What We Know About Gabriel

Gabriel’s name first appeared in the documentary record when Dr. Charles Taylor was called to attend to him during a bout of illness, lasting from February to April in 1817. Dr. Taylor’s bill[1] shows that he made 11 or 12 visits to Gabriel during that time. In his first visit on February 19, Dr. Taylor gave Gabriel several medicines that suggest treatment for a painful wound, burn, or tumor, including laudanum (a mixture of opium and alcohol), camphor, and basilicon ointment, which could be used to draw pus from a wound.

Dr. Taylor returned on February 27 and 28 to treat Gabriel with “Sundry Med: Dressing &ce,” indicating that he was dressing Gabriel’s wound and giving him various medications. (The abbreviation “&ce” means “et cetera.”) In subsequent visits, Dr. Taylor tried a series of medicines, including “Eskarotic Powder” (a caustic used to burn away tissue or tumors) on March 27, and Turner’s Cerate (a drying ointment made with calamine) on April 17 and again on April 25-26. On June 5 Dr. Taylor noted giving Gabriel “Empl.”, likely an abbreviation for the Latin term “emplastrum,” meaning a plaster such as a mustard plaster or other blister plaster.

Dr. Charles Taylor billed James Madison for a dozen visits to Gabriel between February 19 and June 5, 1817. (The abbreviation “Do.” stands for “Ditto,” meaning the same patient as on the line above.) Courtesy of James Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

Dr. Taylor did not visit Gabriel for the rest of the summer in 1817, but his next bill included a $25 charge for “Viseting Dressings &c from 1st Septr 1817 To 27th Augst. 1818 for Gabriel.”[2] (August 27 was the closing date of the bill.) Perhaps Gabriel’s condition had flared up again, or the wound had never fully healed. Dr. Taylor did not specify the number of visits he made or the medicines he used to treat Gabriel for what seems to have become a chronic, or perhaps slowly improving, condition.

August 27, 1818, was the last time that Dr. Taylor treated Gabriel. His third bill, covering medical care for members of the enslaved community from September 1818 to November 1819, made no mention of Gabriel. Presumably Gabriel had recovered from his long bout of illness.

(The alternate possibility is that Gabriel dropped out of Dr. Taylor’s records because he died from his condition in August 1818. If so, that would mean that there are two enslaved men named Gabriel: the man described above, whom Dr. Taylor treated from 1817 to 1818, and the man described below, who was enslaved by John Payne Todd from 1844 to 1852.)

 

“Gabriel abt 50 yrs”

During the 1840s and 1850s, Gabriel’s name appeared in a number of documents related to John Payne Todd. As creditors brought lawsuits against both Todd and his mother Dolley Madison, Todd periodically made lists of enslaved people in his journal. The lists were untitled, but they imply that Todd was contemplating the possibility of selling enslaved people.

In June 1844, Todd made a list of 18 people, most with their ages, and some with a likely selling price. He appraised 52-year-old Gabriel at $200. [3] (Two legal documents from 1844 and 1846 listed Gabriel’s age as “abt 50 yrs.” Despite their inconsistencies, these three sources together suggest that Gabriel was born between 1792 and 1796.[4]) Todd valued the other men on the June 1844 list, who were between 23 and 37 years old, at $400 or $500. Todd may have assigned Gabriel a lower value because of his age. It is also possible (assuming that Gabriel is the same man whom Dr. Taylor treated in 1817 and 1818) that Gabriel may have had lingering effects from the wound that was so slow to heal, such as a limp or difficulty standing for long periods, that affected his ability to do physical labor.

In July 1844, Gabriel became a pawn in a lawsuit brought against Dolley Madison. The lawsuit hinged on a promissory note for $2,600, which Dolley Madison had given to her son in 1841. Todd in turn had endorsed the promissory note to William Smith.[5] By 1843, Todd had not fulfilled the promise to pay, and Smith successfully sued Dolley Madison for the value of the note.[6] On July 1, 1844 the Orange County Court ordered a lien attached on 16 of the people Dolley Madison enslaved, including Gabriel, to ensure payment to Smith.[7]

As in similar suits brought against Dolley Madison and John Payne Todd, Gabriel and the other enslaved people likely remained at Montpelier or Toddsberth, Todd’s Orange county plantation, while the legal proceedings played out. (It appears that the debt was eventually paid by Henry Moncure in November 1844. Moncure, who bought Montpelier in August 1844, also purchased some of the enslaved people who had been attached in this suit. He likely paid off the lien to ensure his clear title to the enslaved. [8])

Gabriel, along with Thom, Nicholas Jr., Ben, Violet, Edward, Willoughby, Mathew, Milly, Hannah, Jim, Randal, Milly, Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Caty were named on the outer panel of this document, which ordered the sheriff to “attach” enough of Dolley Madison’s “goods and chattels” to pay a debt owed to William Smith. Deputy sheriff William Frazer and sheriff Ambrose Madison (James Madison’s nephew) executed the order. Courtesy of State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia.

In the midsummer of 1844, Dolley Madison transferred all the people whom she enslaved to her son John Payne Todd, probably to prevent them from being seized either in the William Smith case or other pending lawsuits. The transfer was accomplished in two deeds, made out on July 16 and 17. “Gabriel abt 50 yrs” was listed on the July 16 deed of gift. (Possibly the transfer happened earlier, as some copies of the deeds are dated June rather than July.) [9]

 

Gabriel at Toddsberth

Gabriel remained at Toddsberth for several years. John Payne Todd made occasional mention of Gabriel in his journal. On August 24, 1844, under the heading “Mr. Graves,” Todd wrote “negroes, valuation” and on the next line “Charles & Gabriel for Chew[ning].” It is not clear how the items are related. Todd may have intended to give a valuation of Charles and Gabriel to the unspecified Mr. Graves, or may have intended to lease Charles and Gabriel to Henry Moncure’s overseer Chewning. A November 1845 journal entry referring to “Gabriels hire” suggests that Todd did lease Gabriel out from time to time. [10]

Gabriel also acted as a courier for Todd, likely while driving a horse and wagon. On March 9, 1846, Todd made a journal entry that he “rec[eived]d a letter by Gabriel from T. Carpenter.” On another page where Todd listed amounts of money paid or collected on various days in July 1847, he noted, “Friday & Sat. unaccounted for Gabriel,” possibly indicating that Gabriel was collecting money or making payments for him and had not yet accounted for those days. “Matt and Gabl” appear in another notation on this page in relation to money, suggesting that both Mathew and Gabriel delivered or collected payments.[11] When Todd requested information from the clerk of the Orange County Court on July 9, 1847, he closed the letter,

“I send Gabriel to yr office”

– another indication of Gabriel’s role as a courier. [12]

Gabriel’s relationships with other members of the enslaved community are unclear, but one hint emerges from a list of 36 enslaved people, which Todd wrote in between journal entries dated April and May 1845. Todd did not list the ages or valuations of the people on this list, so its purpose is uncertain. Among the names on the list are

“Gabriel & Daughter

This is unusual; children were typically grouped with their mothers, not their fathers, on legal and other documents. (The April/May 1845 list, for example, also includes “Caty & 2 children,” “Becca & 3 children,” and “3 children of Judy.”) Was Gabriel raising a young daughter after his wife’s death? Or was she Gabriel’s adult daughter, whose name slipped Todd’s mind when he composed the list from memory?[13]

 

A Starke Debt

On January 26, 1846, John Payne Todd signed a deed of trust with Starke W. Morris, a Louisa county lawyer to whom Todd owed $375. The deed of trust secured the debt using all of Todd’s assets: the Toddsberth plantation, his household furnishings, and eight enslaved people, including

“ a negro man named Gabriel about 50 yrs old.”[14]

If Todd defaulted on the debt, county clerk Philip S. Fry was authorized to sell as many of Todd’s assets as necessary to repay the debt to Morris. Gabriel may or may not have known that he and the other members of the enslaved community were now serving as Todd’s collateral.

Judging from the ages of the enslaved at Toddsberth – most were middle-aged or elderly – Todd was not using his plantation to produce crops for market on any significant scale. (Willoughby was about ten years older than Gabriel; Mathew and Winnie Stewart were about five years younger than Gabriel.[15] Additionally, Winnie referred to other enslaved people as “Old Man Guy,” “Aunt Julia,” and “Uncle Randall,” which probably means they were at least a generation older than she was.[16]) Gabriel and the other people enslaved at Toddsberth were often on their own, while Todd traveled to Washington, Baltimore, Boston, and other cities. Perhaps it was a relief not to be closely monitored, but Gabriel and the rest of the community may have guessed that life at Toddsberth would not remain this way indefinitely.

 

A Starker Fate

John Payne Todd died in Washington DC on January 17, 1852. He had written his will just three weeks earlier, promising “immediate freedom” to “all my slaves whether in the District of Columbia or the State of Virginia or else where,” as well as $200 each to 15 enslaved people whom he listed by name, including “Gabrial.”[17]

Todd, however, had not taken his debts into account when making these bequests. Creditors had claims against his assets, and his assets were primarily enslaved people. Gabriel, along with other members of the enslaved community at Toddsberth, was liable to be sold.

The lengthy process of settling the estate began with an inventory of Toddsberth on September 28, 1852. Gabriel, in his late 50s, was valued at $100, the same value as Willoughby, who was in his late 60s. Guy and Randall, who were in their mid 60s to late 70s, were actually appraised at a higher value, at $150 each. [18] The comparatively low value assigned to Gabriel aligns with the possibility that he was the person treated by Dr. Taylor in 1817 and 1818, and had some degree of disability afterward.

Gabriel’s next (and final) appearance in the documentary record was in May 1854. Starke W. Morris, the Louisa county lawyer to whom Todd owed money, sued the administrator of Todd’s estate (Orange County sheriff Elhanon Row), and was awarded $200 plus interest and court costs. On May 13, the court ordered Orange County coroner Richard Richards to seize and sell enough of Todd’s “goods and chattels” to repay Morris.[19] On the back of the court order is a notation that on May 16, Richards served the order “on a parcel of books In possession of Richard D Bowler,” and on May 22, he served the same order “on one negro man … given in to me by said Bowler by the name of Gabriel.”

A stack of books and a human being were heading toward the auction block.

Clerk of Court Philip S. Fry filled out this form ordering Richard Richards to seize John Payne Todd’s “good and chattels” to pay what Todd had owed to Starke W. Morris. Notations on the reverse of the form show that the order was executed on a “parcel of books” and the enslaved man Gabriel. Apparently Gabriel, and perhaps other people whom Todd had enslaved, were in Richard D. Bowler’s charge, along some of Todd’s material possessions. Bowler’s identity is not yet known. Courtesy of State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia.

Richard Richards made one final note on the the back of the court order:

“Sale advertised for the first day of Orange June Court 1854 & [stopped] by injunction.”

What did this mean for Gabriel, who was about to be sold until the injunction put the sale on hold? The injunction, which might offer a clue, has not yet come to light. Possibly the court wanted to take other creditors’ competing claims into account before selling Gabriel. Another possibility is that the injunction related to the books rather than Gabriel himself. James Madison had bequeathed a significant portion of his library to the University of Virginia, and that bequest was still unfulfilled at the time of Todd’s death. The sale may have been delayed until it could be determined whether this “parcel of books” included any Madison books that were intended for the University. The minutes of the Board of Visitors indicate that the University received its share of Madison’s library in the month of June 1854,[20] not long after the sale of Gabriel and the “parcel of books” was halted.

In the absence of further documentation, we can only assume that the court eventually sold Gabriel. In his late 50s or early 60s, appraised at only $100, Gabriel was unlikely to be purchased by the slave traders who wanted young, strong workers whom they could sell farther south. Gabriel may have been purchased by a local resident who wanted to utilize Gabriel’s skills as a driver and courier.

 

Although Gabriel’s exact fate is unknown, it is unlikely that he received freedom as a result of Todd’s will. If Gabriel lived to see freedom, it likely came a decade later, as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of the Civil War, and the 13th Amendment.

References

[1] Charles Taylor, Account with James Madison, November 19, 1816 – July 14, 1817, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 4, 2021, MRD-S 16686, Montpelier Research Database. See the Founders Online explanatory notes on the medications.

[2] Charles Taylor, Account with James Madison, July 25, 1817 – August 27, 1818, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 22255, Montpelier Research Database.

[3] John Payne Todd, List of Slaves, [June 1844], extracted from John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847, The Peter Force Collection; Series 8, MS 17134, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 29157, Montpelier Research Database.

[4] 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, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 27300, Montpelier Research Database; 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, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 23389, Montpelier Research Database; John Payne Todd, List of Slaves, [June 1844], extracted from John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847, The Peter Force Collection; Series 8, MS 17134, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 4, 2021, MRD-S 29157, Montpelier Research Database.

[5] Dolley Payne Todd Madison, Promissory Note to John Payne Todd, Assigned to William Smith, August 1, 1840 with Financial Record of Transactions, August 5, 1841 and January 14, 1843, box 36, folder 12, Orange County: Judgments, Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery, 1844 May-Oct, State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia, accessed May 6, 2021, MRD-S 25387, Montpelier Research Database.

[6] Declaration of William Smith, 1844, box 36, folder 12, Orange County: Judgments, Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery, 1844 May-Oct, State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia, accessed May 6, 2021, MRD-S 25385, Montpelier Research Database.

[7] Judgment and Attachment of Dolley Payne Todd Madison’s Property, July 1, 1844, box 36, folder 12, Orange County: Judgments, Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery, 1844 May-Oct, State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 25386, Montpelier Research Database.

[8] Judgment Executed Against Slaves, with Notes of Payments, William Smith, October 13, 1844 and November 26, 1844, box 6, folder 1844 K-Z, Orange County: Record Series: Execution (fifas), 1829-1845, State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 34691, Montpelier Research Database.

[9] 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, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 27300, Montpelier Research Database; Dolley Payne Todd Madison, Schedule and Transfer of Slaves to John Payne Todd, Document A, June 16, 1844, box 629, folder Wall File J, 2, Orange County Ended Chancery, Ended Dates: 1847-1848, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, accessed May 7, 2021, MRD-S 26249, Montpelier Research Database.

[10] John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847, Peter Force Papers and Collection; Series 8, MS 17137, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 27454, Montpelier Research Database.

[11] John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847, Peter Force Papers and Collection; Series 8, MS 17137, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 27454, Montpelier Research Database.

[12] John Payne Todd to [Philip S. Fry], July 9, 1847, box 629, folder Wall File J, 3, Orange County Ended Chancery, Ended Dates: 1847-1848, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 26269, Montpelier Research Database.

[13] John Payne Todd, List of Slaves, [April or May 1845], extracted from John Payne Todd, Journal and Letterbook, 1844-1847, The Peter Force Collection; Series 8, MS 17137, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 29160, Montpelier Research Database.

[14] 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, accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 23389, Montpelier Research Database. Ann Miller’s notes on this record in the database have been especially helpful in interpreting the legal issues surrounding this document.

[15] 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., accessed May 5, 2021, MRD-S 27300, Montpelier Research Database.

[16] Winnie to Matthew Stewart, January 1851, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed May 10, 2021, MRD-S 30880, Montpelier Research Database.

[17] John Payne Todd, Will dated December 31, 1851, with Certificate of Register of Will of the Orphan’s Court of Washington, DC, box 22, RG 2; Superior Court, District of Columbia Archives, Washington, DC, accessed May 10, 2021, MRD-S 24594, Montpelier Research Database.

[18] Inventory and appraisal of John Payne Todd’s Estate, September 28, 1852, Will Book 12:18-20 and loose papers, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, accessed May 10, 2021, MRD-S 23936, Montpelier Research Database.

[19] Order to Take the Goods and Chattels of John Payne Todd, May 13, 1854, box 7, Orange Court Records: County and Superior Courts Executions (Fifas) 1845-1932, State Records Center, Richmond, Virginia, accessed May 10, 2021, MRD-S 25044, Montpelier Research Database.

[20] Grant S. Quertermous, “Chronology of the Dispersal of Madison’s Library,” research report, August 27, 2013, Montpelier Foundation, Orange, Virginia, accessed May 11, 2021, MRD-S 43491, 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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