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A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons Hardcover – January 3, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; First Edition first Printing edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230108938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230108936
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A detailed picture of the lives of Virgnia slaves and their interactions with their owners, each other, and the wider community." --Asbury Park Press

“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 Last of 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
 

"The life of Paul Jennings, a slave owned by US President James Madison and his wife, Dolly, 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

 

"Who was Paul Jennings? And who was “JBR,” who recorded Jennings’ reminiscences, first published in 1863? How did the  account get into print? And were there any Jennings descendants who could shed light on their ancestor? In “A Slave in the White House,” Taylor  answers those questions, and many more. ...Taylor’s book brightly illuminates slave life at Montpelier and the very different, but connected, world of free blacks in Washington that Jennings joined upon gaining his freedom."--The Free Lance-Star

 

"a history lesson many people don’t know about"--Greene County Record

 

"useful and informative"--The Washington Post

 

"provides abundant insight, and cause for reflection into a time not so long ago when human beings were treated as property, even ones owned by presidents espousing the merits of liberty. ...an eyes-wide-open, extensively researched look at the politics of slavery, and the widely-held, deeply embedded belief among white America that black America was not its equal. ...frank, engaging and well-documented account of bondage in Washington, D.C. and the south at the nation’s infancy."--The Culpeper Star-Exponent

 

 

"imaginative and thorough research, careful supposition and heavy contextual description. ...Taylor reminds us of the moral failures of the Founding Fathers, especially their unwillingness to accept the notion that black people should enjoy the benefits of freedom so eloquently expressed in the nation’s founding documents. ...This is an important story of human struggle, determination and triumph."--Kirkus in Dallas Morning News

 

"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."--Houston Style Magazine

 

"she describes some of the subtle and not-so-subtle methods that white slaveholders, even including the libertarian Madison, used to dehumanize their "property." In Jennings' case they did not succeed, and now his struggle for a life of freedom speaks eloquently across the years."--Seattle Times

 

"Even if you are not a lover of biographies and/or memoirs, please pick this one up. The author did an amazing job in researching this book with the help of Jennings descendants. It's a keeper."--Seattle Post-Intelligencer (from Blogcritics)

 

"Taylor, who has a Ph.D. from Berkeley and for many years was a historian at the Montpelier estate, balances this portrait with a scrupulous unearthing of the plantation’s less-than-noble reality...Taylor leavens this morbid tale with Paul Jennings’s remarkable story."--The Daily Beast

 

"What emerges is a portrait of a remarkably willful, ambitious, opportunistic, and in his own way well-connected American whose life came to embody what the Civil War historian Gabor Boritt has called the "right to rise." You could also call it the American dream."--Fortune

 

“Impressive . . . Taylor has done a marvelous job at supplementing the memoir with letters, diaries, newspapers, and interviews with Jennings’s descendants . . . A detailed biography and a unique perspective on the early Republic in general and the life of James Madison in particular. In addition to fascinating details about the Madison household and slave culture along the Chesapeake, Taylor provides a lucid portrait of African American life in early nineteenth-century Washington . . . An excellent read.”

About the Author

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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Customer Reviews

A fascinating, well researched and written historical account.
Wilhelmina Gawdy
Paul Jennings could read and write from a young age and wrote a short article about his reminiscences about James Madison which is included in the book.
Lynn Ellingwood
This book has shown me just how much I didn't know and how much I have yet to learn.
D. A. J.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Subtitled "Paul Jennings and the Madisons", this non-fiction book is the thoroughly researched story of Paul Jennings, slave to James and Dolly Madison, who eventually won his freedom and went on write about his experiences. The book has a reality which is indeed unique and which transported me to a time and a place and a way of thinking that is long gone. It also taught me some things about American history which I was not aware of before and brought to light the personalities of a wide variety of historical figures. I loved the fact that this is a true story of the early years of America when slavery was an accepted fact of life.

Paul Jennings started working in the White House at the age of 10 and was the personal slave of James Madison, serving him well until Madison's death. At that time Jennings was married to a slave woman at a nearby plantation and had a few children but Dolly Madison kept him on instead of setting him free. It wasn't until years later, when Daniel Webster, who was a staunch abolitionist, purchased him from Dolly that he was able to attain his freedom. After his wife died he married again and eventually worked at a clerical government job.

This was a fine book and I learned a lot from it. I learned about the day-to-day lives of slaves, I learned about the failed attempt to smuggle 75 slaves out of Washington on a ship. I learned about the politics of the time and the War of 1812 and the abolitionist movement and the various compromises that were made as the nation expanded. History indeed came alive for me and I found myself entranced throughout. There are also several pictures of Paul Jennings himself and a genealogical record and photos of his heirs up to the present day.

This is a fine book, well written and easy to follow. Definitely recommended.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Barbara J. Mitchell VINE VOICE on November 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book will unfortunately have limited appeal because of its scholarly approach and necessary supposition of much of Paul Jennings' life.

He was born at Montpelier, James and Dolley Madison's home in Virginia. His mother was Dolley's maid and Paul was mullato so he was raised in the house as Dolley's son's "boy." As Payne Todd's constant companion, Paul was present during his sessions with his tutor. Later, as Madison's valet and doorman, he was present during political discussions and long talks about running the agricultural affairs of Montpelier. No surprise, then that he learned to read and write, and that he was more sophisticated and gentlemanly than many slaves.

During the War of 1812, Paul was instrumental in saving the large portrait of George Washington as the British approached, intent on burning the White House. Master and Mistress both trusted Paul implicitly.

However, he remained a slave until Dolley Madison was in deep financial trouble living as a widow in Washington. He had met Daniel Webster, who was known to purchase the freedom of slaves and let them work off the purchase price in his household, perhaps one of the reasons Webster was always broke. By the time Webster bought his freedom, Paul was a middle-aged married man with children.

Because of Paul's position in life, author Elizabeth Dowling Taylor was forced to make too many assumptions about who he met, where he was at any specific time, what he may have overheard, and who his slave associates were. She does use any documentation she has found in her career as a curator and researcher, and there is more than usual for a slave, but still one tires of "he might have" and "probably.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor is a fascinating account of a man who served the Madison family as a slave for over 48 years. However, I think the title is a misnomer in that Jennings only served in the White House for eight years, and this book covers his entire 74-75 year life. A Slave in the White House has a forward by Annette Gordon-Reed, the author known for her work on the Hemings family of Monticello.

Paul Jennings was born a slave in 1799 on James Madison's plantation, Montpelier. The son of a house slave, Jennings learned to read and write from observing lessons given to the white children living at Montpelier. He was ten when James Madison became president, and Madison took Jennings with him to the White House as a footman. Perhaps the most dramatic episode for Jennings was when British Troops invaded Washington, and Jennings was one of several individuals who helped Dolley Madison escape the White House and save George Washington's famous portrait during the War of 1812. After two terms, Madison returned to Montpelier where Jennings served as Madison's personal valet for the last 16 years of Madison's life. He probably spent more time with the former president, except perhaps Madison's wife, Dolley. Daniel Webster bought Jennings' freedom in 1847 from Dolley Madison, and Jennings worked for Webster for two years to pay off the debt.

I think that Paul Jennings is an important man in the history of our Nation for many reasons. Jennings was an eyewitness to history for the 47 years that he was a slave. He was the first White House employee (slave or free) to publish his reminiscences about working in the president's house.
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