In the depths of winter, Civil War soldiers have returned to Montpelier to build hut sites in the woods behind the Gilmore Farm. No, this is not the story of a long-lost regiment of Confederate troops who have found their way back to Montpelier, but the story of a group of reenactors from the 3rd Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia who used January 24, 2009 as the kick-off to recreate a set of winter huts.
At long last, we are just about finished at the North Kitchen. With the season winding down, we are starting to finally find some resolution to questions that have been plaguing us all summer–chief of which is why we have not been able to locate the hearth for the kitchen!
Since September, the Archaeology Team has been excavating in mansion’s Northwest Yard. This excavation began in hopes of finding artifacts from an 18th-century trash deposit and locating the planting holes from the pine trees that were planted in the 1810s, as part of Mr. Madison’s Pine Allée that led to the Temple. Already, the team has uncovered an exciting new world of Montpelier 18th-century landscape!
After six months of excavation that included two university field schools and seven Expedition programs, most of the puzzle pieces have fallen into place, and we can now share the final outcome of our endeavors. With careful analysis, the tangled web of 50 different soil layers and 53 features yielded some interesting and significant results.
In between snow storms, the Montpelier Archaeology Department completed the Willow Gate excavations. We knew about a Madison-era gate present in this locale from a description by John H.B. Latrobe following his 1832 visit to Montpelier. He described a high red gate hung upon white posts. During Madison’s day, such gates served a practical purpose to keep animals out of the grounds. The gate also distinguished the formal environs of the mansion from the larger working planta
For the past two months there has been a flurry of activity behind Montpelier’s Visitor Center. This area hasn’t exactly been clutter-free either. Every day, visitors have seen tents, flags, and archaeologists making exciting discoveries about the Madisons’ stables.
The archaeologists have been hard at work excavating one of the Montpelier slave quarters. After a month-long field school and three expedition programs, we have a lot to show! The Stable Quarter is located between the South Yard (quarters for house slaves) and the Montpelier Visitor Center.
Our knowledge of the Stable Quarter Site (located between the visitor center and the South Yard) continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Last post, we reported we established the slave quarter we were excavating originally was a log structure with a stick and mud chimney based on the single hearth and several clay borrow pits we had located. Since that time we have made two exciting discoveries: a second hearth that has provided the dimensions and potential layout of the structure and 2) a sub-floor pit in front of the large hearth we discovered in August.
The James Madison University field school has had a fantastic run at revealing the secrets of the quarters for field slaves just below Montpelier’s Visitor Center. We have opened up close to 50 units and are slowly developing an idea of how this set of homes was laid out.