Stable Quarter Complex: Phase II Investigation of the Documented Site of the 18th-19th-century Stable at James Madison's Montpelier

Abstract: As part of a three-to-five year study of Montpelier’s enslaved community, in early-to-mid 2010 the Montpelier Archaeology Department engaged in a multi-threaded Phase I and Phase II survey of the area known as the “Stable Quarter Complex.” The purpose of the survey in the broader context of the study was to determine the location of structures and work yards associated with the sub-community of the “Stable Quarter” for subsequent contrast with the South Yard domestic slaves and the “Tobacco Barn Quarter” of the field slaves.

Traditional shovel-test pit survey was used to identify concentrations of artifacts, though perhaps unsurprisingly is more able to determine the location of domestic or house sites rather than the location of work yards (Marshall 2010c). As such, while the Stable Quarter and the area immediately surrounding the South Yard domestic slave quarters were identified, more ephemeral archaeological features were barely hinted at (Marshall 2010c; Trickett 2009c).

Resistivity survey of the Stable Quarter Complex revealed a series of low and high areas of resistance, with the low-resistance areas hinting at a deliberate, organized landscape most likely attributed to the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Subsequent Phase II archaeological investigations revealed that our understanding of this patterning in the resistivity data and its relationship to subsurface features needs development. While some areas can be associated with structures, e.g. the Stable Quarter, other areas have yet to be explored. Furthermore, the areas of high resistance noted in the survey are more often than not related to the presence of trees and their root systems.

In addition to the geophysical survey, a metal detector survey was performed of the entire area of the Stable Quarter Complex. This survey was particularly successful in identifying the likely locations of not only the Madison-era stable, something that was paralleled with archaeological investigation, but also in determining the most probable locations for the placement of structures and work yards.

Archaeometry provided a final tool for the multi-threaded investigations of the Stable Quarter Complex, with soil chemistry analysis—phosphate concentrations and soil pH—being used to help identify the location of the Madison-era stable. Unfortunately, as with the results of the resistivity survey this analysis is one that will likely only be understood with future archaeological investigations. While phosphate concentrations were identified, one excavated concentration was revealed to be an area of burning associated with limestone gravels.

This report primarily deals with the Phase II investigation of the documented area of the Madison-era “principal stable.” A total of 55 units were opened as part of the investigation, and while they identified a number of archaeological features, no definitive structural remains were identified. Despite this, the artifacts recovered as part of the survey define the documented area as the most probable location of a stable in the area.

The Phase II investigations also revealed the presence of a likely slave quarter or at least a structure with a domestic component (“Blue Area”) and the location of a work yard (Area B) and what is probably also a work yard related to a structure (Area/Site A).

While little definitive evidence was uncovered in the multi-threaded survey, the balance of evidence coupled with the recovered archaeological materials strongly hint at the continued value of investigations into the Stable Quarter Complex.