Montpelier's Sights and Sounds Come to Life
The next time you walk into the Montpelier Dining Room, take a close look at the faces around the table. You will see figures of the Madisons and several of their notable dinner guests, enjoying one of Dolley’s sumptuous feasts. This scene is one of the new mansion exhibits that help visitors experience Montpelier’s famous people and events.
Several new exhibits also highlight the stories of some of Montpelier’s enslaved community members. Indeed, one of the first things you will notice in the mansion is a scene depicting two fourteen-year-old boys – James Madison and Sawney, a family slave – carrying a table from the old family home to the new, ca. 1765. Though Sawney later accompanied Madison to college, unlike Madison, he returned to Montpelier to work as an overseer of other enslaved field laborers.
The mansion also tells the story of Paul Jennings, Madison’s enslaved manservant. Standing by the sideboard in the dining room, Jennings is depicted serving as head waiter at a dinner party hosted by the Madisons. It is likely that Jennings served in this dual role during Madison’s retirement years (1817-1836).
Just beyond the Dining Room, you will glimpse the image of an enslaved female cook carrying an unwieldy tray up the stairs to the pantry. . Also, don’t forget to visit the mansion’s South Yard to see the new three dimensional building outlines that show the areas where domestic slaves lived and worked.
At the end of your Montpelier tour, your guide will invite you to visit Mr. Madison’s upstairs “Old Library, “where he did his most profound work. You will take a three-minute video journey through his creation of the framework for the U.S. Constitution. Then you can stand on the very floors he paced. You can look west to the Blue Ridge Mountains as he did while he toiled away to develop the ideas that would define our nation.
Now that you know about our newest exhibits, let’s get back to those figures around the Dining Room table. Who were these people? That’s a question that we will answer for you on August 9, after Montpelier’s Tuesday Trivia Facebook game. Stay tuned to the Montpelier Blog and Facebook to solve the mystery!