What We Know About Lemon

Lemon was one of a group of enslaved workers on whom James Madison Sr. paid personal property tax in Culpeper County in 1783, including Sam, Abner, Lucy, Lewey, Sawney, Jack, Frank, Sinia, Molly, Sarah, Castor, Sye, Henry, and Crease.[1] This is the only instance where Lemon has been found in the documentary record. Lemon may have been a farm laborer, raising tobacco, corn, and wheat on one of the more distant landholdings in Madison Sr.’s agro-business enterprise.

The name Lemon was not as unusual as it seems to us today. The 1783 Culpeper County tax records listed another man named Lemon enslaved by William Jones. The College of William and Mary also once enslaved a man named Lemon, who appeared in the college records between 1780 and his death in 1817.[2]

Lemon’s name is almost the only thing we know about him. We don’t know his age, whether he was born at Montpelier, or what his family relationships were with the other people enslaved on Madison Sr.’s Culpeper tract. The rest of Lemon’s life story, before and after 1783, remains a mystery.

Shadow silhouettes represent the unknown and perhaps unknowable aspects of the lives of Lemon and others enslaved by the Madisons. Photo of The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition by Rick Seaman, courtesy of Montpelier.


[1] Mary Boldridge Norris, Property Tax List of Culpeper County Virginia and Names of Slaves, 1783 (Raleigh, NC, 1900), accessed February 11, 2021, MRD-S 41900, Montpelier Research Database.

[2] William and Mary has named its slavery research and reconciliation project The Lemon Project in honor of the man enslaved there.

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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