What We Know About Lucy
Lucy was enslaved by James Madison Sr. as early as the 1780s. She was listed on Madison Sr.’s Orange County personal property taxes in 1782, 1783, 1785, and 1786, four of the five years in which enslaved people were listed individually by name. The fact that she was not listed in 1784 is curious. It may have been an oversight, or Lucy may have worked on one of Madison Sr.’s properties outside Orange County in 1784. A woman named Lucy was listed on Madison Sr.’s Culpeper County tax records in 1783. She could be an entirely different woman, or this could suggest that Lucy had been sent from Orange to Culpeper at some point in 1783, and was mistakenly counted in both places that year.
Lucy’s name also appeared on a list of shoes distributed to the enslaved community on November 2, 1787. Lucy’s shoes were size 6. Female shoe sizes ranged from 5 to 9 on the list, so Lucy may have been a petite woman.
Lucy’s size 6 shoes were noted by James Madison Sr. on this list of shoes distributed to the enslaved community on November 2, 1787. The scrap is part of a collection of loose notes that were once associated with an account book belonging to Madison Sr. Courtesy of the Library of Virginia, which microfilmed the document from a private collection in 1941.
After James Madison Sr. died in 1801, Lucy seems to have been inherited by his widow Nelly Madison. Madison Sr. did not specifically bequeath Lucy in his will, but indicated that “it is my will and desire that my said wife shall have in her lot such of my house servants or slaves as she shall choose.” Lucy was apparently one of the enslaved workers that Nelly selected (possibly a domestic worker), since Lucy was noted in Nelly’s estate after Nelly died on February 11, 1829.
When appraisers came to Montpelier in April 1829 to evaluate the monetary worth of the people Nelly enslaved, Lucy was given a negative value on the estate inventory: “Lucy sixty Dollars [worse] than nothing.” Sawney and Violet were also appraised for the same negative amount. In another estate document, the appraisers explained that the estate administrator, Reynolds Chapman, had asked them “to give our opinion of the value of the support (including necessary clothing) for the remainder of their lives, of the old negroes belonging to the estate of Mrs. Nelly Madison, deceased,” and they had concluded the total cost for supporting Sawney, Violet, and Lucy would be $180. Since Lucy was unable to work, the heir who inherited her would be given a $60 credit from the estate to compensate for providing her with food and clothing for the rest of her days.
Lucy’s age was left blank on this valuation of Nelly Madison’s estate, where the cost of supporting her was estimated at $60. The abbreviation “do.” on Lucy’s line stands for “ditto,” meaning in this case, “years of age.” Image microfilmed by the Library of Virginia from the Orange County Court records.
This valuation document referred to Sawney “who is about 78 years of age,” followed on the next lines by Violet and Lucy, whose ages were left blank. It is not entirely clear whether the appraisers meant that Violet and Lucy were also about 78 years old, or whether they didn’t know the women’s ages and left blanks to be filled in later. If Lucy was about 78, she would have been born about 1751, meaning that she was in her 30s when she appeared on Madison Sr.’s tax records and the shoe distribution list.
However, If Lucy was actually older than Sawney, there is a possibility that she was the child whose name was recorded as “Leucy” on the 1732 estate inventory of Ambrose Madison, the father of James Madison Sr. This would mean that Lucy was in her 90s when Nelly Madison died in 1829. This is not as far-fetched as it may sound. In 1825 James Madison Jr. noted several elderly enslaved people living at Montpelier, including a 94-year-old woman in “comfortable health” and a 90-year-old woman who was likely to outlive her. Alternatively, it is possible that the elderly Lucy who was in Nelly Madison’s estate was the daughter or niece of Leucy who had been enslaved by Ambrose Madison as a child.
In a codicil to her will, Nelly directed that each of the people she enslaved should choose which of her heirs would be their next enslaver:
“… I have endeavored to make such a disposition of my slaves as will give them the best satisfaction within my power … and have therein particularly named eight to whom a choice of masters is absolutely given, and thinking it will give more satisfaction to the others to be placed upon the same footing, I do hereby direct that all my slaves be placed upon the same footing…”
We don’t know whether Lucy knew in advance that she would have this opportunity, but on August 15, 1829,
“Reynolds Chapman … called together the negroes belonging to the estate of Mrs. Nelly Madison, deceased, and informed them that by the will of their mistress they were allowed to choose for their masters or mistresses, Mr. James Madison, General William Madison, Mrs. Macon or either of the children of Mrs. Frances T. Rose, deceased, or if they preferred any other persons he was authorized to sell them to such persons at their valuations and requested them to inform him whom they chose.”
The option of freedom was not offered to any of the people that Nelly Madison had enslaved. Lucy had six choices, all of which assumed that she would continue to be enslaved. How did Lucy receive the news? Had she hoped for freedom? Or was she simply relieved to have a voice in determining how she would spend her last years?
Lucy, along with Violet and Sawney, selected James Madison. As someone whose monetary value was considered “worse than nothing,” Lucy was in a vulnerable position if James Madison did not agree to accept her. James did, in fact, agree to take all three of the elderly people. Another document filed in the settlement of the estate shows that $180 was deducted “for support of the three old ones who Chose Mr. Madison.”
By choosing James Madison, Lucy opted to remain in the familiar setting of Montpelier, perhaps to stay close to other family members there. This time at least, Lucy’s choice was honored.
 Personal Property Tax Records for James Madison, Sr., 1782-1786, Orange County, Virginia, Tax Records, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 43968, Montpelier Research Database.
 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.
 James Madison Sr. Miscellaneous Loose Notes from Unknown Account Book, Miscellaneous Reels, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 26491, Montpelier Research Database.
 James Madison Sr., Will dated September 17, 1787, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed February 11, 2021, MRD-S 20954, Montpelier Research Database.
 Valuation of the Personal Estate of Nelly Conway Madison, April 2, 1829, folder August H-N, 1833, Orange County: Microfilm Reel 275, Judgments, August 1833, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 31452, Montpelier Research Database.
 Estate of Nelly Conway Madison, Valuation of Slaves and Other Property, June 30, 1829, Orange County Chancery Causes, 1833-023, Chapman, Admr vs. Madison et als., Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 24469, Montpelier Research Database. See also Commissioners Report of the Estate of Nelly Conway Madison in account with Reynolds Chapman, Administrator, Commissioner’s Report, July 30, 1829, Orange County Chancery Causes, 1833-023, Chapman, Admr vs. Madison et als., Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 24468, Montpelier Research Database. also
 Ambrose Madison, Will dated 1732 with Inventory [18th century copy], James Madison Museum, Orange, Orange County, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 26299, Montpelier Research Database.
 James Madison to Charles Caldwell, July 22, 1825, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed March 3, 2021, MRD-S 17061, Montpelier Research Database.
 Will of Nelly Conway Madison, November 28, 1807, and Codicils of September 16, 1808, January 8, 1817, and May 7, 1818, Will Book 7: 134-138, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, MRD-S 24466, accessed March 3, 2021, MRD-S 24466, Montpelier Research Database.
 Relocation of Slaves, August 15, , folder August H-N, 1833, Orange County: Microfilm Reel 275, Judgments, August 1833, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 31456, Montpelier Research Database.
 Valuation and Owners of Slaves Sold, after 1832, folder August H-N, 1833, Orange County: Microfilm Reel 275, Judgments, August 1833, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed February 17, 2021, MRD-S 31219, Montpelier Research Database.
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.