Friday, May 18, 2012

The Death of Ambrose Madison: A Colonial Murder Mystery

In February 1732, thirty six year old Ambrose Madison, the grandfather of future U.S. President James Madison, brought his wife, Frances and his three children, to an estate called Mount Pleasant (now known as Montpelier). Six months later, Ambrose Madison was dead. In the early summer, Ambrose fell ill. Poisoning was suspected. Like most poisoning victims during this period, the poison did not kill him outright, but caused enough internal damage that he lingered near death for weeks, finally dying in late August. Madison left what was regarded at the time as a “considerable estate” including “ten negro men, five negro women, and fourteen children”, along with cattle, hogs, sheep, horses, twelve books and four silver tea spoons.

Did Ambrose Madison die of accidental poisoning or was he murdered? His death marked a milestone in the annals of Virginia crime for it occasioned the first known conviction of slaves for the use of poison against their master.

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