A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons

( 10 )

Overview

Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia, later becoming part of the Madison household staff at the White House. Once finally emancipated by Senator Daniel Webster later in life, he would give an aged and impoverished Dolley Madison, his former owner, money from his own pocket, write the first White House memoir, and see his sons fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. He died a free man in northwest Washington at 75. Based on correspondence, legal ...

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A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons

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Overview

Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia, later becoming part of the Madison household staff at the White House. Once finally emancipated by Senator Daniel Webster later in life, he would give an aged and impoverished Dolley Madison, his former owner, money from his own pocket, write the first White House memoir, and see his sons fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. He died a free man in northwest Washington at 75. Based on correspondence, legal documents, and journal entries rarely seen before, this amazing portrait of the times reveals the mores and attitudes toward slavery of the nineteenth century, and sheds new light on famous characters such as James Madison, who believed the white and black populations could not coexist as equals; French General Lafayette who was appalled by this idea; Dolley Madison, who ruthlessly sold Paul after her husband's death; and many other since forgotten slaves, abolitionists, and civil right activists.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
…a useful and informative if slender book.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The complex relationship between a president and his bondman abounds in ironies in this revealing study. Historian Taylor reconstructs the life of Jennings, a slave belonging to President James Madison who became his valet, barber and major-domo, bought his freedom from Madison’s widow Dolly, and published admiring reminiscences of the couple. Taylor fleshes out slender sources into a convincing recreation of Jennings’s relatively privileged but precarious existence, setting it against a vivid portrait of the deeply conflicted Madison, a theorist of liberty who lived off of slave labor and a master who prided himself on his paternalism yet broke his vow never to sell his “charges.” At the heart of the story is the tension between the warm human relationship between Madison and Jennings and the remorseless inhumanity of slavery as an institution and ideology; in one tragicomic vignette, Madison declaims into a guest’s ear trumpet about slaves’ unfitness to live free among whites—while his servants studiously pretend not to hear him. Taylor paints a fascinating portrait of slavery, hypocrisy, and one man’s quiet struggle to overcome its injustices. Photos. (Jan.)
The Christian Science Monitor
“Throws fascinating light on both the struggles of a black man in 19th-century America and life in the early years of the young American republic.”
The Christian Science Monitor
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“You might think you know our nation’s past, but this book may surprise you. If you’re up for a great historical biography, in fact, A Slave in the White House will surely keep you in your seat.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Booklist
“Taylor’s biography is smoothly rendered in West’s clear, brisk tones as she accessibly elucidates everyday details and private scenarios in the Madison White House. Kenerly’s reading is equally engaging, comprising a double does of coverage for history fans.”
Booklist
Sound Commentary

“Reader Judith West narrates A Slave in the White House in a direct, straightforward manner, letting this fascinating subject take the spotlight without distraction.”
—Sound Commentary

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230341982
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 2/19/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 361,145
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Dowling Taylor received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. Over a 22-year career in museum education and historical research, she was director of interpretation at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and director of education at James Madison’s Montpelier. Most recently a fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Taylor is now an independent scholar and lecturer. She lives in Barboursville, Virginia.

Annette Gordon-Reed, historian and legal scholar, has a triple appointment at Harvard University, where she is Professor at the Law School, History Department, and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. In 2009 she won the Pulitzer Prize in history for her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.

 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2012

    Disappointing. Too much about the Madisons and not about Jennin

    Disappointing. Too much about the Madisons and not about Jennings. I would rate this 3 stars.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2012

    Intriguing

    Sounds like a book that should be put in school libraries.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2013

    Our Book Club gave it a 2. Seemed like a stretch to make a book

    Our Book Club gave it a 2. Seemed like a stretch to make a book about Jennings and the writing showed it. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 4, 2012

    A must read

    A great read that reveals much about some of our founding fathers and a man who truly held little or no animosity toward his master(s).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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