Hollywood just loves making shows and movies about black servants and their white, Presidential bosses. Following the Oprahfied success of Lee Daniels' The Butler, ABC is developing a 12-hour miniseries about Paul Jennings, the Virginia-born slave who lived and worked with President James Madison. A Slave In The White House comes from filmmakers Sheldon Candis and Justin Wilson and is based on Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s bestselling book of the same name.
Both book and series chronicle Jennings’ relationship with the Madison family and his struggle to purchase his own family’s freedom. Jennings worked as a valet for Madison who—in the book, at least—was said to regard him as a surrogate son. He lived in and around the White House from the time he was 10 years old, writing the memoir A Colored Man’s Reminisces Of James Madison when he was 46.
Lest this story seem like one about a well-treated slave and his benevolent white masters, it’s worth noting that, once James Madison died in 1836, Dolley Madison sold all her husband's slaves—including Jennings—along with his land. Jennings was hired out to President James Polk, and was then almost sold to an insurance agent for $200. Thankfully, Senator Daniel Webster intervened, buying Jennings for $120 and giving him his freedom, and the former slave repaid the debt by working for the Senator thereafter.
Paul Jennings died in 1874 in Washington D.C., at the age of 75.
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