A live-recording of the musical “Hamilton” was filmed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in June 2016. The original Broadway production is now available on Disney+ streaming platform.
The film has brought attention to the national bank that Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed in 1790. A year later, Congress granted a 20-year charter for the First Bank of the United States. Thomas Willing, who arguably was still a slaveholder, was the national bank’s first president.
Hamilton throws shade on Thomas Jefferson who opposes the bank charter:
A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor,
Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor.
The bank charter was not renewed. Instead, the assets of the First Bank of the United States were liquidated. According to VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, Hamilton “never set foot inside of the structure.” But a slaver did. Stephen Girard purchased the property in 1812 after the bank charter expired.
The structure was now known as Stephen Girard’s Banking House.
The National Historic Landmark has been closed for decades. It was opened to the public for one day in 2018.
The pop-up exhibit curated by Drexel University’s Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships made no mention of Girard. A National Park Service ranger told me Independence Historical Trust wants to focus on Hamilton and financial literacy. However, facts are stubborn things. Slaver Girard’s name is engraved in the glass dome that was added when the interior was redesigned in 1902.
According to his will, Girard owned at least 30 slaves (h/t Penn & Slavery Project). In the course of digging the foundation for a new subway station in 1906, Girard’s slave pen was uncovered.
Girard’s slave dungeon matches the description of a slave pen in “Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Now in England” published in 1854.
In 2018, Friends of Independence National Historical Park (renamed Independence Historical Trust) was awarded an $8 million grant from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to restore the First Bank.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said:
Today, I am proud to be here to announce that the commonwealth has made a commitment to support the reopening of this historic landmark. The state’s investment will help reopen the central bank that once served as the foundation to modern United States fiscal policy, into a museum.
There was no mention of slavery or Stephen Girard. As the nation grapples with the long overdue reckoning on racial injustice, taxpayers’ money must not be used to whitewash history. Girard’s nearly 100-year association with the historic landmark is the untold story behind the neoclassical facade. If Independence Historical Trust ignores the building’s history — and Alexander Hamilton’s involvement with slavery — we will tell the rest of the story.
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