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January 23, 2012

Life of Slave Owned by President Madison Is Subject of Book Discussion

“A Slave in the White House” Chronicles Story of Paul Jennings

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. Emancipated by Sen. 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.

Elizabeth Dowling Taylor has used correspondence, legal documents and journal entries rarely seen before to write "A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons" (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012). Taylor will discuss and sign her new book on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at noon in the Mumford Room, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond program is sponsored by the Center for the Book and co-sponsored with the Library’s Manuscript Division, where Taylor performed much of her research. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

Taylor’s portrait of the times reveals the mores and attitudes toward slavery of the 19th century and sheds new light on 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 sold Paul after her husband's death; and many other since-forgotten slaves, abolitionists and civil rights activists.

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.

Taylor’s book is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The Books & Beyond Book Club is available at Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to "stimulate public interest in books and reading," the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress ( has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may be accessed through the Library’s website,

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PR 12-018
ISSN 0731-3527

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