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The Naming Project: Ezekiel

What We Know About Ezekiel

Ezekiel was “a small Negro Man … 19 years old, of a light black color, and turns his toes out when he walks,” according to the advertisement James Madison Sr. placed in the newspaper, after Ezekiel escaped from Montpelier in December 1794. Ezekiel and another enslaved man (apparently not from Montpelier) were “steering their course towards Pennsylvania” when Ezekiel’s companion was recaptured near Harper’s Ferry. Madison Sr. placed the runaway ad in January 1795, six weeks after Ezekiel left.[1] We have no further record of Ezekiel to show whether he was captured and returned to Montpelier, whether he reached Pennsylvania, or whether he met another fate.

Only one or two other enslaved people (Anthony and possibly Billey Gardner) are known to have attempted escape from Montpelier. Like Ezekiel, they were young men unlikely to have married or to have had children. Family ties such as these might have discouraged an enslaved person from attempting escape, if it meant separation from loved ones (or even possible retribution for those left behind).

Before his escape, Ezekiel had appeared on James Madison Sr.’s property tax records in Orange county from 1782-1784, but not in 1785 or 1786.[2] (Tax records listed taxable slaves individually by name only in the five years between 1782 and 1786.) Possibly Ezekiel was located on a Madison property in another county in 1785 and 1786. Ezekiel’s name also survives on a 1787 list of enslaved people with their shoe sizes, drawn up when Madison Sr. was issuing shoes to the enslaved community, and later found among his miscellaneous papers.[3] Ezekiel, age 11 in 1787, wore a size four shoe.

James Madison Sr. ran this ad in the Federal Intelligencer, a Baltimore newspaper. Ezekiel was suspected to have taken a horse from the vicinity where his companion was captured, near Harper’s Ferry, so Madison Sr. was apparently advertising in areas where Ezekiel might go next. The ad mentions that Ezekiel “absconded before he got his usual clothing,” meaning the clothes that Madison Sr. would typically issue to the enslaved community at the start of the winter and summer seasons. The ad requests that whoever captures Ezekiel should bring him to Isaac Hite (Madison Sr.’s son-in-law in the Shenandoah Valley), to Madison Sr. at Montpelier, or to jail.


[1] [Ran Away, the 13th of December last], Federal Intelligencer (Baltimore, Maryland), February 7, 1795, accessed August 5, 2020, MRD-S 42241, Montpelier Research Database.

[2] Personal Property Tax Records for James Madison, Sr., 1782-1786, Orange County, Virginia, Tax Records, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 21, 2020, MRD-S 43968, Montpelier Research Database.

[3] James Madison Sr. Miscellaneous Loose Notes from Unknown Account Book, Miscellaneous Reels, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 21, 2020, MRD-S 26491, Montpelier Research Database.[vc_column][vc_text_separator title=Written By][vc_single_image image=2251 alignment=center][vc_column width=1/2][vc_custom_heading text=Hilarie M. Hicks, MA font_container=tag:h5|text_align:left use_theme_fonts=yes][vc_custom_heading text=Senior Research Historian font_container=tag:h6|text_align:left]Hilarie came to Montpelier in 2010 and joined the Research Department in 2011, where she provides documentary research in support of the Montpelier Foundation’s many activities. A graduate of the College of William and Mary (B.A) and the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies (M.A.), Hilarie has a broad background of experience in research, interpretation, and administration of historic sites. She enjoys following a good paper trail, and she thanks past members of the Montpelier research staff who blazed the trail for The Naming Project.