"Our Large Family": Investigating Dolley and the Madison Enslaved

Saturday, February 20, 2021 - 11:00am
Led by 
Leigh Jameson, Marjie Southerland

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“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Michelle Obama said during the 2016 Democratic convention, reminding the nation that the White House was built by enslaved artisans and laborers. Between 1809 and 1814, First Lady Dolley Madison lived within those walls, attended to by enslaved cooks, gardeners, maids, and footmen like Paul Jennings, owned by the Madisons since birth. Raised a Quaker but married into Virginia gentry, Dolley Madison’s story as enslaver arcs to uncomfortable truths.

Washington Walks guide Leigh Jameson and her performance partner Marjie Southerland have portrayed the relationship between Mrs. Madison and her enslaved lady’s-maid, Sukey, collaborating on research and presenting living history programs for museums and schools. In addition to exploring some of the history of those enslaved to the Madisons in Washington D.C., this program will reveal Dolley’s role as “mistress” and enslaver.  Leigh and Marjie will also take participants behind the scenes for an in-depth look at how they researched their subjects in preparation for portraying them in the 21st century, how the lives of the enslaved are illuminated from scant contemporaneous mention, and how intertwined their stories are with broader events in Washington, D.C. history.