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The Naming Project: Abby

What We Know About Abby

Abby was enslaved by James Madison Sr., and her name appears in his property tax records from 1782-1786.[1] The law considered enslaved people to be taxable property, and during those five years, enslaved people were listed in tax records by name (rather than by age and gender, as they were in other years).

Abby is likely the same person as Abigail, whose name appears on one other original document: a list of shoe sizes.[2] James Madison Sr. apparently drew up the list when distributing shoes to the enslaved community in November 1787. The female shoe sizes on the list ranged from five to nine, so Abigail, who wore a size five, was probably a young girl or a petite woman.

James Madison Sr. recorded the names and shoe sizes of 50 people he enslaved on this scrap of paper, when distributing shoes to them on November 2, 1787. The scrap is part of a collection of loose notes that appear to have come from an account book belonging to Madison Sr.   

Courtesy of the Library of Virginia, which microfilmed the document from a private collection in 1941. Abigail’s name has been circled for clarity.