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The Naming Project: Little Girl

What We Know about the “Little Girl”

A young enslaved girl opened the door when Judith Walker Rives stopped by Montpelier in 1837. Rives was unaware that the widowed Dolley Madison had gone out. As she explained in a letter, Rives asked “the little girl who came to the door” whether anyone was home. The girl told Rives that “there was a gentleman,” clarifying that she meant “a colored gentleman” – the enslaved domestic servant Paul Jennings, who invited Rives in and escorted her about the house. [1]

Judith Rives didn’t know the name of the “little girl,” and neither do we. She could have been one of the children of the Stewart or Taylor families, or another girl whose name does not appear in surviving documents. Children made up approximately one-third of the enslaved community at Montpelier. For an enslaved child, answering the door may have been a simple task, but it was also an indoctrination into her future role as a domestic worker.

Who was “the little girl” who opened Montpelier’s front door for Judith Rives in early 1837? Her name is lost to history.

Photo: Jennifer Wilkoski Glass, courtesy of the Montpelier Foundation


[1] Judith Page Walker Rives to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, February 23, 1837, Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, accessed July 21, 2020, MRD-S 35010, Montpelier Research Database.