Like the buildings they lived and worked in, we do not know everything about the 300 people who were enslaved throughout the years at Montpelier. As slaves, they were viewed by those who held the power and made the records, as property, not equals. However, we do know some things about a few. The Taylors and Stewarts were two married couples who were likely born at Montpelier and served the Madison family until the death of Dolley’s son, John Payne Todd. The two furnished dwellings in the South Yard have been interpreted to represent their living spaces. Look for the pieces of their lives described below during your next visit to the South Yard at Montpelier.
The Taylor Family
Ralph Sr. (b. ca. 1770) was an enslaved man who was probably born at Montpelier. He remained with the Madison family through the death of JPT in 1852, when he was around 82 years old. Evidence indicates that Ralph may have been in charge of one of the satellite farms that made up part of the Montpelier plantation. As such, it is likely that he was tasked with managing the work of enslaved field laborers. Little is known about Ralph Sr.’s family connections within the enslaved community, save that he was the grandfather (perhaps father) of Ralph Philip Taylor (b. ca. 1812), whose mother was an enslaved domestic servant.
Ralph Philip Taylor was an enslaved man who was likely born at Montpelier and remained with the Madison family through the death of John Payne Todd in 1852. Ralph was a skilled domestic servant who likely began waiting at tables and serving as a footman and porter around the age of ten. When Dolley sold Paul Jennings (1799–1874) in 1846, Ralph assumed the role of her most trusted servant and courier. In 1848, Dolley wrote to her son that Ralph had saved both her and her late husband’s papers from a fire in her Washington home.
Ralph was married to Catherine (b. ca. 1825), an enslaved woman (most likely a domestic servant, though it is currently unknown in what capacity) who was also likely born at Montpelier. Catherine was originally owned by James Madison, Jr., and later Dolley Madison, before she was deeded to John Payne Todd in July of 1844. Together, the couple had at least five children: William Henry (b. 1841), Sarah Elizabeth (1843-after 1892), Benjamin (1845–1849), Ellen Ann (b. ca. 1850), and John (b. ca. 1850). Like all enslaved families, the Taylors faced the constant fear of forced separation. After James Madison died in 1836, Ralph was one of the few slaves to travel to and from Washington to attend Dolley, which meant long periods of separation from his family. In May of 1844 Paul Jennings—who was in Orange visiting his ailing wife, Fanny—wrote to Sukey with an update of the neighborhood, adding, “tel[l] Ralph Catey is well an[d] intend[s] to write to him soon.”
When Todd died in 1852, his will stated: “I do give and bequeath unto all my slaves whether in the District of Columbia or the State of Virginia…their immediate freedom.” In addition, “old Ralph” and “his grandson Ralp” were two of fifteen slaves who were to receive “the Sum of Two hundred dollars to aid them in the Settlement and maintenance of themselves & their families.” Todd, however, was severely indebted when he died, thus it was unlikely that any slaves were manumitted. The Taylor family, likely aware of the financial situation, petitioned the administrator of Todd’s estate for their freedom. Their son Benjamin was not mentioned in the petition, implying that he had already died. In 1853 Catherine Taylor and her children were granted their certificate of freedom. It is unknown whether or not Old Ralph or Ralph Jr. attained their freedom in the same manner, though they would have been granted their own certificates of freedom.
By the 1880s the Taylors were still living in Washington where Ralph Jr. worked as a waiter and Catherine kept house. Their son Henry and daughter Elizabeth were living with them, working as a barber and dressmaker. The last known mention of Ralph was in October of 1889, in Catherine Taylor’s Will. Catherine’s will was presented in court on October 18, 1892, making it likely that she died in October 1892 or possibly late September.
Since the hearth in this space is much wider than those of the other “duplex,” the current theory is that cooking for the South Yard was largely communal. This was a fairly common practice on American plantations: women who were two old or otherwise too infirm for field work would be tasked with both caring for all the young children and cooking for the other enslaved people. While this was often done outside during the warmer months, the freezing weather of winter would have necessitated cooking indoors.
At the time of our interpretation (ca. 1840), Ralph Sr. was around 70 years old, likely meaning that his wife was around the same age. While we don’t know if she was charged with cooking for the enslaved people, since we have installed her in the quarter that was likely used for that purpose, we have chosen to interpret her as the communal cook. Thus, her space has the most cooking implements.
“I am too sorry that you have the unnecessary trouble of sending the china when Ralph would have waited on you, when most convenient, for you to give him orders.”12 Dolley Payne Todd Madison to Ellen [Elizabeth O’Neale Cutts], n.d., Unlocated, MRD-S 42801.-Dolley Payne Todd Madison to Ellen [Elizabeth O’Neale Cutts]
“I come to you a great beggar this morning — pray refuse any thing that it may not be perfectly convenient to grant. Can you spare Ralph to wait for us this evening at 6 oclock? Our waiter is dangerously ill, and has two physicians to attend him.”21 Julia Maria Dickinson Tayloe to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, [1837-1849], Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, MRD-S 23891.– Julia Maria Dickinson Tayloe to Dolley Payne Todd Madison
“The Petition of Ralph Taylor and Catharine Taylor his wife in their own right and on behalf of their infant children Henry Taylor, Sarah E. Taylor, John Taylor and Ellen Taylor, humbly sheweth:
That your petitioners are free, and are held in bondage and claimed as slaves by James C. McGuire as administrator [struck: of] [inserted above: with] the will annexed of Dolly P Madison late of the County aforesaid deceased; and they pray that their right to freedom may be enquired of by your Honors according to law”33 Petition for Freedom, November 12, 1852, box 764, folder 380-381, RG 21; Entry NC-2 6, Case Papers, 1802-1863, Civil Trials, October Term 1852, United States National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, MRD-S 24473.-Petition for Freedom, November 12, 1852
“ Catherine Taylor, a dark mulatto woman short and well made, about thirty two years of age, five feet four and three quarter inches high, round oval face forehead high with good features, having two small scars on the back of the right hand, occasioned by her hand being, or having been broke; and her infant children Henry, Sarah Elizabeth, John and Ellen Taylor are free.”44 Certificate of Freedom for Catharine Taylor and her children Henry, Sarah Elizabeth, John and Ellen in response to their petition for Freedom, Washington, DC, April 1853, Dumbarton House, MS 69.239, National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, Washington, DC, MRD-S 25892.-Certificate of Freedom for Catharine Taylor and her children
Matthew and Winnie were an enslaved couple who were probably born at Montpelier. They remained with the Madison family through the death of John Payne Todd in 1852. Matthew was a trusted domestic servant and courier who was often sent to purchase and deliver sundry goods. In March 1846, for example, Todd noted: “I sent 5.$ by Matthew and he brought back 3$ & 21cts having purchased 2pr of candles 2 pd of Sugar 1 Bottle of Cognac 75cts 1/4 pd of Tea.” Little is known about the labor Winnie performed for the Madisons, aside from a hint that she may have been a domestic servant.
Matthew was possibly the brother of the enslaved domestic servant Sarah Stewart (b. 1794) who corresponded with Dolley on more than one occasion. Matthew and Winnie were often separated when Matthew was sent to deliver goods to Dolley in Washington in the years following Madison’s death. Indeed, when Matthew was on one such trip to Washington, Sarah Stewart wrote to Dolley: “give my love to … Matthew & tell him I should be glad to see him at home… Winney is tolerabe well and wishes to be rememberd to Matthew and all the rest.”
When John Payne Todd died in 1852, his will stated: “I do give and bequeath unto all my slaves whether in the District of Columbia or the State of Virginia…their immediate freedom.” In addition, Matthew and Winnie were some of the fifteen slaves who were to receive “the Sum of Two hundred dollars to aid them in the Settlement and maintenance of themselves & their families.” Todd, however, was severely indebted when he died, thus it was unlikely that Matthew, Winnie or any other slaves were manumitted. Like Ralph and Caty, Matthew and Winnie did go to Washington, DC after emancipation, but we have no evidence of the families interacting.
We have installed a halter and lead in the space to represent Matthew’s position as a trusted domestic servant and courier who often drove a wagon to purchase and deliver sundry goods (see the chart in section two for references to Matthew handling wagons). While we have no references to Matthew owning or using his own personal tack for this position, he may have kept extras or tack specifically used by him or with his favored horse to protect it from undue wear.
A halter is a harness that goes around the face of an animal (a horse in this case) used to lead and tie up the animal. Halters are often confused with bridles. Matthew would have used a halter while on the ground leading or securing the horse. He would have used a bridle while driving the horse. The main visual difference is that bridles have a bit that goes into the horse’s mouth.
Since much of the material making up horse tack is leather, the only archaeological evidence for horse tack in the South Yard comes from the metal pieces. Despite this, several pieces have been found and identified in the South Yard.
“This Indenture made and entered into this 26th of January one thousand 846. Between John P. Todd of the first part, Philip S Fry of the 2nd part, and Starke W. Morris of the 3d part, … Also the following slaves to wit, John (a Blacksmith) a negro man named Matthew, about 45 yr’s old a negro Woman named Winney (wife of the said man Matthew)…”58 Indenture between John Payne Todd, Philip S. Fry and Starke W. Morris, January 26, 1846, box 3, folder Jan–May 1846, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. MRD-S 23389.-Indenture between John Payne Todd, Philip S. Fry and Starke W. Morris, January 26, 1846
“I sent 5.$ by Matthew & he brought back 3$ & 21cts having purchased 2pr of candles 2 pd of Sugar 1 Bottle of Cognac 75cts ¼ pd of Tea”65 “I sent 5.$ by Matthew & he brought back 3$ & 21cts having purchased 2pr of candles 2 pd of Sugar 1 Bottle of Cognac 75cts ¼ pd of Tea”-John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847-John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847
“Know all men by these presents that I Dolley. P. Madison … for value received, have bargained, sold and granted, and confirmed, and by these presents do grant bargain and sell and confirm unto John P. Todd a certain number of negro slaves named …Matthew abt 45 yrs, Winny abt 45 yrs, …”76 Dolley Payne Todd Madison, Declaration of Certain Slaves to John Payne Todd, July 16, 1844, box 3, folder Deeds Conveying Slaves and other property from Dolley Madison to John Payne Todd, 1844 Jun 16-Jul 17 , Papers of Notable Virginia Families, MS 2988, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia. MRD-S 27300.-Dolley Payne Todd Madison, Declaration of Certain Slaves to John Payne Todd, July 16, 1844
“Mathew has called this morning & represents himself as having been robbed last night of all the money he had. He says he is unable to proceed on his trip unless he can borrow six dollars which I have furnished to him.”87 John Hancock Lee to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, January 17, 1845, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, MRS-S 29832.-John Hancock Lee to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, January 17, 1845
The Taylor and Stewart families are only two examples of the many families, couples, and individuals who lived in bondage at Montpelier over the course of generations. Through letters and documents we know how these families functioned in relation to the workings of Montpelier and the Madisons but much less about the autonomous individuals. Of the 300 people enslaved at Montpelier, the Taylors and Stewarts are some of those we know the most about- others are brief mentions in a letter or property record.
We invite you to meet those who were enslaved at Montpelier. Through The Naming Project we are bringing dignity to those once considered sub-human. The Naming Project is an ongoing effort at The Montpelier Foundation, drawing on years of research to uncover and share the names and stories of the Black people who lived, worked, and were enslaved at Montpelier.
The Naming Project
The Naming Project is an ongoing effort at The Montpelier Foundation, drawing on years of research to uncover and share the names and stories of the Black people who lived, worked, and were enslaved at Montpelier.
Introduction to the South Yard
Through the reconstruction, furnishing, and interpretation of the South Yard buildings, Montpelier is sharing a more complete history of the Madison legacy and the place that nurtured the American Constitution as well as the horrendous system of slavery.
The South Yard: Household Items
As an enslaved person living in the South Yard at Montpelier, some of your personal tools would have been used to support your family’s daily needs as well as the demands of your owners. Others would have been yours, alone.
The South Yard: Food & Cooking
Much has been written about the food prepared and consumed by enslaved African Americans. From what was provided by the plantation owners, to what was grown or hunted by the individual; from how it was cooked to the social events surrounding eating.
Former Curator of Collections at James Madison's Montpelier
The above content was researched and written by Teresa Teixeira in 2017.
It was adapted for Montpelier’s Digital Doorway by Leanna Schafer in 2020.
Leanna Schafer, BA
Curatorial & Collections Assistant
Leanna joined the Curatorial & Collections Department at Montpelier in 2018 as a Museum Technician. She values the histories and stories told by objects and works to preserve those objects for generations to com