On View
Slavery and Freedom Gallery
Slavery and Freedom
Commissioned by
Architect of the Capitol, American, founded 1793
Overall with Weight: 15 3/4 × 21 1/4 × 14 1/2 in., 318 lb. (40 × 54 × 36.8 cm, 144.2 kg)
Enslaved African Americans, leased out by their slave owners, mined sandstone from local quarries and built the United States Capitol, the White House, and the Smithsonian Castle. Congress, the institution that guarded the peoples’ freedom, held sessions in a building constructed by forced labor, and the legislators would have witnessed lines of shackled slaves marching by daily en route to the Deep South. The block was quarried near Aquia Creek, Virginia, by free and enslaved workers and used in the construction of the Capitol building in 1824.
Source: Nancy Bercaw, Curator, Slavery and Freedom
A rectangular block of sandstone. One short side of the block has a smooth, finished surface. The other five sides are rough-hewn and pitted, showing evidence of quarry tool markings, softened by weathering. One of the long sides has mechanical tool markings across the surface, forming a cross-hatch pattern. The block predominantly is beige, with reddish-brown veins of color running lengthwise. The smooth side shows most clearly the variegation of reddish-brown strata. There is a loss at the lower-left corner of the smooth side.
Place used
Washington, District of Columbia, United States, North and Central America
Place collected
Aquia Creek, Stafford County, Virginia, United States, North and Central America
Slavery and Freedom Objects
Buildings and Structures
blocks (shaped masses)
structural elements and structural element components
Building Arts
Local and regional
Skilled labor
Slave hire system
U.S. History, 1815-1861
Credit Line
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
No Known Copyright Restrictions
Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.

Cataloging is an ongoing process and we may update this record as we conduct additional research and review. If you have more information about this object, please contact us at NMAAHCDigiTeam@si.edu

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