Open Daily, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm – Tickets Are Available Online.

The Naming Project: Daphne

What We Know About Daphne

Daphne may have been the daughter (or possibly the niece) of Daffney, who was one of the five “Negro Women” listed on the 1732 estate inventory of President Madison’s grandfather, Ambrose Madison.[1] If so, that would indicate that Daphne was born at Montpelier.

Daphne had at least two children. Shadrach was born on January 7, 1767. Anna was born five years later, on June 16, 1772.[2] Daphne may have had other children whose names are unknown to us. The only reason we know about Shadrach and Anna is that Isaac Hite, James Madison Sr.’s son-in-law, recorded Shadrach’s and Anna’s birthdates and their relationship to Daphne in his Commonplace Book, after he inherited Shadrach and Anna from James Madison Sr. in 1801.

Daphne appears on the personal property tax records for James Madison Sr. from 1782 through 1786, the five years when enslaved people were listed by name on these records.[3] Shadrach also appears on the tax records. Anna, who turned 14 partway through 1786, was too young to be listed.

Daphne does not appear in Montpelier records again after 1786. Her children’s names appear on the list of shoes issued to the enslaved community on November 2, 1787, but Daphne’s name does not.[4] What does this mean? Perhaps Daphne was not in need of new shoes at that time. It is also possible that Daphne was no longer at Montpelier by November 1787. She may have died, or James Madison Sr. may have sold her to another enslaver.

Although Daphne disappeared from the Montpelier record, she lived on in her family’s memory. Isaac Hite’s Commonplace Book shows that on July 6, 1811, Anna gave birth to a child at Belle Grove that she named Daphne – a tribute to Anna’s mother, and perhaps to Anna’s grandmother as well.

Shadrack and Anna were among the enslaved people who received shoes on November 2, 1787, but their mother Daphne is noticeably absent from the list. This scrap is part of a collection of loose notes that were once associated with an account book belonging to James Madison Sr.
Courtesy of the Library of Virginia, which microfilmed the document from a private collection in 1941.


[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] Hite Family Commonplace Book, 1776-1859, Hite Family Papers, Vol. I, MS IH637535a-40, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond, Virginia, accessed April 30, 2021, MRD-S 44306, Montpelier Research Database.

[3] Personal Property Tax Records for James Madison, Sr., 1782-1786, Orange County, Virginia, Tax Records, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed April 30, 2021, MRD-S 43968, Montpelier Research Database.

[4] James Madison Sr. Miscellaneous Loose Notes from Unknown Account Book, Miscellaneous Reels, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed April 30, 2021, MRD-s 26491, Montpelier Research Database.