Slavery at James Madison's Montpelier

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James Madison’s Montpelier, Slave Dwelling Reconstruction, Orange County
James Madison’s Montpelier, Slave Dwelling Reconstruction, Orange County
James Madison’s Montpelier, South Yard Archaeology, Orange County
James Madison’s Montpelier, South Yard Archaeology, Orange County
Elizabeth Chew, Vice President for Museum Programs, James Madison's Montpelier
Elizabeth Chew, Vice President for Museum Programs, James Madison's Montpelier
Matt Reeves, Director of Archaeology and Landscape Restoration, James Madison's Montpelier
Matt Reeves, Director of Archaeology and Landscape Restoration, James Madison's Montpelier

Audio Transcript

My name is Dr. Matthew Reeves. I’m director of archaeology and landscape restoration at James Madison's Montpelier. And the sight that you see right in front of you is the slave quarters that are located at Montpelier, what we call the  South Yard. And we’re using the archaeology to recover the foundations, the remains of the belongings of the slaves that lived in these buildings. And that archaeological information is really the main source that allows us to reconstruct these buildings—there’s no maps, there's no drawings that show what these buildings looked like. Over the past two years we've had descendents of slaves at Montpelier  and the local African American community come out and do archaeology with us. And what's really exciting is witnessing their experience in touching their ancestors’ past and also some of the insights that we’re able to gain from basically what they observe. And we've been able to make interpretations of the artifacts we’re finding from interactions we've had with the descendants that we would never make on our own as scientists.

I’m Elizabeth Chew, vice president for museum programs at James Madison's Montpelier.  What you're looking at here is the interior of a newly reconstructed slave dwelling at Montpelier, just next to the main house. Between 2003 and 2008 the Montpelier Foundation restored James Madison's house to its appearance in his lifetime. The descendants of the enslaved community said, “What about us?” So the very next year we began the process of putting the material world of African Americans back on the Montpelier landscape. The culmination of that process is the careful design and construction of these dwellings and work buildings in the South Yard—because then no one can ignore the institution of slavery, and by this we hope that we’re going to start a conversation.