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The Naming Project: Cussina

What We Know About Cussina

Cussina’s name appears in only one document: the 1732 estate inventory of President Madison’s grandfather, Ambrose Madison.[1]

The inventory taker did not indicate family relationships within the enslaved community, but instead grouped the enslaved people under the headings “Negro Men” (Tom, Turk, Bristoll, Joe, Harry, George, Isaac, Petter, Spark and Dick), “Negro Women” (Nanney, Kate, Daffney, Clarisea, and Dido), and “Negro Children” (Leucy, Betty, Catterenea, Sarrah, Cussina, Lett, Juda, Violet, Nancy, Hannah, Jack, Billy, Sam, and Anthoney). Within the group of children, the girls appear to be listed first.

Cussina’s mother was probably one of the adult women named on the inventory: Nanney, Kate, Daffney, Clarisea, or Dido. Her father could have been one of the men on the inventory, or could have been someone enslaved at a different plantation. Since she was considered a child in 1732, Cussina was then probably under age 16 (the age at which enslaved persons were taxable as personal property, because they were considered old enough to do an adult’s work). This means that Cussina was born sometime between the late 1710s and early 1730s.

It was in 1723 that Ambrose Madison received a patent for Mount Pleasant, the land later renamed Montpelier. Soon after claiming the land, he sent out a group of enslaved laborers under an overseer to establish the plantation, finally bringing his own family there in the spring of 1732. Cussina’s mother may have been part of the initial group of enslaved laborers, either purchased by Ambrose for that purpose, or transferred from Ambrose’s other landholdings. Cussina may have come to the plantation with her mother, or may have been born at Mount Pleasant.

It is impossible to know what happened to Cussina after her childhood at Mount Pleasant. There is no surviving document that lists the members of the enslaved community between 1732 (the date of Ambrose’s inventory) and 1782 (the date of an Orange County personal property tax record for Ambrose’s son, James Madison Sr.).[2] Cussina, who would have been in her fifties or sixties if still living in 1782, did not appear on Madison Sr.’s tax record.

What had happened to Cussina by 1782 is unknown. She may have died of disease or in childbirth. Madison Sr. may have sold her, or sent her to work on one of his tracts of land outside Orange County.

Cussina’s story may be lost, but her name is remembered.

Cussina was a child when Ambrose Madison died on August 27, 1732. What were her memories of Mount Pleasant? Artist’s conception of Mount Pleasant by Linda Boudreaux Montgomery, courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.


[1] Inventory of Ambrose Madison, 1732, recorded in Spotsylvania County Will Book A, pp. 183-186, published in Ann L. Miller, The Short Life and Strange Death of Ambrose Madison (Orange, Virginia: Orange County Historical Society, Inc., 2001).

[2] Personal Property Tax Records for James Madison, Sr., 1782-1786, Orange County, Virginia, Tax Records, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed January 14, 2021, MRD-S 43968, Montpelier Research Database.