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Title: A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison
Author: Jennings, Paul
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison" ***

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Among the laborers at the Department of the Interior is an intelligent
colored man, Paul Jennings, who was born a slave on President Madison's
estate, in Montpelier, Va., in 1799. His reputed father was Benj.
Jennings, an English trader there; his mother, a slave of Mr. Madison,
and the granddaughter of an Indian. Paul was a "body servant" of Mr.
Madison, till his death, and afterwards of Daniel Webster, having
purchased his freedom of Mrs. Madison. His character for sobriety,
truth, and fidelity, is unquestioned; and as he was a daily witness of
interesting events, I have thought some of his recollections were worth
writing down in almost his own language.

On the 10th of January, 1865, at a curious sale of books, coins and
autographs belonging to Edward M. Thomas, a colored man, for many years
Messenger to the House of Representatives, was sold, among other curious
lots, an autograph of Daniel Webster, containing these words: "I have
paid $120 for the freedom of Paul Jennings; he agrees to work out the
same at $8 per month, to be furnished with board, clothes, washing," &c.

J. B. R.

[Illustration: (Handwritten text)

Mar: 19. 1847.--

I have paid $120 for the Freedom of Paul Jennings--He agrees to work out
the term, at 8 dollars a month, to be furnished with board, clothes, &
washing--to begin when we return from the Leritte--His freedom papers I
gave to him; they are recorded in this District.

Dan Webster


About ten years before Mr. Madison was President, he and Colonel Monroe
were rival candidates for the Legislature. Mr. Madison was anxious to be
elected, and sent his chariot to bring up a Scotchman to the polls, who
lived in the neighborhood. But when brought up, he cried out: "Put me
down for Colonel Monroe, for he was the first man that took me by the
hand in this country." Colonel Monroe was elected, and his friends joked
Mr. Madison pretty hard about his Scotch friend, and I have heard Mr.
Madison and Colonel Monroe have many a hearty laugh over the subject,
for years after.

When Mr. Madison was chosen President, we came on and moved into the
White House; the east room was not finished, and Pennsylvania Avenue
was not paved, but was always in an awful condition from either mud or
dust. The city was a dreary place.

Mr. Robert Smith was then Secretary of State, but as he and Mr. Madison
could not agree, he was removed, and Colonel Monroe appointed to his
place. Dr. Eustis was Secretary of War--rather a rough, blustering man;
Mr. Gallatin, a tip-top man, was Secretary of the Treasury; and Mr.
Hamilton, of South Carolina, a pleasant gentleman, who thought Mr.
Madison could do nothing wrong, and who always concurred in every thing
he said, was Secretary of the Navy.

Before the war of 1812 was declared, there were frequent consultations
at the White House as to the expediency of doing it. Colonel Monroe was
always fierce for it, so were Messrs. Lowndes, Giles, Poydrass, and
Pope--all Southerners; all his Secretaries were likewise in favor of it.

Soon after war was declared, Mr. Madison made his regular summer visit
to his farm in Virginia. We had not been there long before an express
reached us one evening, informing Mr. M. of Gen. Hull's surrender. He
was astounded at the news, and started back to Washington the next

After the war had been going on for a couple of years, the people of
Washington began to be alarmed for the safety of the city, as the
British held Chesapeake Bay with a powerful fleet and army. Every thing
seemed to be left to General Armstrong, then Secretary of war, who
ridiculed the idea that there was any danger. But, in August, 1814, the
enemy had got so near, there could be no doubt of their intentions.
Great alarm existed, and some feeble preparations for defence were made.
Com. Barney's flotilla was stripped of men, who were placed in battery,
at Bladensburg, where they fought splendidly. A large part of his men
were tall, strapping negroes, mixed with white sailors and marines. Mr.
Madison reviewed them just before the fight, and asked Com. Barney if
his "negroes would not run on the approach of the British?" "No sir,"
said Barney, "they don't know how to run; they will die by their guns
first." They fought till a large part of them were killed or wounded;
and Barney himself wounded and taken prisoner. One or two of these
negroes are still living here.

Well, on the 24th of August, sure enough, the British reached
Bladensburg, and the fight began between 11 and 12. Even that very
morning General Armstrong assured Mrs. Madison there was no danger. The
President, with General Armstrong, General Winder, Colonel Monroe,
Richard Rush, Mr. Graham, Tench Ringgold, and Mr. Duvall, rode out on
horseback to Bladensburg to see how things looked. Mrs. Madison ordered
dinner to be ready at 3, as usual; I set the table myself, and brought
up the ale, cider, and wine, and placed them in the coolers, as all the
Cabinet and several military gentlemen and strangers were expected.
While waiting, at just about 3, as Sukey, the house-servant, was lolling
out of a chamber window, James Smith, a free colored man who had
accompanied Mr. Madison to Bladensburg, gallopped up to the house,
waving his hat, and cried out, "Clear out, clear out! General Armstrong
has ordered a retreat!" All then was confusion. Mrs. Madison ordered her
carriage, and passing through the dining-room, caught up what silver she
could crowd into her old-fashioned reticule, and then jumped into the
chariot with her servant girl Sukey, and Daniel Carroll, who took charge
of them; Jo. Bolin drove them over to Georgetown Heights; the British
were expected in a few minutes. Mr. Cutts, her brother-in-law, sent me
to a stable on 14th street, for his carriage. People were running in
every direction. John Freeman (the colored butler) drove off in the
coachee with his wife, child, and servant; also a feather bed lashed on
behind the coachee, which was all the furniture saved, except part of
the silver and the portrait of Washington (of which I will tell you

I will here mention that although the British were expected every
minute, they did not arrive for some hours; in the mean time, a rabble,
taking advantage of the confusion, ran all over the White House, and
stole lots of silver and whatever they could lay their hands on.

About sundown I walked over to the Georgetown ferry, and found the
President and all hands (the gentlemen named before, who acted as a sort
of body-guard for him) waiting for the boat. It soon returned, and we
all crossed over, and passed up the road about a mile; they then left us
servants to wander about. In a short time several wagons from
Bladensburg, drawn by Barney's artillery horses, passed up the road,
having crossed the Long Bridge before it was set on fire. As we were
cutting up some pranks a white wagoner ordered us away, and told his boy
Tommy to reach out his gun, and he would shoot us. I told him "he had
better have used it at Bladensburg." Just then we came up with Mr.
Madison and his friends, who had been wandering about for some hours,
consulting what to do. I walked on to a Methodist minister's, and in the
evening, while he was at prayer, I heard a tremendous explosion, and,
rushing out, saw that the public buildings, navy yard, ropewalks, &c.,
were on fire.

Mrs. Madison slept that night at Mrs. Love's, two or three miles over
the river. After leaving that place she called in at a house, and went
up stairs. The lady of the house learning who she was, became furious,
and went to the stairs and screamed out, "Miss Madison! if that's you,
come down and go out! Your husband has got mine out fighting, and d--
you, you shan't stay in my house; so get out!" Mrs. Madison complied,
and went to Mrs. Minor's, a few miles further, where she stayed a day or
two, and then returned to Washington, where she found Mr. Madison at her
brother-in-law's, Richard Cutts, on F street. All the facts about Mrs.
M. I learned from her servant Sukey. We moved into the house of Colonel
John B. Taylor, corner of 18th street and New York Avenue, where we
lived till the news of peace arrived.

In two or three weeks after we returned, Congress met in extra session,
at Blodgett's old shell of a house on 7th street (where the General
Post-office now stands). It was three stories high, and had been used
for a theatre, a tavern, an Irish boarding house, &c.; but both Houses
of Congress managed to get along in it very well, notwithstanding it had
to accommodate the Patent-office, City and General Post-office,
committee-rooms, and what was left of the Congressional Library, at the
same time. Things are very different now.

The next summer, Mr. John Law, a large property-holder about the
Capitol, fearing it would not be rebuilt, got up a subscription and
built a large brick building (now called the Old Capitol, where the
secesh prisoners are confined), and offered it to Congress for their
use, till the Capitol could be rebuilt. This coaxed them back, though
strong efforts were made to remove the seat of government north; but the
southern members kept it here.

It has often been stated in print, that when Mrs. Madison escaped from
the White House, she cut out from the frame the large portrait of
Washington (now in one of the parlors there), and carried it off. This
is totally false. She had no time for doing it. It would have required a
ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her
reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and
were expected every moment. John Susé (a Frenchman, then door-keeper,
and still living) and Magraw, the President's gardener, took it down and
sent it off on a wagon, with some large silver urns and such other
valuables as could be hastily got hold of. When the British did arrive,
they ate up the very dinner, and drank the wines, &c., that I had
prepared for the President's party.

When the news of peace arrived, we were crazy with joy. Miss Sally
Coles, a cousin of Mrs. Madison, and afterwards wife of Andrew
Stevenson, since minister to England, came to the head of the stairs,
crying out, "Peace! peace!" and told John Freeman (the butler) to serve
out wine liberally to the servants and others. I played the President's
March on the violin, John Susé and some others were drunk for two days,
and such another joyful time was never seen in Washington. Mr. Madison
and all his Cabinet were as pleased as any, but did not show their joy
in this manner.

Mrs. Madison was a remarkably fine woman. She was beloved by every body
in Washington, white and colored. Whenever soldiers marched by, during
the war, she always sent out and invited them in to take wine and
refreshments, giving them liberally of the best in the house. Madeira
wine was better in those days than now, and more freely drank. In the
last days of her life, before Congress purchased her husband's papers,
she was in a state of absolute poverty, and I think sometimes suffered
for the necessaries of life. While I was a servant to Mr. Webster, he
often sent me to her with a market-basket full of provisions, and told
me whenever I saw anything in the house that I thought she was in need
of, to take it to her. I often did this, and occasionally gave her
small sums from my own pocket, though I had years before bought my
freedom of her.

Mr. Madison, I think, was one of the best men that ever lived. I never
saw him in a passion, and never knew him to strike a slave, although he
had over one hundred; neither would he allow an overseer to do it.
Whenever any slaves were reported to him as stealing or "cutting up"
badly, he would send for them and admonish them privately, and never
mortify them by doing it before others. They generally served him very
faithfully. He was temperate in his habits. I don't think he drank a
quart of brandy in his whole life. He ate light breakfasts and no
suppers, but rather a hearty dinner, with which he took invariably but
one glass of wine. When he had hard drinkers at his table, who had put
away his choice Madeira pretty freely, in response to their numerous
toasts, he would just touch the glass to his lips, or dilute it with
water, as they pushed about the decanters. For the last fifteen years
of his life he drank no wine at all.

After he retired from the presidency, he amused himself chiefly on his
farm. At the election for members of the Virginia Legislature, in 1829
or '30, just after General Jackson's accession, he voted for James
Barbour, who had been a strong Adams man. He also presided, I think,
over the Convention for amending the Constitution, in 1832.

After the news of peace, and of General Jackson's victory at New
Orleans, which reached here about the same time, there were great
illuminations. We moved into the Seven Buildings, corner of 19th-street
and Pennsylvania Avenue, and while there, General Jackson came on with
his wife, to whom numerous dinner-parties and levees were given. Mr.
Madison also held levees every Wednesday evening, at which wine, punch,
coffee, ice-cream, &c., were liberally served, unlike the present

While Mr. Jefferson was President, he and Mr. Madison (then his
Secretary of State) were extremely intimate; in fact, two brothers could
not have been more so. Mr. Jefferson always stopped over night at Mr.
Madison's, in going and returning from Washington.

I have heard Mr. Madison say, that when he went to school, he cut his
own wood for exercise. He often did it also when at his farm in
Virginia. He was very neat, but never extravagant, in his clothes. He
always dressed wholly in black--coat, breeches, and silk stockings, with
buckles in his shoes and breeches. He never had but one suit at a time.
He had some poor relatives that he had to help, and wished to set them
an example of economy in the matter of dress. He was very fond of
horses, and an excellent judge of them, and no jockey ever cheated him.
He never had less than seven horses in his Washington stables while

He often told the story, that one day riding home from court with old
Tom Barbour (father of Governor Barbour), they met a colored man, who
took off his hat. Mr. M. raised his, to the surprise of old Tom; to whom
Mr. M. replied, "I never allow a negro to excel me in politeness."
Though a similar story is told of General Washington, I have often heard
this, as above, from Mr. Madison's own lips.

After Mr. Madison retired from the presidency, in 1817, he invariably
made a visit twice a year to Mr. Jefferson--sometimes stopping two or
three weeks--till Mr. Jefferson's death, in 1826.

I was always with Mr. Madison till he died, and shaved him every other
day for sixteen years. For six months before his death, he was unable to
walk, and spent most of his time reclined on a couch; but his mind was
bright, and with his numerous visitors he talked with as much animation
and strength of voice as I ever heard him in his best days. I was
present when he died. That morning Sukey brought him his breakfast, as
usual. He could not swallow. His niece, Mrs. Willis, said, "What is the
matter, Uncle Jeames?" "Nothing more than a change of _mind_, my dear."
His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the
snuff of a candle goes out. He was about eighty-four years old, and was
followed to the grave by an immense procession of white and colored
people. The pall-bearers were Governor Barbour, Philip P. Barbour,
Charles P. Howard, and Reuben Conway; the two last were neighboring

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison" ***

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