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.
The Archaeology team has begun its excavations at the quarters for field slaves, located just below the visitor center. We are searching for the remains of the homes for farm slaves who lived in this area from the late 1700s-1844. Back in 2002, when we were planning for the construction of the visitor center, we located a very well preserved farm complex dating back to the Madison era.
This past week twelve metal detector experts from Minelab Americas attended a week-long metal detecting program to help archaeologists search for plantation sites across the property. The program also provided the participants an opportunity to learn about how archaeologists use metal detectors to discover and define archaeological sites.
In honor of African American History Month, objects once owned by Montpelier slave Catherine Taylor are currently on display in the Joe and Marge Grills Gallery, joining archaeological objects from the recent South Yard excavation.
The archaeology department recently finished its field season in the South Yard and just began an analysis of all the artifacts recovered during the nine-month excavation season. The analysis of the household items recovered from the South Yard will be very important for our overall archaeological study of Montpelier’s enslaved community.