workhouses and poorhouses

We Were Always Free by T.O. Madden, Jr.

Cover to We Were Always Free

Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment.  T.O. Madden, Jr.'s  We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy.  The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.

Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents.  Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners.  In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves.