Advisory: This story includes descriptions of abuse and oppression of Black people, which were the norm in colonial-era Boston.

The “new” Massachusetts State House was built in the late 1700s after slavery had been abolished in the commonwealth. While no enslaved workers were involved in the construction of the Capitol, like everything else on the Freedom Trail, there is a strong thread of slavery that runs through the building.

The renowned architect behind the project, Charles Bulfinch, came from a family of enslavers — and he continued that legacy of exploitation through his work in places where slave labor was still legal.

Boston city records indicate his father, Thomas Bulfinch, enslaved six people at the time of his death in 1761. His grandfather, Charles Apthorp, was one of the wealthiest merchants in colonial Massachusetts, and an active slave trader. Charles Bulfinch himself was an active player in the slave economy in the years after the Massachusetts State House was built.

From 1818 to 1826, he supervised the construction of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where slavery had not yet been abolished. The Capitol project heavily relied on slave labor for carpentry, roofing, painting and other jobs. Shortly after Bulfinch took over construction, payment was made to maintain operation of a marble quarry near Washington. “Temporary huts furnished with bedding and cooking utensils were built for workmen. Clothing for slaves was also provided,” according to 2001 history of the Capitol published by the Architect of the Capitol’s office.

Beyond the architect’s family history and exploitation of enslaved people in other states, there’s another racist aspect to construction of the Massachusetts State House: It was an effort at gentrification. At the time of construction, Beacon Hill had a significant population of artisans and free Black people.

Over the next century, Beacon Hill became one of the most expensive and exclusive neighborhoods in Massachusetts, and the census tract surrounding the State House is now more than 85% white.

This story is part of the project Enslavement History of the Freedom Trail, a collaborative effort between GBH News and Boston University students to detail the mostly hidden history behind some of Boston's most well-known sites.