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The Naming Project: Katey

What We Know About Katey

Katey spent only her first few months at Montpelier, but was enslaved by at least three generations of the Madison family and their descendants during the course of her life.

When Katey was born at Montpelier on July 26, 1782, her mother Truelove had already given birth to three older children: 6-year-old Peggy, 4-year-old Priscilla, and almost-2-year-old Henry. [1] The entire family was enslaved by James Madison Sr. His daughter Nelly would marry Isaac Hite Jr. less than six months later, on January 2, 1783.


A Union, and a Separation

James Madison Sr. made a practice of giving enslaved people to his sons and daughters when they married. He confirmed these gifts when he wrote his will in 1787, since the transfer of enslaved people represented an advance on his sons’ and daughters’ shares of his estate. Katey was one of 15 people whom Madison Sr. gave to Nelly and her husband, as he noted in the will:

“I do also confirm to my daughter Nelly Hite the following slaves, to wit; Jerry, Jemmy, Sally, Milley Eliza and her children Joanna, Dianna, Demars, Pender and Webster, also Truelove and her children, Peggy, Priscilla, Henry and Katey and their increase since the first day of March 1783 and for the future.”

The March 1783 date mentioned in the will suggests that Madison Sr. transferred Katey, her family, and the other enslaved people about two months after Nelly and Isaac’s wedding took place.[2] By transferring enslaved people to his daughter and new son-in-law, Madison Sr. was providing the next generation with the enslaved labor to establish themselves on their own plantation and build their own wealth.

There were at least two family units within the larger group of fifteen people: Truelove with her four children, and Eliza with her five children. Were Jerry, Jemmy, Sally, and Milley related to Truelove’s and Eliza’s families? Could Jerry or Jemmy have been Katey’s father, or did her father remain at Montpelier or another Orange County plantation?

James Madison Sr. gave “Truelove and her children,” including Katey, as well as 10 other enslaved people to his daughter Nelly Madison Hite and her husband Isaac Hite Jr. after their 1783 wedding. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The newlywed Hites made their home at Belle Grove, in the northern Shenandoah Valley – 75 miles away from Montpelier. Unlike the enslaved people given to Madison Sr.’s children living in Orange County, Katey’s family would not be able to walk back to Montpelier for a Saturday night or Sunday visit to their extended family members. Katey was too young to appreciate this change, but Truelove and her older children likely experienced the pain of seeing their extended family torn apart, even as Nelly’s and Isaac’s families were united.


At Belle Grove

Once Katey and her family arrived at Belle Grove, Isaac Hite recorded their names and birthdates in his commonplace book. Truelove may have told him her children’s birthdates, or James Madison Sr. may have sent the information along to Hite.

The rest of what we know of Katey’s life comes from Hite’s further entries in the commonplace book, regarding Katey and her family members. Katey’s mother Truelove had more children after moving to Belle Grove (Truelove’s “future increase,” as they were called in the deed of gift). This suggests either than Katey’s father was also among the group sent to the Hites, or that Truelove married again. Katey was 6 years old when her baby brother was born on May 5, 1788; sadly, he died a week later. Katey’s brother Bill was born in 1792, and her sister Rachel in 1794. Katey was 15 years old by the time her brother Seth was born in 1797.

Katey herself became a mother two years later. Isaac Hite made notes in his commonplace book of the name and birthdate of each of Katey’s children:

“Barbary (Caty’s)              March 22d. 1799”

“Peggy (Kate’s)                 August 25 1801”

“Eliza (Kate’s)                    Novr 8th 1803”

“Patty (Katy)                      Feby 16 1806”

“Henry (Katy’s)                 March 9th 1808”

Katey named two of her children – Peggy and Henry – for her own older sister and brother. Katey’s sister Peggy had been transferred to Isaac’s cousin George Hite about 1790.[3] Katey’s decision to name her second daughter Peggy suggests the affection she held for her sister, a decade after they had been separated. Katey’s brother Henry had “run away” at an unspecified date, according to Hite’s commonplace book. Naming her only son after her absent brother may have been a way for Katey to keep his memory alive as well.


“Given to Nelly Baldwin”

Katey had been a wedding present, along with her mother, sisters, and brother, when Nelly Madison and Isaac Hite married in 1783. When the Hites’ daughter Nelly married Cornelius Baldwin in 1809, Katey and her children became a wedding present for the next generation of Hites.

In Isaac Hite’s commonplace book, next to the columns where he recorded the names and birthdates of the people he enslaved, he kept another column titled “How Disposed,” where he indicated if he had sold or exchanged someone, noted if they had died or run away, or gave other explanations of their eventual fate.

The entry for Katey’s disposition reads “given to Nelly Baldwin,” without a date. It is highly likely that Hite gave Katey to Nelly Baldwin around the time of the Baldwins’ 1809 marriage, since the latest entry mentioning Katey was the 1808 record of the birth of Katey’s son. Katey’s daughter Peggy had the notation “Gave to Nelly,” and daughter Eliza was also noted as “Given to Nelly.” This suggests that 27-year-old Katey, 8-year-old Peggy, and 6-year-old Eliza were given to Nelly Baldwin together as a wedding present.[4]


Katey’s Other Children: “How Disposed”?

Curiously, Isaac Hite did not make any notations under “How Disposed” for Katey’s other children. Patty was 3 years old, and Henry only 1 year old, in 1809. It would seem likely that Patty and Henry went to the Baldwins with their mother Katey, especially since their 8- and 6-year-old sisters Peggy and Eliza did so. Since the Hites presumably intended their daughter Nelly Baldwin to own Katey’s “future increase,” (just as the Hites had received Truelove’s “future increase”), it seems logical that the Hites would also include Katey’s most recently born children in the gift, unless they intended to eventually transfer Patty and Henry to another Hite son or daughter.

The “How Disposed” column is also blank for Katey’s oldest child Barbary. (Barbary could be a male name, as noted by research staff at Belle Grove, or it could be a phonetic spelling of the female name Barbara.) Was Barbary part of the gift to Nelly Baldwin ca. 1809, or was 10-year-old Barbary considered old enough to remain behind at Belle Grove without a mother?

The absence of information for Barbary, Patty, and Henry remains a mystery. Did Isaac Hite simply fail to note all of the children included in Katey’s family, when he recorded that Katey, Peggy and Eliza were “given to Nelly Baldwin”? Since the Baldwins likely lived in an older house on the Belle Grove property in the first decade of their marriage, another scenario is possible. If the Baldwins did not initially move away from Belle Grove, Katey’s family may have remained together there for a time, even if Isaac Hite did not transfer ownership of all of Katey’s children to the Baldwins.

The Baldwins did not remain at Belle Grove permanently. Isaac Hite noted in his commonplace book, “Nelly Baldwin left Belle Grove to go to Kentucky May 4, 1818, returned September 15, 1818 to reside at Cedar Grove.”[5] This suggests that the Baldwins were unhappy with their move to Kentucky, and decided to come back to Virginia. They purchased Cedar Grove in 1819, a plantation neighboring Belle Grove. Did Katey and any of her children make the trip to Kentucky? Was it a relief to return to their family and community in the vicinity of Belle Grove?


Two Weddings, Twice Gifted

The path of Katey’s life was determined in large part by two marriages in the extended Madison family. As an infant with her mother and siblings, Katey was given to Madison Sr.’s newlywed daughter Nelly Hite. As an adult with her own children, Katey was given to the Hites’ newlywed daughter Nelly Baldwin.

The first marriage brought Katey from Montpelier (a place she was too young to remember) to Belle Grove. The second marriage took Katey and her family from Belle Grove to nearby Cedar Grove, possibly with a sojourn in Kentucky. Once at Cedar Grove, Katey could have walked to Belle Grove in half an hour or less, if she had the opportunity to visit family on a Saturday night or a Sunday.[6]

The deaths of Cornelius Baldwin in 1828, and Nelly Baldwin in 1830, undoubtedly caused Katey’s life to change again. Katey may have remained at Cedar Grove for a time, while Nelly’s sister Rebecca Hite and Nelly’s eldest daughters cared for the younger children. In 1831 the children moved in with relatives in Staunton. In 1843 the Baldwin children, who were by then adults, sold Cedar Grove.[7] It is unknown whether 62-year-old Katey was still enslaved by one of the Baldwin sons or daughters at that point.


A Life of Her Own

The marriages and movements of two generations of Madisons and Hites shaped and reshaped Katey’s world. Yet Katey somehow carved out a family life of her own.

We know only the barest outlines of that life. We know the names of Katey’s children Barbary, Peggy, Eliza, Patty, and Henry, but not the name of Katey’s husband. We don’t know whether Katey was able to keep her children with her until they were adults. We know very little about Katey’s life once she was given to the Baldwins, and nothing at all about Katey’s life after the Baldwins died.

We know so little of Katey, but we honor her perseverance in a life of continued change.



Special thanks to Robin Young for sharing Belle Grove research information.


[1] Based on the birthdates and family relationships recorded in Hite Family Commonplace Book, 1776-1859, Hite Family Papers, Vol. I, MS IH637535a-40, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 14, 2021, MRD-S 44306, Montpelier Research Database. Peggy was born July 17, 1776; Priscilla on June 20, 1778; and Henry on August 18, 1780.

[2] James Madison Sr., Will dated September 17, 1787, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed July 16, 2021, MRD-S 20954, Montpelier Research Database. See also James Madison Sr. to Isaac Hite Jr., Deed of gift for slaves, August 25, 1785, William H. English Collection (Hite-Bowman Papers), Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana, accessed July 16, 2021, MRD-S 42048, Montpelier Research Database. The deed, written several years after the fact, gives March 31, 1782, as the date after which the Hites would own the “future increase” of the enslaved group, but the date should probably be in March 1783, after the Hites’ marriage.

[3] Although the commonplace book does not give a date for the transfer, the research staff at Belle Grove has deduced the date of 1790. In exchange for Peggy and other enslaved people, George Hite sent Isaac Hite several enslaved people, including Abba and her daughter who had been born in February 1790. Their names were added to the running list of enslaved people in the commonplace book. The next birth of a child in the Belle Grove enslaved community was recorded in the commonplace book in January 1792, meaning that the exchange with Hite took place no earlier than February 1790 and no later than January 1792. Email from Robin Young to Hilarie M. Hicks, July 16, 2021.

[4] Eliza appears to have returned to Belle Grove in later years. Isaac F. Hite (the son of Isaac Hite by his second wife, after first wife Nelly Madison Hite’s death) made his own list of enslaved people in the commonplace book in 1851, the year his widowed mother died. He listed “Eliza (Kate’s)” with the same birthdate of November 8, 1803, but noted “Bought of Isaac Tobin.” This may have been a mistake (Eliza should probably have been designated with others who came from “Father’s Estate”), or perhaps the Baldwins sold Eliza to Tobin, who sold her to Isaac F. Hite. Hite Family Commonplace Book, 1776-1859, Hite Family Papers, Vol. I, MS IH637535a-40, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 14, 2021, MRD-S 44306, Montpelier Research Database.

[5] Hite Family Commonplace Book, 1776-1859, Hite Family Papers, Vol. I, MS IH637535a-40, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond, Virginia, accessed July 23, 2021, MRD-S 44306, Montpelier Research Database.

[6] Estimate of walking time from Robin Young, personal communication, July 22, 2021.

[7] National Park Service, Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, “A House Divided,” updated July 14, 2021, accessed July 21, 2021; Joanna B. Gillespie, “Mary Briscoe Baldwin (1811-1877), Single Woman Missionary and ‘Very Much My Own Mistress’,” Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 57, No. 1 (March 1988), pp. 63-92, accessed July 23, 2021, (Mary Briscoe Baldwin was the eldest daughter of Nelly Hite and Cornelius Baldwin.)