Cashing In on ‘The Butler?’ ABC Plans Series about White House Servant

Sheldon Candis (L) and Justin Wilson behind ABC project “A Slave in the White House”


*Following the success of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” ABC has put in development a limited series about another famous black White House servant, reports Deadline.com. “A Slave In The White House,” from filmmakers Sheldon Candis and Justin Wilson (“LUV“) and Deborah Spera and Maria Grasso’s One-Two Punch Prods, is a 12-hour limited series based on the true story of Paul Jennings, a Virginia-born slave who served as personal valet to President James Madison while also working behind the scenes as a subversive anti-slavery activist. Based on Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s bestselling book, “A Slave In The White House” chronicles Jennings’ relationship with the Madison family, becoming the President’s surrogate son, and his journey to procure his own family’s freedom. Jennings spent his entire life in and around the White House from age 10 and, after buying his freedom at age 46, wrote the first White House memoir, A Colored Man’s Reminisces Of James Madison. The TV project has a special meaning for Wilson as its deal came together on the day his father suddenly passed away while the two were hiking together on the Inca Trail in Peru.

“Since ‘A Slave In The White House’ is a father-and-son story at heart, it carries even more resonance for me now,” Wilson said. “I’ll be dedicating the show to my dad. I’m just grateful that he was able to share in a little bit of the joy of this success that he’d always desired for me as a writer.”
In Candis and Wilson’s first foray into TV, the two will write and co-executive produce “Slave In The White House,” with Candis directing and Spera and Grasso executive producing. Candis and Wilson’s debut feature film “LUV” premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters in January, with the screenplay earning the duo a 2012 Humanitas Prize nomination.

A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons is now a New York Times Bestseller.  For the week ending 22 January 2012, the book was #35 in the category of of E-book nonfiction best sellers. For the week ending 29 January 2012, the book was #31 in the category of hardcover nonfiction best sellers. Check out the listing of New York Times Bestsellers.


See the interview online! Eizabeth Dowling Taylor and John Stewart in The Green Room.

“The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, Wednesday, 4 January 2012, 11 p.m. ET; the author discusses her newly-released book with Jon Stewart. In the photo on the right, Dr. Taylor enjoys a casual moment in the green room with Jon Stewart. Watch the entire interview online. Watch the interviewonline!

A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons was reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in the Sunday Washington Post on 15 January 2012.


Articles and broadcast news stories for
A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons
by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons has been nominated for the 2012 National Book Award in nonfiction!!

A praise-laden review of A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons is included in the June 2012 issue of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (volume 120, issue 2, pp. 186). Quoting: “Impressive . . . Taylor has done a marvelous job at supplementing the memoir with letters, diaries, newspapers, and interviews with Jennings’s descendants . . . A detailed biography and a unique perspective on the early Republic in general and the life of James Madison in particular. In addition to fascinating details about the Madison household and slave culture along the Chesapeake, Taylor provides a lucid portrait of African American life in early nineteenth-century Washington . . . An excellent read.”

On 17 May 2012 the Library of Congress announced the authors selected as speakers at the National Book Festival which will take place on 22-23 September 2012 on the National Mall. Elizabeth Dowling Taylor was included among such notable authors as Philip Roth, Thomas Friedman, Mario Vargas Llosa, T.C. Boyle, Walter Isaacson, Marilynne Robinson, Geraldine Brooks, Philip Levine, Jeffrey Eugenides, Robert Caro.

The unabridged audiobook version of A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons was released by HighBridge Audio on 10 April 2012. You can find it at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on the B&N and Amazon websites, and on the HighBridge website, where you can also listen to an audio excerpt:


On 28 February 2012 author Elizabeth Dowling was featured on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Daily Circuit with Kerri Miller. You can find the audio of the interview at:


The Daily Beast proclaimed A Slave in the White House a “Must-Read” on 23 February 2012. See the review here:


The Huffington Post ran Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s op-ed on the intersection of Presidents’ Day and Black History Month on Monday, 20 February. It was titled “Let us Honor Slave-Owning Presidents?” and elicited over 2,500 comments! Check it out at:


From Houston (TX) Style Magazine, 2 February 2012: “You might think you know our nation’s past, but this book may surprise you. If you’re up for a great historical biography, in fact, ‘A Slave the White House’ will surely keep you in your seat.

THE CHRISITAN SCIENCE MONITOR lists A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons as #1 of “20 nonfiction books to watch for in 2012.”

THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE includes A Slave in the White House; Paul Jennings and the Madisons in “a preview of what’s worth reading in 2012.”

Listen to an interview from the Leonard Lopate NPR show at WNYC, 2 February 2012Leonard Lopate Show Listen to the fascinating interview!

Fredericksburg (VA) Free Lance-Star
17 January 2012





Greene County Record (Stanardsville, VA),
12 January 2012

For an interview with author Elizabeth Dowling Taylor on the Dr. Alvin Jones radio show, go to www.dralvinjones.com and scroll down along left hand column to the book cover for A Slave in the White House and click on it.

The PBS American Experience documentary on Dolley Madison first aired on 1 March 2010. This is a Middlemarch Film—their signature technique is to have the characters speak close up, directly to the camera, reciting only words from actual letters and diaries. Paul Jennings is one of the historical characters “cast.”  Beth Taylor is one of the scholars featured in on-camera interviews.
Watch the documentary on the PBS website. Watch the documentary online!

The magazine Smithsonian ran a short piece on Paul Jennings in its March 2010 issue. Read Kathleen Burke’s article, “Witness to History.

Gilbert Stuart's famous painting Beth Taylor’s research on Paul Jennings and the antebellum neighborhood in northwest Washington where he lived, along with other families of ex-slaves of Presidents, led to a feature story in the Style section of the Washington Post on 15 February 2010. Read Liza Mundy’s article, “The Neighborhood of Slaves and Presidents.”



On 24 August 2009, the anniversary of the day that their ancestor helped Dolley Madison rescue the iconic portrait of George Washington from the burning White House, the Paul Jennings descendants were treated to a private tour of the White House. Below is a photograph of a few of the descendants examining the enormous portrait, which thanks to the actions of Jennings and others that day, now graces the East Room of the White House.


Press coverage for the event included the New York Times, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and the CBS Evening News. Follow the links below to view the stories and articles.

Read Rachel Swarns article in Sunday New York Times on the Descendants’ visit to the White House, August 2009

Listen to Melissa Block’s interview with Jennings descendant Hugh Alexander on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” NPR logo

See the story! The CBS Evening News aired a story that featured short commentary from a few of the descendants on the day of their White House tour. From the CBS News homepage, type: “A Slave’s Story” in the search box to locate the news clip.
Load times vary.Watch the show!



More reviews for A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons
by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

From Kirkus Book Reviews:

The former director of education at James Madison’s Montpelier debuts with the biography of Paul Jennings, a slave who grew up with the Madisons, was with the former president when he died, gained his freedom and sired many descendants. Because Jennings for much of his life was considered merely property, Taylor had to be satisfied with a skeleton of fact, which she fleshes out with imaginative and thorough research, careful supposition and heavy contextual description. . . . An important story of human struggle, determination and triumph.

From Publishers Weekly:

The complex relationship between a president and his bondman abounds in ironies in this revealing study. Historian Taylor reconstructs the life of Jennings, a slave belonging to President James Madison who became his valet, barber and major-domo, bought his freedom from Madison’s widow Dolly, and published admiring reminiscences of the couple. Taylor fleshes out slender sources into a convincing recreation of Jennings’s relatively privileged but precarious existence, setting it against a vivid portrait of the deeply conflicted Madison . . . Taylor paints a fascinating portrait of slavery, hypocrisy, and one man’s quiet struggle to overcome its injustices.

From Drew McCoy, Professor of History at Clark University and author of The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy:

Paul Jennings’s remarkable life sheds new light on the central themes of American history during his lifetime and beyond. Taylor’s sensitive reconstruction of one man and his family’s experiences yields fresh perspectives on a wide range of subjects, including but hardly limited to James and Dolley Madison, the Montpelier plantation that was their and Jennings’s home, the African-American experience under slavery, the world of free blacks in Washington City during the late antebellum era, and the Civil War and its legacy. Scholars and general readers alike will not be able to put this remarkable book down.

From Catherine Allgor, Professor of History at the University of California at Riverside and author of A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation:

Elizabeth Dowling Taylor has presented us with the gift of a new American hero. With precision and compassion, Taylor deftly brings Paul Jennings out of the shadows of history. Writer, property-owner, freedom fighter, husband, and father—Jennings’s life reveals the complicated humanity behind the designation “slave.”  This story will humble and inspire all who believe in the American Dream.

From Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848:

Taylor’s careful reconstruction of the life of James Madison’s slave valet reveals American history from a different angle. Rescuing George Washington’s portrait from the British army, helping fellow slaves escape, earning his freedom from Dolley Madison with help from Daniel Webster, Paul Jennings led a life full of vivid episodes and famous personalities.

From David Levering Lewis, author of District of Columbia: A Bicentennial History and a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of W.E.B. Du Bois:

Thanks to Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s enterprise and craftsmanship in rescuing and reanimating this significant and remarkable, but nearly forgotten, American personality, A Slave in the White House is a gift to the early history of the republic and the long story of  black and white interdependence.

From BlogCritics.org:

There are many tales in this fabulous book including the saving of the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart that hung in the White House and was in danger during the War of 1812 as the British Army torched the building . . .Even if you are not a lover of biographies and/or memoirs, please pick this one up. The author did an amazing job in researching this book with the help of Jennings descendants. It’s a keeper.

From Goodreads.com:

Long-time readers of my reviews know that I admire a well-researched book. “A Slave in the White House” is just such a book. Elizabeth Dowling Taylor’s book about Paul Jennings, a man born into slavery on the James and Dolley Madison estate, brings the time period and historical personae to life through a fascinating perspective . . . Taylor not only reviewed letters and historical documents to learn Jennings’ story, but also spoke to his descendants who had not only carried on the oral history about their ancestor but also had some of his belongings and letters themsleves. Taylor presents a multi-faceted man who took advantage of his environment (being in the room when discussions about freedom, etc., took place among his “master” and guests) to achieve success during a time when the deck was very much stacked against him. Highly recommended.
Five out of five stars. ★★★★★