how vital it remains that the Consensus Document be "cured" in order to be of maximum useful to the City and its designers.

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