Ambrose & Frances Madison

Research & Collections


Ambrose Madison (ca. 1696 – 1732) was a member of the first of four generations of Madisons to reside on the Montpelier property. Like so many others who first came to the Piedmont, the Madison family hailed from the long-settled Tidewater region of Virginia. John Maddison (d. ca. 1680) immigrated to Virginia in 1653. His grandson Ambrose was a well-established, well-connected member of the gentry class. He held several significant public offices, married well, and owned thousands of acres in both the Tidewater and Piedmont.
In 1721, Ambrose Madison, the eldest child of John (1660-1725) and Isabella Minor Maddison (d. 1738), married Frances Taylor (1700-1761), daughter of James and Martha Thompson Taylor. The couple went on to have three children – James (1723-1801), Elizabeth (1725-1773), and Frances (1726-1776).

Madison-Chew Patent, 1723

In 1723, Ambrose Madison along with his brother-in-law Thomas Chew, patented 4,675 acres in the newly opened Piedmont of Virginia. Madison and Chew divided the tract, located along the Southwest Mountains, with Madison retaining 2,850 acres of land northwest of the ridge. Per the requirements of the patent, Madison had three years during which to make certain improvements to the land including erecting a house and clearing land. While Madison sent slaves to clear his newly acquired parcel of land in 1723, it was not until 1732 that Ambrose moved his family to the Montpelier estate, then called Mount Pleasant.

Poison by Slaves

Soon after taking up permanent residence at Mount Pleasant, Ambrose became ill due to an apparent poisoning by slaves. He made out his will in July 1732 and died on August 27, 1732. Three slaves – Pompey, Dido, and Turk – were convicted of Ambrose’s death. Pompey, who was on lease to the Madisons by a neighboring planter, was sentenced to death by hanging. Dido, a female, and Turk were judged to be only tangentially involved in the poisoning of their master and received a sentence of twenty-nine lashes each. As property of the Madisons, the two were subsequently returned to Frances Madison.

Frances continued to run the plantation with notable success (she inherited the twenty-nine slaves listed on Ambrose’s inventory) and co-managed it along with her only son, James, once he came of age in 1741. Frances, who died in 1761, never remarried after her husband’s untimely death.


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A Widow on the Frontier

After her husband was poisoned, Frances managed the plantation until her son James came of age.