Paul Jennings is on his way to becoming a household name thanks to Sunday’s New York Times article. Paul Jennings was born a slave at Montpelier and helped Dolley Madison rescue George Washington’s portrait before the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. In fact Monday, August 24 will mark the 195th anniversary of the portrait’s rescue. Jennings went on to achieve his freedom, become a prominent abolitionist and Washington D.C. resident, and work in the U.S. Pension Office.
Dr. Beth Taylor, Montpelier’s research associate has been conducting original Jennings research. Paul Jennings’ life shows a quintessentially American story, with remarkable twists and turns that reveal an extraordinary sweep of our history in one single lifetime. Through Jennings and his descendants we see the road from slavery to citizenship; the role African-Americans played in the early White House; how freed slaves came to settle and work in an integrated Washington, D.C., newly established as the nation’s capital; the complicated relationship between the Father of the Constitution and his enslaved manservant; the story of the first White House memoirist; how a Montpelier slave became an abolitionist and tried to free slaves aboard The Pearl; and how African-Americans are re-discovering their own American history. Check out The New York Times.