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A Slave in the White House

A Slave in the White House

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Published by Christine Catarino

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Published by: Christine Catarino on Jan 06, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Chapter One
“Raised and Nurtured” 
On or about 28 February 1801, Montpelier, the  Madison plantation in Orange County, Virginia
The old master died in the dullness o February. On their way tothe burial in the amily graveyard, the house servants passed by the slave graveyard where most o them expected to be buried some day. It was cold and they walked on, passing between the allowtobacco felds to the east and the original homestead to the west.The Madison amily graveyard was located in the backyard o  this frst home site, the main dwelling long burned to the ground and supplanted by the Georgian mansion whence they had started their third-mile inormal procession. Once the household was circled around the open grave, the house servants raised expectant eyes to the new master o Montpelier, James Madison Jr., stand-ing next to his mother, Nelly. There was this day at Montpelier another mother and son present. The mother’s name is unknown.The name o the toddler at her skirts was Paul Jennings.From the traditions shared by elders o the earlier enslaved  generations, Paul Jennings’s mother would have been aware o  the history o the Montpelier plantation and especially o the sto-ries connected with the ate o the frst master, ather o the man
978-0-230-10893-6_Taylor.indb 11/5/12 4:31 PM
 A Slave
in the 
White House
being buried. Ambrose Madison had acquired the land that was to become the nucleus o the Montpelier plantation through the brokerage o his ather-in-law, James Taylor. Taylor was one o the Knights o the Golden Horseshoe, the expedition led by Governor  Alexander Spotswood in 1716 o some o the frst men o Euro- pean background to cross Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Taylor appreciated that a certain swath o land in the oothills, land that would become part o Orange County, was rich or arming,and he patented 8,500 acres or himsel and helped the husbands o two o his daughters acquire 4,675 acres together in 1723.His daughter Frances had married Ambrose Madison, and the couple was living in Caroline County, fty-fve miles to the east,when they sent a gang o slaves and an overseer to the property toperect” the patent by commencing agriculture and construction,required in order to receive ull title. Not until spring o 1732 did  Ambrose, Frances, and their three children, the eldest and only sonnamed James, move to the new plantation, accompanied by the rest o their enslaved people and hauling all their household goods. Ambrose would not see the year out. Court documents reveal that he was poisoned by slaves, two men named Pompey and Turk and a woman named Dido. There was much speculation as to howand why this happened, none o which could be voiced above atrusted whisper. Ambrose was thus the frst Madison buried inthe amily cemetery. The slave cemetery that anked the original house on the other side and arther out may have already received the frst slave laid to rest.
Frances, widowed at thirty-two with three small children,never remarried, which was atypical or the day. One mitigating  actor may have been the company and support o extended amily in the area. Taylor amilies held a number o estates in Orange County. The kin connections that Frances had with the Taylor elite were echoed by those among the enslaved individuals belong-ing to Taylors. The woman whom Paul Jennings eventually would 
978-0-230-10893-6_Taylor.indb 21/5/12 4:31 PM
marry was born into slavery on the plantation o Erasmus Taylor,Frances’s brother.
But that union was two decades in the uture,unknown o course to the little boy and his mother that winter day; she perhaps holding his hand but hoping not to transmit her anxiety over what might happen next, or the death o a slave master was always a time o tension or “his people.” They would have little control over decisions about their utures, including the  ates o their nearest amily members.
Paul Jennings had a close relationship with
his mother, not an anchor every slave could count on. In his survivingletters, he reerred to her as “mother” or “my mother,” never revealing aname; she lived well into her son’s middle age. The preace o 
 A Colored  Man’s Reminiscences o James Madison
states that Jennings was born aslave on James Madison’s plantation in 1799. Both Paul Jennings and James Madison had their roots at Montpelier, but only Jennings wasborn there; in 1751 Madisons mother had chosen to give birth to herrst child at her mother’s home in Virginia’s Northern Neck. Jennings’smother was a Madison slave, the granddaughter o an Indian; his ather was a white merchant named Benjamin or William Jennings. Whatrole, i any, did his ather play on the plantation or in the local com-munity? Was he passing through, an itinerant merchant perhaps, ordid he have a sustained relationship with Pauls mother? I he was moreto Paul than the paternal progenitor rom whence his surname and hal his genetic makeup were derived, there is no hint o it in the historicalrecord.
It must have been his mother who told Paul about the Native American ancestry they shared.The move by James Madison Sr., his wie Nelly, and their growingamily to the new brick dwelling took place in the early 1760s. Their
978-0-230-10893-6_Taylor.indb 31/5/12 4:31 PM

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