A Slave In the White House

Posted By Levi

January 10th, 2012 8:11pm

The Daily Show Jon Stewart had an interesting interview with Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, author of A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons. The book highlights the life of Paul Jennings who was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia. When Madison became the 4th President of the United States, he took Jennings to the White House as his personal slave. He was only 10 years old.

Yes, it may seem hard to believe, but several of our early presidents and Founding Fathers were slave owners. Also, James Madison is remembered as the man who wrote the U.S. Constitution.

In his will, Madison bequeathed all his 100 slaves to his wife. Jennings expected to be freed upon the death of Madison but Dolley refused to set him free even though Jennings had married a slave woman at a nearby plantation and had children. So Jennings’ wife and children lived on a separate plantation owned by a separate master. Jennings decided to purchase his own freedom which Dolley set at $200. Jennings did not have the money so he borrowed it from Daniel Webster, the abolitionist. He then had to work for Webster to repay the loan.

Perhaps the most dramatic episode for Jennings was when British troops invaded Washington during the War of 1812. Jennings was one of several individuals who helped Dolley Madison escape the White House and save George Washington’s famous portrait.

From the little we know about him, Paul Jennings was a very strong and ambitious man. He rose up from slavery to become a landowner himself, buying two homes in Washington D.C. and even loan  money to Dolley Madison when she fell on hard times..

Watch the interview:


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