What We Know About Pamela Barbour Taliaferro
Pamela’s name first appeared (without a surname) in the 1807 will of Nelly Conway Madison, the mother of President James Madison. Nelly planned to divide the people she enslaved among several of her children and grandchildren, noting:
“it is my desire that my slaves be consulted to know to which of the before named legatees they may choose to be allotted … it is my will and desire that my slaves Simon, Peter, Sawney, Sam, Tabby, Violett, Mary and Pamela shall at all events have their choice as before mentioned…”
In a May 1818 codicil to her will, Nelly directed that all the people she enslaved should be allowed to choose their next enslaver, not just the eight people she had originally specified. It may be significant that Nelly always intended for Pamela to have this opportunity. This suggests that Pamela waited on Nelly in the house or in another close capacity.
Pamela may have been a young girl or a teenager when Nelly wrote her will in 1807. Records created after the Civil War indicate that Pamela had married Frank Taliaferro at an unknown date. He may have been one of several men named Frank who were enslaved at Montpelier, or he may have lived nearby. Pamela gave birth to at least two children, Solomon (born ca. 1819) and Judy (born ca. 1821).
“Allowed to Choose”
Pamela was not mentioned in any surviving records between 1807 and 1829. She next appeared in records created after Nelly Madison died on February 11, 1829. When Nelly’s estate was appraised on April 2, 1829, “Pamela & Child Judy 8 years old” were valued at $200.
Another version of the estate inventory was taken on June 30, 1829, to include three elderly enslaved people who had been left out of the initial inventory. Pamela and 8-year-old Judy were again valued at $200. MIcrofilm image courtesy of Library of Virginia.
Reynolds Chapman, administrator of the estate, made an announcement on August 15, 1829, to the people Nelly had enslaved:
“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.”
Neighbors Reuben Newman and Charles P. Howard recorded the choices:
This estate document makes clear that Pamela was the mother of Solomon, as well as Judy. “Soloman” had been listed separately at $275 in the April 2 appraisal. Being about 10 years old, Solomon was on the brink of being too old to be grouped with his mother and younger sister. Was he appraised as an individual because he was tall or looked older than he was? Did Pamela realize that her son had been appraised separately, and did this cause her to worry? Did Pamela have to speak up to ensure that her son came with her, when she chose for her family to go to Sarah Madison Macon’s nearby Somerset plantation?
Pamela’s family grouping was again made clear in another estate document that listed the total value of the enslaved people who were received by each of Nelly Madison’s heirs. Sarah Madison Macon received $825 worth of human property, including Sam (valued at $50), Peter (valued at “nothing”), James (valued at $300), and
“Pamela her son Solomon and daughter Judy — valued to $475.”
We don’t know what motivated Pamela to choose Sarah Macon. Possibly Pamela’s family had kinship ties to other people enslaved at Somerset.
Pamela and her children did not immediately leave Montpelier, due to legal wrangling among Nelly Madison’s heirs. To settle the estate, the court ordered in 1833 that the estate administrator deliver Sam, James, and Pamela with her children Solomon and Judy, to Sarah Macon’s sons, who were acting as her trustees. (Peter had died by this time.) If Sarah Macon’s sons failed to pay the amount they owed to other heirs, one or more of the enslaved people could be sold to make the payment.
What happened next is not documented. Presumably Pamela, Solomon, and Judy were taken to Sarah Macon at Somerset after the court order in 1833. Somerset was sold a few years later, after Sarah’s husband Thomas Macon died in 1838. Sarah herself died in 1843. Pamela was not listed in Sarah’s estate inventory, although Solomon and Judy were listed, along with a child of Judy.
What happened to Pamela? She may have died between 1833 and 1843. It is also possible that she was sold, perhaps at the time of Thomas Macon’s death, to discharge the significant amount of debt he owed at the time he died. Pamela’s name does not appear again in the historical record during her lifetime.
Revealed in a Register
Pamela’s name does, however, appear in one more document, likely created after her death. Her son Solomon entered into a second marriage in 1889, when he was nearing 70 years old. African American marriages were legally recognized by that time, and Solomon Taliaferro’s marriage to Sarah Brown was duly recorded in the Orange County marriage register. The newly-married couple was required to give information including their place of birth, their place of residence, and the names of their parents.
Solomon listed his parents as Frank Taliaferro and Pamela Barbour. The name Barbour is likely connected to the Barbour family of Barboursville in Orange County. Pamela’s family may have had the name Barbour for generations, but since the Madisons – like many enslavers – did not recognize the surnames of enslaved people, there is no way to document how far back the Barbour name went in Pamela’s family.
Frank Taliaferro and Pamela Barbour were recorded as the parents of Solomon Taliaferro when Solomon married on October 10, 1889. Courtesy of the Orange County Clerk’s Office.
A Name Remembered
To the woman who enslaved her, to the heirs who bickered over her, and to the courts who kept record of her, she was simply Pamela, without the dignity of a last name.
Yet Pamela did have a surname – Barbour – that was recognized within the enslaved community, and remembered and recorded by her son Solomon.
And Pamela had a husband with a surname – Taliaferro – that would have legally been her name as well, if the marriages of enslaved people had been legally recognized.
Pamela Barbour Taliaferro. Her son remembered her name, and so do we.
 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, accessed July 7, 2021, MRD-S 24466, Montpelier Research Database.
 The family name “Taliaferro” is usually pronounced “Tolliver” in Virginia.
 Pamela Barbour and Frank Taliaferro are listed as the groom’s parents on the 1889 marriage record of Solomon Taliaferro. Pamela was likely still married to Frank when Judy was born, about two years after Solomon’s birth. Orange County Marriage Register, No. 2: 1854-1912, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, accessed July 8, 2021, MRD-S 45780, 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 July 7, 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 July 7, 2021, MRD-S 24469, Montpelier Research Database.
 Valuation and Distribution of the Slaves Belonging to Nelly Conway Madison’s Estate, n.d. 1830, folder August H-N, 1833, Orange County: Microfilm Reel 275, Judgments, August 1833, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 8, 2021, MRD-S 31224, Montpelier Research Database.
 Decree, 1833, folder August H-N, 1833, Orange County: Microfilm Reel 275, Judgments, August 1833, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 8, 2021. MRD-S 31209, Montpelier Research Database; Final Decree in Nelly Madison Admir v. Madison, August 1833, folder August H-N, 1833, Orange County: Microfilm Reel 275, Judgments, August 1833, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 8, 2021, MRD-S 31208, Montpelier Research Database.
 Inventory and Appraisement of Sarah Macon, January 1, 1844, Will Book 10: 57-60, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, accessed July 8, 2021, MRD-S 24641, Montpelier Research Database.
 Orange County Marriage Register, No. 2: 1854-1912, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia, accessed July 8, 2021, MRD-S 45780, 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.