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July 11, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

WE WERE ALWAYS FREE: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia: A 200-Year Family History by T. O. Madden Jr. & Ann L. Miller (Vintage: $12; 218 pp., illustrated). Drawing on memories, family stories and a cache of rare documents, the author traces his ancestors back to Sarah Madden (1758-1824), the "bastard child" of an immigrant Irish woman and an African-American man. The laws that banned miscegenation also stated that racially mixed children kept their mother's status, which enabled the Maddens to remain "free Negroes," rather than slaves. Madden proudly recounts how his family became prosperous landowners in antebellum Virginia. But it is the documents, including the letters Willis Madden (1799-1879) had to collect attesting to his "honest and industrious" character and the passes free blacks were required to carry at all times, that reveal the cruel realities of a racially divided past.

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