Montpelier Celebrates Black History Month with Addition of Online, Annotated Version of Paul Jennings' Memoir

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James Madison’s Montpelier celebrates Black History Month with the addition of an online, annotated version of Paul Jennings’ personal memoir, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison, the first “insider’s memoir” of life in the White House.

Born a slave at Montpelier in 1799, Jennings was one of the Montpelier slaves who moved to Washington with James and Dolley Madison during Madison’s presidential years (1809-1817). In his memoir published in 1865, Jennings illuminates a watershed period in American history, encompassing slavery, abolition, Reconstruction, and segregation.

Long out of print, The Montpelier Foundation is now making Jennings’ extraordinary narrative available online at ConText, its groundbreaking digital library that provides both access to American’s founding documents and a platform for historians, political theorists, educators, and the public to crowd-source notes on their history, philosophy, and interpretation. The Jennings’ project has been made possible with the support of the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation, which has been instrumental in The Montpelier Foundation’s research efforts to bring voice and name to the individual slaves who lived and worked at Montpelier. The compilation of a considerable body of knowledge on Paul Jennings, James Madison’s personal manservant, is one of most notable achievements of this effort.

The stark contradiction presented by James Madison as a slave owner and his national role in defining and securing the rights of individuals is a paradox of America’s founding that Montpelier is uniquely positioned to address. “We are committed in our effort to understand and present the stories of Montpelier’s enslaved community,” says Kat Imhoff, President and CEO of The Montpelier Foundation. “By making Paul Jennings’ story accessible online, we can share his inspirational life and unique perspective with a large audience and tell a more complete American story.”

Illustrated by the reconstructed domestic slave quarters, a freedman’s farm, and the restored 1910 Montpelier Station Train Depot, Montpelier offers a rare look into more than 200 years of African American history. To learn more about specialty tours that highlight this history, click here or call Christy Moriarty, Tourism Coordinator, at 540-672-2728 ext. 442.

 

Caroline Godfrey