From a very interesting article in the International Herald Tribune…
“…Slaves who worked inside and outside the White House were known for their labors. Washington planner Pierre L’Enfant rented slaves from nearby slaveowners to dig the foundation for the White House, and White House designer James Hoben used some of his slave carpenters to build the White House.
President George Washington forced slaves from Mount Vernon to work as staff inside “the President’s House” in Philadelphia during his term, starting a tradition of enslaved men and women working for the president in his residence that would continue until the 1850s. Not only did they work in the White House, enslaved men and women lived there as well.
According to the White House Historical Association, the slave and servant quarters were in the basement, now called the ground floor. The rooms now include the library, china room, offices and the formal Diplomatic Reception Room. At least one African-American baby was born there, in 1806 to Fanny and Eddy, two of Jefferson’s slaves. The child, who was considered a slave too, died two years later.
History values these slaves for more than just their labor.
Paul Jennings, James Madison’s personal slave, told the very first tale of White House life written by someone who lived there. Jennings, in his memoirs, debunked the oft-repeated White House legend of first lady Dolley Madison saving the portrait of Washington from invading British troops.
“This is totally false,” Jennings said. “She had no time for doing it. It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver.”
Instead, a Frenchman, John Susé, and Magraw, the president’s gardener, took the painting down and sent it off on a wagon, said Jennings, who later in his life would give part of the money he earned as a freedman to help out a destitute Dolley Madison, who suffered financially after the death of James Madison.
As the years progressed, the role of African-Americans inside the White House also progressed.
Blacks moved from slaves at the White House to honored guests — President Abraham Lincoln met with abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth in the White House — to indispensable parts of White House life reflected in William Slade’s appointment by President Andrew Johnson as the very first White House steward, the person charged with running the domestic side of the White House.
Not only did blacks work in the White House, they also started working at the White House. E. Frederick Morrow was the first African-American to be officially appointed a White House aide by Eisenhower in 1955; John F. Kennedy named Andrew Hatcher associate press secretary in 1960.
The progress was hardly smooth.
In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt formally invited Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner. But as Republican presidential candidate John McCain noted in his concession speech, Southern newspapers were outraged and condemned Roosevelt publicly after they learned of the invitation from an Associated Press dispatch. Roosevelt never invited another African-American to a White House dinner again.
All the while, African-American domestic workers like John Pye kept the White House working smoothly behind the scenes.”