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

Elizabeth Dowling Taylor Annette Gordon-Reed

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

A Slave in the White House Paul Jennings and the Madisons 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

  • Title: A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons
  • Author: Elizabeth Dowling Taylor Annette Gordon-Reed
  • ISBN: 9780230108936
  • Page: 205
  • Format: Hardcover
  • 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 seePaul 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 s 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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      Published :2019-02-14T19:26:00+00:00

    One thought on “A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons

    1. Sharon on said:

      Long-time readers of my reviews know that I admire a well-researched book. "A Slave in the White House" is just such a book.Elizabeth Dowling Taylor's book about Paul Jennings, a man born into slavery on the James and Dolley Madison estate, brings the time period and historical personae to life through a fascinating perspective. Jennings is the author of the first White House memoir, as he wrote about living with the Madisons before, during and after the presidency.(Review based on uncorrected a [...]

    2. Carol on said:

      I liked the opening of the story where we are introduced to Paul Jennings who was born as a slave on the future President James Madison's plantation. There was a striking contrast drawn between the slave, Paul whose family had been at Montpelier for the third and fourth generation and the son of James and Dolley Madison, Payne. Paul was ten years old when Payne was a toddler when Madison was the Secretary of the State. Of course their lives were vastly different in what they experienced, what th [...]

    3. Elizabeth on said:

      Everyone knows that slavery was evil, but Elizabeth Dowling Taylor's book A Slave in the White House explores the role of this evil in the heart of the American political system. This book tells of Paul Jennings, who worked for President Madison and who eventually purchased his freedom. It is an unfortunate contradiction that founding fathers who believed in political freedom could personally own other people, and it is equally disturbing to think of the White House itself, instead of a symbol o [...]

    4. Grady McCallie on said:

      I'm grateful to have received a free copy of this book, and am a little embarrassed that it took me nearly four years to finish it. The book does two things, both well. First, it tells the story of Paul Jennings, born an enslaved person on James Madison's Virginia plantation. He served Madison as a personal attendant, then Madison's widow Dolley, and then bought his freedom with the help of Daniel Webster. I found the first few chapters solid but slow (and got stuck there), but from Madison's ti [...]

    5. Wayne on said:

      I teach US History and I am always looking for books that would interest my 8th graders. I used parts of this book while we were studying the War of 1812, to get the perspective of how someone else saw James Madison. My students were able to have another point of view coming from a slave in the White House. I enjoyed following the life of Paul Jennings with Madison, Daniel Webster and life after these two famous individuals of our past. I can only sum this up by using the author Elizabeth Dowlin [...]

    6. Carl Rollyson on said:

      When James Madison died, he still owned about one hundred slaves. He freed none of them, not even Paul Jennings, his valet. Jennings could read and write, and in fact published the first White House memoir, declaring that Madison was "one of the best men who ever lived." Modern biographers of Madison, such as Richard Brookhiser and Jeff Broadwater, have frankly acknowledged the shocking truth that such a politically astute and sensitive founding father utterly failed to address the problem of sl [...]

    7. Maggie on said:

      Did I enjoy it? I did! The museum I work in is War of 1812 focused in a lot of ways, and we're trying to do more interpretation focusing on the lives of the slaves in the house, so this has been on my to-read list for awhile. It was an interesting look at the Madisons and at life in Virginia and DC during the early 1800s. Would I read it again? I will probably use parts of it as a reference when doing historical research for work, but I'm probably not going to read the entire thing again. Who Wo [...]

    8. Barbara Mitchell on said:

      This book will unfortunately have limited appeal because of its scholarly approach and necessary supposition of much of Paul Jennings' life. I received it from Vine. 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 politi [...]

    9. Emily on said:

      This is exactly what a minor work of popular history should be. Paul Jennings is the first White House memoirist. He published A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison later in life, a slim volume of memories mostly connected with the British invasion of Washington D.C. during the War of 1812. This volume is so slim, in fact, that it is reprinted as an appendix. The main book is a biography of Paul Jennings, born a slave on James Madison's Montpelier estate in a bloodcurdling testament to [...]

    10. Mimi on said:

      This author did a really good job of setting the scene for Paul Jennings' life. Since there isn't any way to know many details about Paul Jennings, the author was required to do extensive research on the lives of his peers at the time, and she did a great job showing us what life then was like, and thus what his life likely could have been like. Paul Jennings was born a slave and died a freeman; he worked for the Madisons during their time in the White House.Slavery is very depressing to read ab [...]

    11. Lois Clark-Johnston on said:

      Well written, interesting, well paced and easy reading. This focuses as much on the times as the subject.

    12. NyiNya on said:

      When our illustrious Founding Fathers spoke of 'freedom,' it appears that they were thinking of a rather small percentage of their world. The Freedom they sought so valiantly did not encompass women or people of color. Or the poor. Or the indentured. Or the enslaved. Or the unpropertied. In fact, if you were not a caucasian male, preferably of European origins, with a comfortable income, a good profession, and a nice hunk of property, you were a little bit out of luck in the Freedom Sweepstakes. [...]

    13. Louise on said:

      This book begins with an introduction by Annette Gordon-Reed, who documented the Hemings Family of Monticello in The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. As author Elizabeth Dowling Taylor unfolds the Jennings-Madison story you see Presidents Jefferson and Madison had a lot more in common than statecraft. Both thought, wrote and spoke extensively and loftily on the rights of man and both despite their high rhetoric maintained enslaved populations.The first half of the book (Chapters 1 - [...]

    14. Nate on said:

      I waited for this book for months from the library and was so excited when my hold finally came in. It was a book I loved before I even opened the cover. and then I did. Ugh, what an utter disappointment. This book is perhaps the best example of why a great historian does not make a great writer.The book is simply just a mish-mash of tons of great research. The author will often mention a handful of names, jumping years in advance and then back again, then will throw in random locations across t [...]

    15. Laura on said:

      I enjoyed the the history lessons learned from the book. I agree with others who state that in the beginning there was too much jumping around betweem various dates and names. I got confused, and had to keep checking back on the prior page. But I was still enthralled enough with the story/subject matter and persisted in reading it. The latter part of the book flowed much more easily. In the end, I was struck by how differently I was taught history in grade schoolis was an eye opener to challenge [...]

    16. A. Lieberson on said:

      This is a fascinating book especially for any one who is interested in American history. We learn not only about the life of Paul Jennings, his life as a slave to President James Madison and his life as a freed slave living and working in Washington, DC but the author provides us with a unique look at the daily life at Madison'ts Montpelier estate.It is well written and well documented and the author includes photographs of the Jennings family.

    17. Nathan Albright on said:

      There has been a growing number of books in recent years that have demonstrated the role of slavery in the early American Republic, much of which has decreased the esteem in which our nation's founding fathers--especially the southern ones--have been held [1].  Likewise there is a contemporary trend, which this Berkley-trained author would be well aware of, to look at history from the point of view of ordinary people who were not the elites that usually make it into the historical record.  Yet [...]

    18. Ai Miller on said:

      I will admit that I wanted to read this book almost exclusively because of a borderline throwaway line in a National Geographic documentary from the early 90s. And this book wasn't as terrible as the review might make it seem, but it wasn't super great either, to be honest. There were parts where Taylor's writing about enslaved people struck me as like gross and weird? Which made this book a little difficult, given that it's about an enslaved man. She at one point said that being polite and tact [...]

    19. Ashley Teagle on said:

      This book was interesting. It tells the sorry of Paul Jennings, a slave who served as the personal servant of James Madison. Most notable about Jennings is he wrote what is known as the first White House memoir. Sadly not many of the book were published and the story of Jennings slipped through the cracks.I enjoyed learning about a little known person in history and fans of nonfiction will probably enjoy this one too.

    20. Michelle on said:

      A Slave in the White House is not another diatribe against the evils of slavery. It existed, it sucked, it divided the country, and it left lasting scars on entire generations past, present, and future. Rather, Elizabeth Dowling Taylor's focus is the extraordinary story of Paul Jennings, a man born into slavery to one of the most important Founding Fathers but who died a free man. Along the way, Jennings had close dealings with some of the most powerful people in the country. Ms. Taylor explores [...]

    21. Prima Seadiva on said:

      Audiobook-reader was decent.The subject was compelling. The overall rationalization of and contradiction between ideals and the realities of slavery are still in evidence in the U.S. today. As today there was a lot of self serving hypocritical as well as some genuine behavior.Some of the repeated minutiae, especially the interminable detail about the Madison's daily lives that did not relate to the main character, was detracting from the main story. On the other hand some of the details of slave [...]

    22. Shawn Thrasher on said:

      The subject matter and occasionally brilliant bits of writing make up for an uneven narrative thread; occasionally Taylor takes you down a path to a dead end (the incident the Pearl could have been quite rivetting, for example, but unfortunately isn't). You'll want to read this to find out what a brilliant man Paul Jennings was, stuck in this world that's completely against him from birth, and how he struggles to make it out. One brick wall is the historically beloved Dolley Madison, grand dame [...]

    23. Andrea on said:

      American Revolutionary and early history is not my favorite time period, but I was very glad I picked up this audiobook. This was a very interesting bio of a very interesting man who was sort of a “bystander” to major history. Born into slavery on James Madison’s estate, Paul Jennings was an educated and skilled bodyservant who served Madison for much of his life. When Madison’s journey took him to the White House, Jennings went along. I really appreciated that there were strong sources [...]

    24. Jackie Jacobs on said:

      This book was just okay for me. I was confused through the first half of the book. I felt that there was too much jumping around with names and dates. The first half of the book was hard to keep up with because of that and also because half of the time it felt like a story being told and the other half it felt like the author was just going through a timeline. The second half of the book was much better. There wasn't as much jumping around with names and dates and I had no problem understanding [...]

    25. Tracy on said:

      Thank you for the copy of this wonderful book. Paul Jennings story is something that appealed to the history lover in me and the author's ability to parlay her research into an enjoyable telling of his life and the lives of his ancestors made it a pleasure to read. Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of President James Madison. When his was young, he moved with the Madison's to the Executive Mansion and even played a major role in saving the famous painting of George Washingto [...]

    26. Joanna on said:

      I was fortunate to win a copy of the book, "A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons" as a First Reads. It was an enjoyable and informative book. Elizabeth D. Taylor approaches the subject of slavery and white supremacy in a scholarly voice. She expands the reader's view not only discussing Paul Jennings's treatment by James and Dolley Madison, but by comparing their actions with those of their peers. I particularly appreciate the inclusion of a map of Washington during Jenning [...]

    27. Valerie on said:

      I won this book. It had some dry spots in the beginning but it contains a lot of background information on the people around PJ. We forget that many presidents owned or inherited slave money. This is a great book to learn about the experiences of slaves in the most famous house in our country. PJ went with the Madisons from their home to the white house where he experienced freed slaves. He was finally freed in the end by buying his freedom with the help of the famed Webster. It's a fascinating [...]

    28. Courtney on said:

      *I received a free copy of this book from First Reads*I have a hard time giving this book 2 stars because I feel like I'm giving the rating to the genre and not necessarily the book. I just found it a really tough read and didn't find that the story moved enough to keep me engrossed. To me it read like a "history book" and not like a narrative. Well researched and very thorough.

    29. Janet Dahl on said:

      Found this book to be very interesting but I love books about this time period. Learned some intesting facts about the Madison's and was impressed how Paul Jenning's was able to succeed and to take care of his family.

    30. Gail on said:

      I did not finish the book because it started to bore me. After 91 pages, I was tired of the mass jumble of names and the plodding style of the writing.

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