Title Page for Paul Jennings' 1865 memoir A Colored Man's Reminisences of James Madison
Credit: University of North Carolina, Documenting the American South
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Paul Jennings was enslaved in the White House during the term of President James Madison. When President Madison's term ended, Jennings returned with the Madisons to their residence in Virginia called Montpelier. After Madison died, his wife Dolley moved back to Lafayette Square in 1837, bringing Jennings and a few other enslaved people with her to live in the home of her cousin, Congressman Richard Cutts of Maine.
In 1846, Dolley Madison sold Paul Jennings to a man named Pollard Webb for $200.Webb only owned Jennings for a short time until 1847, when Daniel Webster purchased Jennings' freedom from him for $120. Webster, a former Secretary of State and Congressman from both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, made an arrangement with Jennings to work off the purchase price as a servant in Webster's Lafayette Square home at the rate of $8 per month.
While working for Webster, Jennings remained in contact with Dolley Madison, who still resided on Lafayette Square despite serious financial difficulties, and he would later describe in his memoir that Webster instructed him "whenever I saw anything in the house I thought she was in need of, to take it to her." "I often did this," Jennings wrote, "and occasionally gave her small sums from my own pocket, though I had years before bought my freedom of her."
While working in Webster's household, Jennings is said to have participated in a daring plot to free more than 70 enslaved African Americans in the capital. According to a book published in 1930 called Fugitives of the Pearl, Paul Jennings was one of the chief organizers of the escape attempt. The author of this book, John Paynter, was related to three of the escapees and utilized family recollections to write about the incident. According to Paynter, Jennings planned to leave the city on the Pearl and left a letter for his employer, Daniel Webster, explaining that a "deep desire to be of help to my poor people" motivated his participation in the escape. However, according to Paynter, Jennings decided that it would be dishonorable to leave before his debt to Webster was repaid, so he returned to Webster's residence and retrieved the un-read letter.
In 1865 Jennings, by then a free man, wrote a memoir A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison. This book was the first memoir of life in the White House written by someone who had lived there.
|Andrew Jackson Statue, Lafayette Square||A slave helps craft this statue and the Capitol's statue of freedom...|
|The White House||From slavery to sit-ins....|
|Dolley Madison's House||A former slave shows charity toward an impoverished First Lady.|
|St John's Church||Free and enslaved African Americans are married and baptized at the President's parish...|
|Weddings at St. John's Church||Selected entries from the St. John's Church marriage register.|
|Daniel Webster's House||A slave plans a daring escape, but has a change of heart...|
|Decatur House||Where Charlotte Dupuy takes a brave stand against slavery.|
|Ewell House||Buying, selling, and resisting.|
|Charlotte Dupuy||Charlotte Dupuy, an enslaved woman who sued her owner Henry Clay for her freedom.|
|Lafayette Square||An enslaved woman buys her freedom and changes the nation's history....|
|Elizabeth Keckly (1818-1907)||Elizabeth Keckly was born into slavery in 1818. She went on to purchase her own freedom and establish a successful dressmaking business.|
|Frederick Douglass||Revered African American leader.|
|Members of Gadsby's Enslaved Household||A list of their names and ages.|
|Tayloe House||Compensated emancipation, only in DC...|
|Decatur House Slave Quarters||Men, women, and children from two families living together in 900 square feet...|
|Emancipation in the President's Neighborhood, 1850||Emancipation in the President's Neighborhood, 1850|
|"Negro Life at the South"||A 1859 painting by Eastman Johnson depicting urban slavery.|
|"Mrs. Madison's Slaves Again"||1848 Newspaper article about the Madison's slaves.|
|"The Negro Celebration in Washington"||1866 article and engraving about Emancipation Celebration in Washington, DC and President Johnson's address.|
|President's House Carpenters' Roll from May 1795||Payment record for carpenters,including five enslaved men, who constructed the President's House.|
|Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.||Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.|
|Bill of Sale for Charlotte Dupuy to Henry Clay||Bill of Sale for Charlotte Dupuy from James Condon to Henry Clay.|
|Bill of Sale for Paul Jennings from Dolley Madison to Pollard Webb||Document recording Dolley Madison's 1847 sale of Paul Jennings to Pollard Webb.|
|Charlotte Dupuy's Petition||Letter written by Robert Beale on behalf of Charlotte Dupuy petitioning the Judges to summon Henry Clay to court.|
|Decatur House Slave Quarters Floor Plans||Floorplans and architectural drawings of the Decatur House slave quarters.|
|Thomas Greene Bethune [Wiggins], 1849 -1908||Photograph of blind piano prodigy Thomas Greene Bethune, the first African American artist to perform at the White House.|
|Emancipation in the District of Columbia - List of the Petitions Filed||Government document showing claims paid for emancipated slaves to the former owners.|
|First page of a letter from Henry Clay to his agent in Washington, Philip Fendall, regarding Charlotte Dupuy's petition for freedom||Letter written written by Henry Clay to his agent in Washington, Philip Fendall, regarding Charlotte Dupuy's bid for freedom.|
|Gadsby Slave Quarters at Decatur House ca.1937||Photograph taken by Volkmar Wentzel in 1937 showing the H Street side of the slave quarters at Decatur House.|