It’s a big deal to go to the White House. But it’s an even bigger deal to go to the White House to honor a family member. Montpelier organized a private White House visit this past Monday for Paul Jennings’ descendants. Jennings, James and Dolley Madison’s former slave, helped Dolley rescue the Gilbert Stuart Landsdowne portrait of George Washington before the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. The visit fell on the 195th anniversary of the portrait’s rescue.
This story already generated a buzz with the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. So, on Monday, 27 of Jennings’ family members passed through the White House front gates, a camera crew in tow, to honor their ancestor’s heroic contribution to saving a national treasure.
President Barack Obama made headlines when he gave Queen Elizabeth II an ipod. Montpelier had its own unique gift for the President, who was on vacation at the time: a nail fashioned by Montpelier slaves, encased in a beautiful wooden box that was carved from trees at Montpelier. Michael Quinn, Montpelier’s president, and Beth Taylor, Montpelier’s research associate and Paul Jennings expert presented the gift to William G. Allman, White House curator.
Allman led the family to the East Room to see the famed Washington portrait. They also visited the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms, and State Dining Room.
After the White House visit, the VIP treatment continued with a rare opportunity to go inside the Dolley Madison House, now owned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Jennings is on his way to becoming a household name. Check out CBS Evening News, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” The Washington Post, and Politico’s “44″ blog. The Free Lance-Star also gave a great local write-up.