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ACW History

Arts Club of Washington
Founded 1916

President James Monroe, Caldwell House (now Arts Club of Washington)
resident from 1811 to 1817

His slaves at Caldwell House, the White House, and Highland Plantation

The Background: James Monroe leased Caldwell House from 1811 to 1817 during his time as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and the first months of his presidency while the White House was being restored. Two substantial resources for his slave holdings include the White House Historical Association and Highland, his plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to these resources, Monroe owned around 250 slaves during his lifetime. WHHA documents the names and presence of 13 of these individuals at the White House, and presumes that they and/or others were with him and his wife during the 7 years at Caldwell House.

President Monroe also participated in the popular and lucrative practice of selling his slaves "down river" to plantation owners, in his case to Florida. Since the importation of slaves from Africa became illegal in 1808, there was a shortage of field labor in the south, just at the time when the industries of rice and cotton were expanding. The effect of submitting these workers to sunrise-to-sunset working conditions in the southern climate was debilitating and often led to disease and death. Such was the case with Monroe's slaves exported to Florida.

Monroe's slaves in the White House included three women: Sucky, Eve, Betsey, four men: Daniel, Tom, Peter, Hartford, an unnamed woman and 5 unnamed men

Gabriel's Rebellion

As Governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802, Monroe oversaw the hanging of 27 slaves who conspired to gain their freedom. The leader was the 25 year old blacksmith Gabriel Prosser, hanged in October of 1800. The rebellion led to further tightening of laws regarding educating slaves, notably the "anti-literacy" laws. A proclamation by one of those executed slaves was a paraphrase of Patrick Henry, "Give me Death or Give me Liberty".

See Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America Douglas R. Egerton, 2009

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