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The President's House in Philadelphia

INHP Superintendent Mary Bomar's Reply to Edward Lawler, Jr. RE: 5.19.03 subject: Slave quarters

INHP Superintendent Mary Bomar wrote this email to Edward Lawer, Jr., the historian of the IHA (owners of, in response to our Slave Quarters page. Lawler's response is here.

Reply to Edward Lawler, Jr.
RE: 5.19.03 subject: Slave quarters

Dear Ed:

My staff and I have reviewed your additions to your website. Our historians have spent a great deal of time reviewing your work, including the present website, your article in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and other materials you have shared with us over the years. This letter responds to the website.

Under the National Park Service Management Policies, we are obligated to "...ensure appropriate protection, preservation, treatment, and interpretation of cultural resources, employing the best current scholarship...." Our historians have applied commonly accepted professional practices to the information about the Washington occupancy of the property at 190 High Street.

The primary evidence consists of correspondence between Washington and Tobias Lear before Washington moved into the house, insurance surveys made in 1773 and 1798, and a plan of the "burnt house" made in 1781. While the correspondence indicates a desire to transform a smokehouse into quarters for stable hands, some of whom were enslaved, there is no evidence that this intention was actualized. Indeed, the 1798 survey makes no mention of the purported structure. Until we have confirming evidence that the structure existed, we cannot mark it in the ground.

Our research and analysis show that Washington quartered his slaves and servants by their function, that is some slept in the main house, some in the servants' hall next to the kitchen and some near the stable. Since Washington mixed free and enslaved people in all of these lodging arrangements, we see no valid argument for designating a particular area as "slave quarters." The issue is further complicated by the fact that the population at 190 High Street was fluid, not fixed. The eight slaves were not all there at all times. Eighteenth century society was extremely hierarchical and it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that there was very little intermingling among blacks and whites.

The story of the Presidents' House site is very complex and interesting. We want to tell about the residencies of two presidents and about their predecessors on the site. Presenting such change over time becomes more difficult if we permanently affix sites with labels that we cannot properly document. It is our full intention to present the Washington household and all of its occupants, free and enslaved, to the best of our knowledge. We will note that the president had enslaved stable hands who worked in the stables that stood where the Liberty Bell Center now stands. First person interpretation or an exhibit near the entrance could connect the story of slavery on this ground with the Bell's eventual message, "Proclaim Liberty" for all people.

We appreciate your good work and interest in this topic. As with any project, more information will unfold. When we can interpret the information accurately and portray it fairly, we will do so.


/s/Mary A. Bomar,
Superintendent and
Staff, INDE

Read Edward Lawler's response to this email

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