Title: Washington City is BurningWashington City is Burning
Author: Harriette Gillem Robinet
Pages: 149
Reading Level: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★

Welcome to the President’s House!

The Story.

Virginia of the Madison household was thrilled when she heard that she was being summoned to the President’s House in Washington. She thought it was a sign of her mistress, Dolley Madison’s especial favor towards her. It wasn’t until she was on the road that she learned the truth – her mistress had not summoned her. She was being brought at the will of Tobias, a fellow slave, who felt that she would form a vital link in the paths of slaves escaping from their masters. She would be aiding runaways!

Can Virginia learn to balance her duties towards her mistress while also working behind her back? Will she learn who to trust and how to be a better spy?


I had high hopes for this book. I mean, it’s had such an intriguing premise – “President’s slave smuggles runaways under the nose of the Capital!” I thought it would have a wealth of information concerning the Madisons and the War of 1812. Instead, it focused mostly on Virginia’s role in the underground, a role which it is admitted at the end of the book never existed! All of the most memorable ‘facts’ presented were actually unverifiable and probably false. :-\

Another complaint I have concerns Virginia herself. At the beginning of the story, she is completely content with her position as a Madison slave. She mentions that she never had the opportunity to know her parents because they were sold while she was still young, but she doesn’t seem really affected by this loss. But then, after Tobias tells her that the British are bring runaway American slaves to the West Indies and she witnesses one slave auction, her emotions undergo a violent swing. Suddenly she detests the institution of slavery and mourns the fact that she never had a mother to love her. Every time she is told that a slave shouldn’t behave a certain way, she mentally sasses back “Well I’ll do such-and-such once I’m living in the West Indies!” She goes from being wildly content to, well, wildly discontent.

Also, she is a horrid judge of character. Despite the fact that Rosetta Bell has tried to harm her on multiple occasions, and several of her friends have warned her not to trust Rosetta, Virginia still tries to ingratiate herself with Rosetta by telling her secret information about the underground work. On the very next escape attempt twelve slaves are recaptured and it becomes obvious that someone leaked information, but not for one TEENY TINY SECOND does Virginia even think to suspect Rosetta.

She’s really quite dull.

‘Lordsy’ and ‘Great God’ are each used as an exclamation once.

Conclusion. So-so – the story isn’t bad, it just isn’t that great in my opinion.

Review © 2014 Laura Verret

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