July 31, 2013 - This past month has resulted in some exciting finds at the site of the quarter for field slaves. After almost a year of excavating the site to find evidence for structures, we have finally identified two features that provide clues to the location for the homes of the field slaves that worked Madison’s farm in the early 19th century.
April 9, 2013 - In 1961, a 33-year-old real-estate developer surveyed an expanse of land adjacent to Washington, DC, languishing in neglect and thriving only in its junkyards and cheap motels. I imagine this place being where criminologists came up with broken windows theory. But Robert H. Smith looked at this area and he did not see failure—he saw opportunity.
When Dolley Madison’s good friend, the author Margaret Bayard Smith, visited Montpelier in 1809, Dolley asked Margaret why she hadn’t brought her children to visit, too. Margaret said she feared inconveniencing the Madisons, to which Dolley responded with a laugh, “I should not have known they were here, among all the rest, for at this moment we have only three and twenty in the house.”
As with many famous folks, the internet abounds with questionable folklore, spurious quotes, and outright falsities concerning James and Dolley Madison. It has long been repeated that James Madison, notoriously diminutive in stature, stood 5’4”. However, in documentary records...
In Tolkien's famous trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the tormented Bilbo Baggins finds a form of catharsis in the transcription of the tale of his adventures in his book, "There and Back Again." When sitting down to write this 'blog post, the title of that book just wouldn't leave my mind. I realized that in its own way, the archaeological interpretations of the Tobacco Barn Quarter and have been "There and Back Again," too. Perhaps not quite the epic tale of Bilbo, and certainly involved less giant spiders (though some of our field school students and volunteers would disagree with that!), the story presented by archaeological and documentary research is no less interesting in the insights they give into the daily lives of the Montpelier's enslaved field laborers, and the choices that Madison makes as farmer and natural scientist to ensure the economic success of Montpelier.
As with all stories, we start somewhere near the beginning...
We have all heard the phrase, so how does it apply to archaeology? While often used in derogatory fashion, in reference to the archaeological investigations of the "Tobacco Barn Quarter" it really refers to the comprehensive survey and excavation techniques employed to explore the homes of Madison's enslaved field laborers.
Although the Montpelier Archaeology Department has recently back-filled the two sites that were the focus of the research this year, the work continues—we're still processing samples and cataloging finds both small and large in the archaeology laboratory. If you get the time don't hesitate to walk down the hill from the mansion and come and visit. We're open every day that Montpelier is open, whether you just want to visit or you want to get involved by volunteering.