Paul Jennings was born a slave at Montpelier, James and Dolley Madison’s Virginia plantation home, in 1799. He served as President Madison’s personal body servant before and during Madison’s time in the White House. Jennings was with Madison when he died in 1836. Struggling financially after her husband’s death, Dolley Madison eventually sold Paul Jennings to an insurance agent for $200. Senator Daniel Webster interceded and bought Jennings from the agent for $120. Webster then arranged for Jennings to work to purchase his freedom, which Jennings obtained in 1847.
Recently, archivists in the Southern Historical Collection re-discovered a short recommendation letter written in 1851 by Daniel Webster on behalf of Paul Jennings. The letter is filed with the SHC’s Alfred Chapman Papers (#1545). We have now updated the description in the finding aid to make specific mention of this letter. Please see below for a scan and transcription of Webster’s letter.
For a more complete history of Jennings’s life, please see:
A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons, by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
Item description: Recommendation letter, dated 23 June 1851, written by Daniel Webster (1782-1852) about his former slave, Paul Jennings (1799-1874).
Paul Jennings was a servant in our house, for a considerable time. We think him very honest, faithful and sober; and a competent dining room servant. Formerly he was body servant to Mr. Madison.
June 23, 1851
From folder 3 of the Alfred Chapman Papers, #1545, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The SHC has several wonderful projects available online that provide samples or portions of our collections, including: online exhibits, digitized historical images, maps, bound volumes, and other interesting online content. Today we wanted to share one such project with you. It’s called the Manigault Plantation Journal. It’s found by visiting the UNC Library homepage, then clicking on Digital Collections. Or you can go directly there by visiting this link:
The Manigault Plantation Journal, compiled by Louis Manigault between 1856 and 1879, includes information on plantation life, slaves and slavery, rice cultivation, market conditions, accounts, and other topics. Notes and memoranda kept by Charles Manigault regarding the plantations during the 1830s and 1840s were pasted into the journal. Pages of particular interest include:
- A narrative of plantation life during the Civil War (pages 22-39)
- A hand-drawn and colored illustration of Gowrie House (page 41)
- A hand-drawn and colored illustration of the kitchen house at Gowrie Plantation (page 45)
- A narrative of a post-Civil War visit to the plantations (pages 55-71)
- A narrative of a trip to Scotland (pages 74-86)
- A list of slaves, including their names and ages, who were sold at auction in Charleston, 13 January 1859 (page 140)
- A photograph of “Dolly,” a runaway slave, and an accompanying description (page 179)
The image shown in this post is that photograph of “Dolly.” The accompanying description and the offer of a $50.00 reward for her return are real and heartbreaking reminders of the cruelties of slavery.
The Manigault Plantation Journal is part of the Manigault Family Papers (#484). An full inventory of the materials in this collection is available here.