What We Know About Abby

Abby was enslaved by James Madison Sr., and her name appears in his property tax records from 1782-1786.[1] The law considered enslaved people to be taxable property, and during those five years, enslaved people were listed in tax records by name (rather than by age and gender, as they were in other years).

Abby is likely the same person as Abigail, whose name appears on one other original document: a list of shoe sizes.[2] James Madison Sr. apparently drew up the list when distributing shoes to the enslaved community in November 1787. The female shoe sizes on the list ranged from five to nine, so Abigail, who wore a size five, was probably a young girl or a petite woman.

James Madison Sr. recorded the names and shoe sizes of 50 people he enslaved on this scrap of paper, when distributing shoes to them on November 2, 1787. The scrap is part of a collection of loose notes that appear to have come from an account book belonging to Madison Sr.   

Courtesy of the Library of Virginia, which microfilmed the document from a private collection in 1941. Abigail’s name has been circled for clarity.


[1] Personal Property Tax Records for James Madison, Sr., 1782-1786, Orange County, Virginia, Tax Records, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 23, 2020, MRD-S 43968, Montpelier Research Database.

[2] James Madison Sr. Miscellaneous Loose Notes from Unknown Account Book, Miscellaneous Reels, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 23, 2020, MRD-S 26491, Montpelier Research Database.

Written By

Hilarie M. Hicks, MA
Senior Research Historian

Hilarie came to Montpelier in 2010 and joined the Research Department in 2011, where she provides documentary research in support of the Montpelier Foundation’s many activities. A graduate of the College of William and Mary (B.A) and the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies (M.A.), Hilarie has a broad background of experience in research, interpretation, and administration of historic sites. She enjoys following a good paper trail, and she thanks past members of the Montpelier research staff who blazed the trail for The Naming Project.

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