Historic Montpelier Celebrates 195th Anniversary of George Washington Portrait Rescue from the White House

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ORANGE, Va.— James Madison’s Montpelier today will celebrate the legacy of slave and freedman Paul Jennings with an exclusive White House visit and walking tour of Washington, D.C. for his descendants. Family members of the former slave, who helped First Lady Dolley Madison rescue the portrait of George Washington before the White House burned in 1814, will gather on the 195th anniversary of its rescue to learn more about their ancestor from one of the nation’s leading Paul Jennings experts. The Montpelier Foundation, steward of James and Dolley Madison’s Orange, Virginia home, has organized the historic event. “James Madison’s Montpelier is committed to discovering and authentically presenting the entire history of the Montpelier community,” said Michael C. Quinn, president of the Montpelier Foundation. “In Madison’s time there were only a handful of white people, but more than 100 Black people living on the plantation at any one time. We want to find that lost history and share it with the American people. To do so, we have begun a comprehensive research effort—because the stories of these individuals are not African-American history; they are American history.” Paul Jennings was born a slave at James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier home in 1799. He moved to the White House as a footman at the age of 10 when Madison became the fourth U.S. president, and remained there until he was 18—throughout Madison’s two terms. During the War of 1812, he helped Dolley Madison rescue the Gilbert Stuart Landsdowne portrait of George Washington before the British burned the White House. Back at Montpelier, Jennings served as James Madison’s personal manservant and was by the former president’s side when Madison died. Jennings eventually achieved his freedom through Daniel Webster and worked in the U.S. Pension Office. He became a prominent citizen in the newly established nation’s capital, and an abolitionist who helped attempt to free slaves by boat in the doomed Pearl incident. Jennings is also the first White House memoirist, authoring “A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison.” Born a slave on the Virginia home of the Father of the Constit ution, Jennings died a free man with property in the nation’s capital. “Paul Jennings’ character was nurtured and shaped by his own enslaved community at Montpelier, and also influenced by the Madisons and the outside world to which he had access,” said Beth Taylor, Montpelier research associate. “Montpelier is pleased to recognize and honor Paul Jennings for the role he played in saving this national treasure,” said Taylor. “His is a quintessentially American story of humble beginnings, a rise to freedom, and an incredible life lived.” “It was 200 years ago this year that James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, took the oath of office to become the 4th president of the United States—and came to Washington with slaves,” said Taylor. “Two hundred years later, a Black man, who is a Constitutional scholar, took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States.” Today’s events will begin with a private White House visit for Jennings’ descendants to view the rescued Washington portrait now on display in the East Room. William G. Allman, White House curator, will welcome the family for the historic occasion and share insight about African-Americans in the early White House. After the White House tour, Beth Taylor will lead the descendants on a tour of Lafayette Square to see the Washington D.C. Paul Jennings knew during his days in the White House, after Madison’s presidency, and later as a freedman. The family will have the rare opportunity to go inside the Dolley Madison House, which now houses the federal U.S. Court of Appeals. Taylor, who is conducting original research on Paul Jennings for a soon-to-be-published book, has had the opportunity to reintroduce several branches of Paul Jennings’ descendants to each other. A February lecture and reunion at Montpelier, and the Monday White House visit and walking tour have helped the Jennings descendants reconnect with each other and learn about the rich history that unites them. “As a descendant of Paul Jennings, I wish to thank Montpelier and Dr. Beth Taylor specifically, for presenting his phenomenal story with such humanity, said Hugh Alexander. “Thanks for avoiding the simple black vs. white snapshot of history and presenting the full ‘color’ picture of our American history, in all its complexity.” Paul Jennings developed an extremely close relationship with James Madison to the point where, as one of Madison’s contemporaries (University of Virginia professor George Tucker) observed, “[I have] sometimes been struck with the conferences between [Mr. Madison] and [the] trusty servant in his sick chamber [study], the black seeming to identify himself with his master as to plans of management, and giving his opinions freely, though not offensively, as if conversing with a brother….” For more information about Paul Jennings, the descendants’ visit to Washington and Montpelier, please /press visit www.montpelier.org/press. About Montpelier Montpelier is the lifelong home of James Madison, Father of the Constitution, architect of the Bill of Rights, and president of the United States. Visitors can witness the home’s recent $25 million restoration through daily guided tours, and leisurely stroll the garden, forests, and many other attractions on the property’s 2,650 acres. Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Montpelier is located in the heart of Virginia’s wine country on Route 20, four miles south of Orange, Virginia. Montpelier is a National Trust Historic site. To learn more, visit www.montpelier.org CONTACT: Peggy Seiter Vaughn | Director of Communications 540.672.2728, X 110 | pvaughn@montpelier.org Beth Morrill | Media Manager 540.672.2728, X 115 | bmorrill@montpelier.org
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