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Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia. As a young boy, he was part of the Madison household staff at the White House. Toward the end of the Madisons' time there, he helped rescue the portrait of George Washington before the British burned down the White House. Later, he became Mr. Madison's personal attendant during his retirement and got married to a slave in a plantation further off. Longing for freedom, he was finally emancipated by Senator Daniel Webster and became an abolitionist. He would later 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 more. It also introduces readers to slaves, abolitionists, and civil right activists hitherto forgotten.
Elizabeth Dowling Taylor received her Ph.D. 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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'A revealing study . . . 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 . . . Taylor paints a fascinating portrait of slavery, hypocrisy, and one man's quiet struggle to overcome its injustices.' –Publishers Weekly
'Thanks to Elizabeth Dowling Taylor's enterprise and craftsmanship in rescuing and reanimating this significant and remarkable, but nearly forgotten, American personality, A Slave in the White House is a gift to the early history of the republic and the long story of black and white interdependence.' - David Levering Lewis, author of District of Columbia: A Bicentennial History and a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of W.E.B. Du Bois "[Paul Jennings's] remarkable life sheds new light on the central themes of American history during his lifetime and beyond. Taylor's sensitive reconstruction... yields fresh perspectives on... James and Dolley Madison... the African-American experience under slavery, the world of free blacks in Washington City during the late antebellum era, and the Civil War and its legacy. Scholars and general readers alike will not be able to put this remarkable book down." - Drew McCoy, author of The Lastof the Fathers
"Elizabeth Dowling Taylor has presented us with the gift of a new American hero.With precision and compassion, Taylor deftly brings Paul Jennings out of the shadows of history. Writer, property-owner, freedom fighter, husband, and father - Jennings's life reveals the complicated humanity behind the designation "slave." This story will humble and inspire all who believe in the American Dream." - Catherine Allgor, Professor of History at the University of California at Riverside, UC Presidential Chair
"Taylor's careful reconstruction of the life of James Madison's slave valet reveals American history from a different angle. Rescuing George Washington's portrait from the British army, helping fellow slaves escape, earning his freedom from Dolley Madison with help from Daniel Webster, Paul Jennings led a life full of vivid episodes and famous personalities." - Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848