Books by Jr. Madden

Released: June 8, 1992

More than 40 years ago, Madden found documents in an attic trunk tracing his family back to his earliest American ancestors: Mary, most probably an indentured Irish servant; and an unidentified black man. Now he has turned the indenture papers and laundry bills into living history with the brush of personal memory—he's 89, his sister is 98. It's an amazing record, including references to Virginia neighbors Madison and Jefferson; much incidental history—the hardening of attitudes toward free blacks, for example; and the family's ongoing struggle against poverty and discrimination. Mary's daughter Sarah was somewhat exceptional—a light- skinned and free woman who worked hard as a seamstress and laundress, raised more than ten children on her own, and saved all the written evidence. Son Willis, building on her good reputation and resourcefulness, established a tavern at an important crossroads, assuring both financial prosperity and the family's continuing free status. Ironically, the Civil War that freed other blacks ruined Willis's life when a succession of soldiers looted his holdings and left him feeling defeated. Willis's children and grandchildren managed to hold on to the main property, though, and, gradually, to become literate. Not until Madden took over the family farm, however, did that level of prosperity return. He's an upfront reporter, giving more information about the personalities of long-dead relatives than those he knew growing up—but you always know his opinions. Near the end, he remarks on segregation (``unless you have experienced it firsthand, you can never know exactly what it was like'') and the changes that turning 80 allowed him: a new car, a remodeled house, and travel, including a trip to the Ireland that Mary Madden left behind. As Neil Irvin Painter suggests in the foreword, this offers ``the definition of a twentieth-century self''—a unique, unadorned perspective from a proud descendant. (Photographs.) Read full book review >