Philip Reid: Slave Caster of
by Dr. Eugene Walton
Freedom, the statue perched atop the dome of the U.S.
Capitol, was hoisted in place on December 2, 1863,
Philip Reid was there, in spirit if not in body,
standing tall and relishing his greatest accomplishment.
Philip Reid was a slave at the Bladensburg (Maryland)
Foundry when he supervised the bronze casting of the
statue. Shortly after he completed this mission, the
District of Columbia issued its Emancipation
Proclamation abolishing slavery within the Capital City
and Philip Reid became a free man.
Having recently achieved his own freedom was reason
enough to make the hoisting of Freedom very special for
Philip Reid. What made it even more special was the way
in which he had come to supervise the casting of the
statue. This is a true story that belongs near the top
of the list of Great Chronicles of American History-a
story that every American, particularly
students, should study and take to heart.
The story of Philip Reid and the casting of the Statue
of Freedom is best told by Patrick Reynolds in is
Cartoon History of the District of Columbia:
Thomas Crawford completed the full -size plaster
model of Freedom at his studio in Rome, Italy in 1856.
When cast in bronze, it would stand atop the Dome of the
United States Capitol.
In April, 1858, the model left Rome in six crates
aboard the Emily Taylor. While crossing the Atlantic,
the Taylor sprung a leak which got progressively worse.
The Taylor made it to Bermuda and was condemned. Freedom
was transferred to another ship for the trip to the
Mills Foundry in Maryland.
The Government had awarded the Mills Foundry a contract
to cast the plaster model in bronze and the work began
in May, 1860. When the casting was almost finished
however, the Foundry Foreman went on strike for higher
wages, believing he was the only person qualified to see
the casting to its completion.
Clark Mills, owner of the foundry, rejected the
foreman's demand and instead turned to the slave who had
been working along side of the Foreman and put him in
charge of the final casting. The slave's name was Philip
Reid. Philip Reid supervised the remaining casting of
the statue in five sections, each weighing over a ton.
The tons of Freedom were moved by wagons from
Bladensburg, Maryland to Washington. Philip Reid and
other slaves put the Statue of Freedom together on the
grounds of the Capitol in 31 days during the Spring of
1863. On December 2, 1863 the Statue of Freedom was
hoisted to the top of the Capitol Dome amid great
celebration and a 35-Gun Salute.
Philip Reid was amongst the last of hundreds of slaves
involved in the building of the Capitol between 1790 and
1863. The slaves worked in the quarries of Virginia,
digging and transporting the stone that became the
beautiful building that we so admire today. At the
building site the slaves performed the truly
backbreaking work required to place the cut stones on
the walls of the Capitol building. They dug trenches and
ditches, hauled lumber and performed other tasks
requiring great strength and stamina. About half the
workforce at the Capitol building site were such slaves.
During the Summer of 2000 the U.S. House of
Representatives passed Resolution 368 to establish a
task force to study ways of honoring the slaves who
helped build the Capitol. This Resolution, when passed
by the U.S. Senate, will begin a process that will shed
light on one of the most unilluminated stories in
In the meantime, all of us who are aware of this history
have an obligation to educate Americans on Philip Reid's
connection to the most prominently placed symbol in all
of Washington. We must make sure that each American who
peers at the Dome will not only see Freedom but will
also know about Philip Reid's connection to the statue
and about the contributions of the many slaves who
helped build the U.S. Capitol.
Dr. Eugene Walton is the Producer of the video
"Philip Reid And The Slaves Who Built The
Capitol" ( available at www.philipreid.org).
He was previously Coordinator of Affirmative Action
Programs at the Library of Congress.
Editor's note: If you would like to purchase the
video Dr. Walton produced, you may acquire it on his
website. It provides a good framework for a discussion
of the participation of slaves in the building of the US