Letter from James Madison to James Madison Sr. (September 8, 1783)


In this letter, dated September 8, 1783, James Madison writes to his father James Madison Sr. about his decision to not bring Billy Gardner, an enslaved man, back to Virginia after he had accompanied Madison during his three years with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In Gardner, Madison recognized a desire for freedom that was not dissimilar from his own involvement in the American Revolution. Madison feared that Gardner might inspire the other people enslaved at Montpelier to seek their own freedom. Constrained by Pennsylvania law from selling Gardner outright, Madison sold Gardner into a seven-year term of indenture. Afterward, Gardner lived as a free man.


To James Madison, Sr.

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Docketed by James Madison, Sr., “Sep 8 1783.” Cover missing.

Philada. Sepr. 8. 1783. Hond Sir

Mr. Jones & myself being here transacting some private business which brought us from Princeton the end of last week, I here receive[d] your letter of the 22d. ulto. The favorable turn of my Mothers state of health is a source of great satisfaction to me, and will render any delay in my sitting out for Virga. the less irksome to me. I shall return to Princeton tomorrow; my final leaving of which will depend on events, but can not now be at any very great distance. On a view of all circumstances I have judged it most prudent not to force Billey back to Va. even if could be done; and have accordingly taken measures for his final separation from me. I am persuaded his mind is too thoroughly tainted to be a fit companion for fellow slaves in Virga. The laws here do not admit of his being sold for more than 7 years. I do not expect to get near the worth of him; but cannot think of punishing him by transportation merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, & worthy the pursuit, of every human being.

We have no later advices from Europe than when I wrote by Merry Walker.

APA Citation:
Madison, James. Letter from James Madison to James Madison Sr. (September 8, 1783). (2022, April 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Madison, James. "Letter from James Madison to James Madison Sr. (September 8, 1783)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (26 Apr. 2022). Web. 20 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 23
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