Paul Jennings and the Madisons
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Precious few firsthand documents exist in our national literature of how slaves actually experienced slavery, and how they thought and felt about those who enslaved them. The singular circumstances of his life made the writings of Paul Jennings a rare exception. Elizabeth Dowling Taylor paints a sweeping portrait of A Slave in the White House.
Paul Jennings was born into slavery in 1799 at Montpelier, the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia. His mother was of African and Indian heritage, and his father was a white Englishman.
At the age of 10, Jennings became part of the Madison household staff at the White House. His arrival in Washington, DC, marked Jennings’ first exposure to free African Americans, an experience that made his own eventual freedom seem an achievable aspiration.
The years of Madison’s presidency were sporadically eventful for the young slave, who served as a footman to the first couple. He watched with awe as the capital city slowly rose upon swampland. Most notably, during the War of 1812, he and other slaves rescued the portrait of George Washington from the torches of the British invaders.
When the Madisons left the White House, Jennings became the former president’s valet. Dolley Madison had promised to free Jennings, but she ruthlessly sold him after her husband's death. Nevertheless, years later, he gave an aged and impoverished Dolley some money from his own pocket.
When at last he was purchased, and emancipated, by Senator Daniel Webster later in life, Jennings wrote the first-ever White House memoir, “A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison,” which is included in the present book as an appendix.
Following his emancipation, Jennings became a prominent member of the capital’s free African-American community. Dr. Taylor vividly relates his efforts to liberate 77 men, women and children in the greatest slave escape ever attempted. He lived to see his sons fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. In 1874, at the age of 75, he died a free man in northwest Washington, DC.
Drawing on correspondence, legal documents and newly discovered journal entries, Dr. Taylor’s research sheds new light on such famous personages as James Madison, who believed that black repatriation to Africa was a prerequisite to emancipation—as well as the French General Lafayette, who was appalled by this idea. She frankly portrays Madison’s ambivalence toward the institution of slavery as well as Dolley Madison’s sometimes callous treatment of her slaves. She also incorporates the perspectives of other slaves, freedmen, abolitionists and early civil rights leaders. This book depicts the daily challenges of early-19th-century black slaves in a time when attitudes toward slavery were shifting.
Hardcover Book : 336 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd ( January 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-530672
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 18.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)