24. Was the Capitol built on an Ancient Site?

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

Aerial view of the Capitol's north/Senate side, looking south, Wikimedia Commons

Many places sacred to Native American people may be part of long-distance alignments. Several important political and financial centres in the States are also to be found as part of the same alignments. The line between the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan in Mexico and the Statue of Liberty in New York skirts Stone Mountain, sacred to Native Americans, and goes through the Capitol building, and the city of Philadelphia. Was the Capitol built on what was once a sacred man-made mound?

Teotihuacan is probably the most important archaeological site in Mexico, it was once the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It is known for its pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead which links them. The city's name is supposed to derive from "birthplace of the gods", or "place where gods were born" (1), which suggests that the location was important for more than practical reasons.

Panoramic view from the summit of the Pyramid of the Moon, with the Pyramid of the Sun on the far left. Photo by Rene Trohs. Wikimedia Commons

In fact, the alignment starts a little further south at Cuicuilco, on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco. It was also once a major city but was destroyed by a volcano, Xitle, in the first century BC.

Western side of the circular pyramid at Cuicuilco, photo by Matthew T. Bradley, Wikimedia Commons.

A line drawn from Cuicuilco to the Capitol in Washington D.C. goes straight through the Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Teotihuacan.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent, Teotihuacan, photo by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons

Exposed Granite at Stone Mountain, photo by Djgazso, Wikimedia Commons

The next point on the alignment is Stone Mountain, in Georgia, a huge slab of granite famous now for the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving, which depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War: President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. It is associated with the Ku Klux Klan and is seen by many as a shrine to white supremacy. There is talk of removing the sculptures. When the mountain was first encountered by European explorers, its summit was encircled by a rock wall, similar to that still to be found on Georgia's Fort Mountain. The wall is believed to have been built by early Native American inhabitants of the area, Cherokee, Creek and Muscogee The mountain was the eastern end of the Campbellton Trail, a Native American path that ran through what is now the Atlanta area.

Before 1800, Native Americans used the mountain as a meeting and ceremonial place. Archaeological evidence goes back 9,000 years. In the late 17th century, when European settlers started to arrive, they brought disease with them killing thousands of locals, who would meet up at Stone Mountain to think of ways to overcome the situation. In response to the threat posed by contact with the immigrants, surviving indigenous tribes made alliances with one another during the late eighteenth century. These alliances became known as the Creek Confederation. two major trails connected it to the eastern part of the state. Every year there's a Native American Festival and Pow-Wow which is very popular.

Why was this spot picked for the Confederate Memorial sculpture? Was it because the place was important, if not sacred, to the inhabitants of the area before the arrival of the European settlers?

Monticello, the day after a snowstorm, photo by Fopseh, Wikimedia Commons

Next on the line, after passing just three miles from Monticello, Jefferson's home, is the Capitol itself.

The Capitol when first occupied by Congress (painting circa 1800 by William Russell Birch, 1755-1834 - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Wikimedia Commons

As to the question of the site of the Capitol having been an important site prior to the immigration wave from Europe, I don't know for sure. I did find some references to Native Americans having had sites on "modern-day spots like the White House and Capitol Hill", but I can't find any detail, apart from mentions of pot shards and other finds on the grounds of the White House.

An article in the Washington Post says "The Nacotchtank tribe in the early 1600s had about 300 members who lived in villages, mostly along the eastern banks of what is now the Anacostia River, before merging with other tribes in the early 1700s." and that "Samuel Vincent Proudfit, an archaeologist who worked with the Interior Department in the 1800s, found signs of the tribe’s existence in the remains of a village near Garfield Park, between First and Second streets SE on Capitol Hill."(2)

Indeed, the The Nacotchtank are an indigenous people who lived in the area of what is now Washington, D.C. at least up until the 17th century. These people were forcibly removed to make way for tobacco plantations, and for a time, took refuge on what is now Theodore Roosevelt Island, before disappearing altogether. The Nacotchtank were known as traders and had their headquarters along the intersection of two major rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia. Archaeologist Samuel Proudfit has found evidence of Nacoctchtank occupation where the White House swimming pool was built and on Capitol Hill, amongst several other places in the District of Columbia. (3) Perhaps we will never know what the hill on which the /capitol was built might once have represented or whether it was natural or manmade. As as article from (whitehousehistory.org) puts it: "Unfortunately, the rapid and continuous development of Washington, D.C. over the past two centuries disrupted much of the region’s archaeology and little effort was made to record the extensive evidence that once existed. "(4) There is now an app you can download called "Guide to indigenous D.C." ‎Guide to Indigenous DC on the App Store (apple.com)

Daguerreotype of east side of the Capitol in 1846, by John Plumbe, Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson while in London in 1786 by Mather Brown, Wikimedia Commons

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson writes about "the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." which pretty rules out any sympathy for Native American culture. So if the Capitol was built on a site sacred to the Native people, perhaps Jefferson didn't know about it. Then again, he apparently personally excavated a native American mound on his land at Monticello, so perhaps despite his harsh words, he did have respect for this culture.

The hill the Capitol was built on was apparently selected by l'Enfant. Wikipedia says it was called Jenkins Hill, but http://uschscapitolhistory.uschs.org/articles/uschs_dome-02.htm]this article[/url] suggests otherwise:

Quote The Mysterious Mr. Jenkins of Jenkins Hill: The Early History of the Capitol Site JOHN MICHAEL VLACH The ground on which the United States Capitol stands was known from the earliest moments of European settlement as the New Troy tract. Granted in 1663 by the second Lord Baltimore to George Thompson, it was one of three substantial parcels that Thompson would own within the boundaries of the future District of Columbia. His holdings encompassed some 1,800 acres, or slightly more than one-fourth of all the land that would be allotted for the site of the capital city. While the 500 acres that constituted New Troy would change hands six times, it was never known by any other name prior to 1791 (see fig. 1). When Daniel Carroll of Duddington finally conveyed this property to the federal government, the site for the Capitol was still indicated on the official deed as New Troy.1 The name’s pretentious classical allusion was consistent with the names early settlers assigned to their farms. Thompson’s neighbor, Francis Pope, called his 400-acre farm Rome and the stream that flowed along its eastern edge the Tiber. It was, he must have thought, a much better and more imaginative name than its earlier and more prosaic designation of Goose Creek. Classical allusions such as these, reflecting the lofty goals of the early republic, would prove to be very appealing throughout the nation well into the nineteenth century.2

“Capitol Site Selection--1791,” 1973-74, by Allyn Cox, mural, Hall of Capitols, House Wing, U.S. Capitol. The painting shows Washington conversing with L’Enfant as they inspect various locations within the federal district. (Courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol)

Curiously, the article cited above goes on to say:

"It is Peter Charles L’Enfant who first used the name Jenkins Hill (fig. 2). "


" By June 22, 1791, L’Enfant’s vision of a future capital city had matured considerably with respect both to building locations and the potent vista that they might collectively present. Of the site for the future Capitol, he bragged to Washington: “I could not discover one in all respects so advantageous . . . for erecting the Federal Hse. [as] the western end of Jenkin’s Heights [which] stands really as a pedestal waiting for a superstructure.”"

Jenkins wasn't even the owner of the hill. A Thomas Jenkins may once have leased a portion of Daniel Carroll’s estate near the future Capitol site in order to pasture his cows. Why did L'Enfant change the hill's name? Why did he pick a site that aligns with New York and Teotihuacan? And why was this place called Troy?

Walls of Troy, Hisarlik, Turkey, Photo by CherryX, Wikimedia Commons

Troy? I found the coordinates for Troy and drew a line on Google Earth. Low and behold, the line that links up Teotihuacan, Stone Mountain, the Capitol, goes through the ancient city of Troy, of Paris and Helen fame, in modern-day Turkey!

But Troy's location wasn't discovered till Schliemann, many years later, was it?

It turns out Troy's location had been suggested by a Scot called Charles MacLaren a little before Schliemann's discoveries in 1822, and which in fact proved to be the correct location. Troy was also marked in a Piri Reis book called Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of the Sea, 1521). It's not impossible that it was known about before 1822.

So Troy is definitely part of the alignment.

Would the Troy connection explain the name of the hill in DC or is it a coincidence?