Unearthing a Community of Households—Archaeology of Slave Homes at James Madison's Montpelier

Abstract: The Montpelier Foundation is beginning a multi-year study of the enslaved community at Montpelier. A key part of this study is examining differences in architecture, yard organization, and material culture found at several homes of the enslaved community dating to the early 19th century. The initial part of this study has noted radical differences in the architectural style of homes for slaves who only residing with 50 feet from each other. These differences likely stem from several levels—the first being related to labor roles---house slaves as compared to slaves who worked either in the garden or perhaps the stables for the mansion and the second being the location of their homes in relationship to the formal grounds for the mansion. In contrast to these differences in architectural style, the material household possessions indicate much more similarities in degree of access to household goods. The complex interplay of landscape design, labor roles, and intra-community relationships can be seen in the archaeological remains of the homes and material possessions of the slave community at Montpelier. This paper will describe how these material patterns are visible in the archaeological record and how we are beginning to define these relationships through the material record.