Carlyle House was built in 1752 by planter and merchant John Carlyle, one of the largest slaveholders in northern Virginia. A justice of the peace and original town trustee of Alexandria, Carlyle both imported slaves and bought them locally.
Enslaved blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, and joiners built Carlyle House. They worked on Carlyle's three plantations and in his blacksmith shop. They performed a variety of jobs in his import-export business, from sailing ships to hauling wagon loads of goods. When Carlyle died in 1780, nine enslaved blacks were living on the estate: Moses, Nanny, Jerry, Joe, Cate, Sibreia, Cook, Charles, and Penny. Enslaved African Americans working on an urban site like the Carlyle House lived where they worked - on pallets their white owners' bedrooms, above the kitchen, or in the nursery, stables, or cellar.
Skilled slaves could work on their free day (usually Sunday) to earn extra money for themselves and their families. They would have established ties with other enslaved blacks in Alexandria, who were allowed to visit between houses. But some were probably separated from other family members working on Carlyle plantations such as Torthorwald, located about 3.5 miles to the northwest.
Many slaveholders took a paternalistic tone when they wrote or spoke about their slaves, sometimes describing them as though they were a part of an extended family. Yet in the same breath they might reduce the death of a slave to a financial loss, as Carlyle did in December 1769. He recorded that he "lost Ten slaves Young and Old and have had a Very Sickley famely. I thank God myself & my Little folks have been as Well as I could Expect, for which I am thankful, for Six month together to have Six or eight at a Time Influxes, the hoopin Cough & is very disagreeable & I had one valuable slave drowned."
The Carlyle House site includes the 18th-century mansion house and gardens. House tours on various themes include information on the lives of enslaved blacks.
The site includes the 18th century mansion house and 18th century style gardens. House tours include information on 5 themes: John Carlyle as a gentleman; as a merchant; family life; servants and enslaved individuals; and the history of the site.
Geographical and Contact Information
121 North Fairfax St.