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The Naming Project: York

What We Know About York

York’s name first appears in James Madison Sr.’s records in 1768, on a list of enslaved people in a surviving collection of miscellaneous loose notes. [1]  Madison Sr. recorded one or more years after each person’s name, with no particular pattern discernable. The list is untitled, making unclear what recurring event or activity Madison Sr. was tracking: perhaps a year of working at a particular location, a year of being hired out, or a year when a person received some article of clothing or other supplies that Madison Sr. issued on an irregular basis.

York’s name is followed by the years 1768 and 1773. Although we can’t say for certain what happened to York in those years, the list at least establishes York’s presence within the enslaved community at Montpelier. York’s name also appears on Madison Sr.’s personal property tax records in Orange County from 1782 through 1786, the five years in which enslaved people were listed individually by name.[2]

The last mention of York also comes from the collection of James Madison Sr.’s miscellaneous loose notes. York’s name appears on a list of shoes delivered to 50 enslaved people on November 2, 1787. York received a pair of size 6 shoes, which suggests that he was not particularly tall. (Male shoe sizes on the list ranged from 4 to 12.) [3]

The documentary record tells us nothing else about York, except to establish that for those nineteen years from 1768 to 1787, York was here, enslaved by James Madison Sr. at Montpelier.

York may have been here earlier than 1768, if he was born and grew up at Montpelier. He may have been here later than 1787, even if surviving documents do not mention him. York likely either raised crops or practiced a trade skill, to the Madisons’ profit. York was part of a community that could have included his wife and children, brothers and sisters, parents and extended family. After a lifetime of hard work, York may have been laid to rest in the cemetery for the enslaved at Montpelier.

We know nothing else. But we know York was here.

(Above) James Madison Sr. listed York’s name with the dates 1768 and 1773 on a scrap of paper, part of a collection of loose notes that were once associated with an account book belonging to him.
(Below) York’s name also appears on a shoe distribution list within the same collection of loose notes.
Courtesy of the Library of Virginia, which microfilmed the notes from a private collection in 1941.

References

[1] James Madison Sr. Miscellaneous Loose Notes from Unknown Account Book, Miscellaneous Reels, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, accessed June 14, 2021, MRD-S 26491, 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 June 14, 2021. 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 June 14, 2021, MRD-S 26491, Montpelier Research Database.

Hilarie M. Hicks, MA 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.