"A deeply personal account of an extraordinary American family."--Newsweek
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 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 31 years old.
Sarah Madden bore ten children and 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. Stories of Willis and Sarah were passed down in Madden family lore through the generations--their hard work, their business sense, their ability to overcome obstacles, poverty, illiteracy, prejudice. This is the chronicle of those generations, a 200-year history of a kind unusually complete in American history. Two factors make it so--that Sarah Madden and her offspring kept their stories alive, and that they saved hundreds of important documents of their freedom, hardship, and daily work.
These documents came to light in 1949 when author T.O. Madden, Jr. (great great grandson of Sarah Madden) conceived a powerful desire to know more of his bygone generations. He began to investigate, and his search for family brought him to a hidebound trunk originally belonging to his great grandfather Willis. Its contents brought tears to his eyes. Stored there, awaiting discovery, 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. In addition, the leather trunk held an exciting, full set of business records for the days of the nineteenth century when Madden's Tavern flourished as a center of activity in Orange County and as a place for travelers to rest on the road to Fredericksburg.
Since that day, T.O. Madden, Jr., has been deeply researching his family, using census reports, other official sources, familly, 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.
About the Author
Nell Irvin Painter is the award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, The History of White People, and Standing at Armageddon. She is currently the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University and lives in Newark, New Jersey, and the Adirondacks.