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We Were Always Free: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia; a 200-year Family History.

T.O. Madden Jr. is an 89-year-old wealthy Virginia farmer with a lotto be proud of. And he makes it abundantly clear in We Were Always Free, the story of his family. In it he declares that while Maddens "have sometimes been servants, sometimes laborers, no member of our family has ever been a slave."

This statement may strike you as inane, as though one were taking pride in being right-handed -- not to mention that it's something of an insult to descendents of the enslaved. However, indulge the author. After all, African-Americans have relatively few accounts of the lives of free blacks. So though this quick and easy one-night read is certainly no Roots, it is a valuable addition to our history.

Madden's family history begins in Spotsylvania County, Va., in 1758, when a poor Irish woman, Mary Madden, gave birth to her "mulatto bastard child." At age 2, the girl, Sarah, was taken from her mother and made an indentured servant. Her story is one of survival. At age 31, she worked her way out of indentured status, supporting her family as a seamstress and laundress. But the most compelling figure in the Madden family is Sarah's son Willis, the author's great-grandfather. By dint of cunning, sacrifice, and sheer guts (and with the help of his also-always-free wife) this poor-born illiterate became a prosperous businessman whose skills were that of farmer, teamster and tavernkeeper. Bythe early 1850s he was, in fact, the wealthiest free Negro in the Culpeper County area.

As Madden chronicles family history down to his own impressive ways you overlook his bourgeois biases and boastings. The book encourages us to preserve individual histories, if not for public consumption, then so the next generation will better know who they are.

Tonya Bolden

We Were Always Free: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia; A 200-Year Family History by T.O. Madden Jr. with Ann L. Miller; W.W. Norton, New York, 1992, 211pp, $19.95.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Bolden, Tonya
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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