Protected: The Enslaved Community at Montpelier


Montpelier, the Orange County family home of James Madison, utilized the labor of enslaved African Americans from its initial founding as Mount Pleasant in 1723 through the end of Madison family ownership in 1844. Enslaved laborers cleared the land for a plantation, built the plantation house, grew food, performed domestic chores, and otherwise provided the labor that made the Madison family wealthy. At any given time, more than 100 enslaved people worked and lived at Montpelier. The enslaved community at Montpelier included not just those enslaved people owned by the Madisons, but also those owned by Madison’s siblings and extended family members, as well as enslaved and free Black people living on and adjacent to neighboring plantations.

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People enslaved by Ambrose Madison, James Madison's grandfather, begin clearing the land for a plantation that will be known as Mount Pleasant and, later, Montpelier.


James Madison Sr. comes of age and takes charge of Mount Pleasant.

James Madison Sr. and Eleanor Conway Madison arrange for a starter home to be built about half a mile from Mount Pleasant, at the site of the future Montpelier main house.

James Madison Sr. instructs enslaved laborers to construct a two-story brick mansion on his property.

September 1783

James Madison sells an enslaved person named Billy Gardner, who had accompanied him to Philadelphia and may have tried to self-emancipate, rather than return him to Virginia.

September 15, 1794
James Madison and Dolley Payne Todd marry.
James and Dolley Madison expand and improve James Madison Sr.'s mansion, or what they come to call Montpelier.
February 27, 1801

James Madison Sr. dies and James Madison inherits Montpelier and its enslaved population.

March 1809
Ten-year-old Paul Jennings and a few other enslaved people owned by James Madison are selected for the domestic workforce at the president's house in Washington, D.C.
March 4, 1809
James Madison is inaugurated as the fourth president of the United States.
Paul Jennings, an enslaved man owned by James Madison, becomes Madison's personal manservant, or valet.
By this year, James and Dolley Madison face financial trouble from falling tobacco prices and from debts incurred by their son John Payne Todd.
James Madison becomes president of the American Colonization Society.
James Madison sells sixteen enslaved people to a relative in Louisiana to pay debts.
June 28, 1836
James Madison dies at Montpelier. His slave Paul Jennings will later write, "He ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out."
August 8, 1844
Dolley Madison sells the Madison plantation, Montpelier, to Henry W. Moncure.
As part of Dolley Madison's move to Washington, D.C., she separates the enslaved population at Montpelier, selling some, giving some to family, and bringing some to her new household.
  • Chambers, Douglas B. Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
  • Jennings, Paul. A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison. Cornell University Library Digital Collections, 1865.
  • Taylor, Elizabeth Dowling. A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
APA Citation:
Scruggs, Hannah. Protected: The Enslaved Community at Montpelier. (2021, October 06). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/the-enslaved-community-at-montpelier.
MLA Citation:
Scruggs, Hannah. "Protected: The Enslaved Community at Montpelier" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (06 Oct. 2021). Web. 26 Oct. 2021
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