Ask a Librarian

Slaves in the White House

Question: When did the White House stop using slaves as servants?

Answer: According to William Seale's book, The President's House, President Zachary Taylor was the last Commander-in-Chief to use slaves in the White House. Seale's book, commissioned by the White House Historical Association, claims that Taylor brought 15 slaves from his home state of Louisiana with him to supplement the White House staff of four servants when he moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1849. By 1850, the public was beginning to grow increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of slavery. Taylor's slaves were restricted to the family quarters on the upper floor of the White House because allowing them to carry out their tasks in the public eye could have caused unrest. This was an important indication that the heyday of slavery in the nation's capitol had reached its end.

The information contained in Seale's book was corroborated by nearly 70 pages of notes and is the only work of its kind that chronicles the end of slavery in the White House.

Slavery Throughout History by Theodore Sylvester includes a world slavery timeline indicating that in 1850 during Millard Fillmore's presidency the U.S. Congress put "real teeth" into the fugitive slave laws of 1793 with the Compromise of 1850.

On a local note, the nearby Fillmore Glen State Park in Cayuga County was named after the 13th President of the United States. President Fillmore was born five miles to the east of the village of Moravia, NY and a replica of his log cabin birthplace is in the park.

For more information about the history of slavery or about slavery in New York State visit the Tompkins County Public Library at 101 E. Green St. call reference at 272-4556, or search the library catalog and browse electronic resources online at tcpl.org.

Ask a Librarian appears courtesy of The Ithaca Journal and the Tompkins County Public Library. For more information or to ask a question, email askalibrarian@tcpl.org, call (607) 272-4557 or visit the library at 101. East Green Street.

Page last modified May 3, 2012