We Were Always Free: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia, A 200-Year Family History

We Were Always Free: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia, A 200-Year Family History

University of Virginia Press
304 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
52 b&w illustrations
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8139-2371-0

T. O. Madden, Jr. (1903-2000)


Ann L. Miller, Historian
Virginia Transportation Research Council

Foreword by Nell Irvin Painter

In August of 1758, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, a poor Irish immigrant named Mary Madden bore a child, Sarah Madden, whose father was said to be a slave and the property of Colonel James Madison, father of the future president of the United States. This daughter, though born to a free mulatto, became indentured to the Madisons. There she worked as a seamstress to pay off the fine of her birth until she was thirty-one years old.

Sarah Madden bore ten children; when the term of her indenture was over, she and her youngest son, Willis, struck out for themselves—Sarah as a seamstress, laundress, and later, with Willis, a dairy farmer and tavern keeper.

Spanning two hundred years of American history, We Were Always Free tells its story with remarkable completeness. we can thank Sarah Madden and her descendants for keeping their family narrative alive—and for saving hundreds of important documents detailing their freedom, hardship, and daily work.

These documents came to light in 1949 when T. O. Madden Jr. discovered a hidebound trunk originally belonging to his great-grandfather Willis. Stored in the trunk were papers dating back to the mid-eighteenth century, freedom papers, papers of indenture, deeds of land, Sarah Madden’s laundry and seamstress record books, letters, traveling passes. The trunk even held a full set of business records from the nineteenth century when Madden’s Tavern flourished as a center of activity in Orange County and as a rest stop on the road to Fredericksburg.

From that day forward, T. O. Madden deeply researched his family, using census reports, other official sources, family, and friends. All have led to his ably reconstructed family history, and to his own remarkable story.

We Were Always Free is a unique and very American family saga.

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