Paul Jennings was the author of the first White House memoir: A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison.
He was born into slavery at Montpelier in 1799 the son of a white Englishman and a mother of African and Indian ancestry.
In 1809, Jennings was one of the enslaved persons that Madison took with him to the White House where Jennings became a footman to the new President. He served all eight years of Madison’s presidency. Afterwards, he returned to Montpelier as Madison's personal assistant for almost 20 years.
"Today, he is perhaps best-known for helping save Gilbert Stuart’s giant painting of George Washington when British troops seized Washington during the War of 1812. Jennings held the ladder when the canvas, at Dolley Madison’s direction, was freed from its frame; loaded onto a cart and taken to a barn in Maryland for safekeeping. Soon after, British troops arrived, ate the supper Jennings had set for the Madisons, then torched the house," according to sources.
Although Dolley Madison had promised to free Jennings upon her death, she started selling all of the enslaved people she owned upon her husband's death. Jennings went on the market for $200.
Jennings enlisted the helpf of U.S. Sen. Daniel Webster to gain his freedom. Webster bought Jennings, who agreed to work in Webster’s household in exchange for his liberty. Jennings paid $8 a month toward his purchase price of $120.
Jennings went on to work in a government job for many years and published his memoir in 1865. He died in 1874.
For more information read: Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, author of A Slave in the White House.
Mixed Experience History Month is the annual blog post series created by writer Heidi Durrow celebrating the history of the Mixed experience. Established in 2007, Mixed Experience History Month is an effort to highlight the long history of folks involved in the Mixed experience. Please look for more profiles of people, places and events of the Mixed experience every weekday of May at Lightskinned-ed Girl, the blog! Thanks for reading. And check out some of the previous year's profiles: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.