Service Complex at Mount Pleasant
Research and Collections
The Detached Kitchen
The detached kitchen at Mount Pleasant was built at the same time as the Madisons’ dwelling house. Both the dwelling house and the kitchen have a stone-lined cellar that was used for storage. In both cases, the stone-lined cellar was likely dug after the house was built as the stone walls of the cellar are contained within the footprint of the structure. Within the cellar of the kitchen, two separate deposits were found that provide important information for the occupation history of the structure. The lowermost deposits contains a cache of six wine bottles, most of which bear the seals of James Madison, Sr. and date to the 1750s. The floor of the cellar (on which the bottle fragments were found) contains a sump that was likely used to collect groundwater. This deposit is capped by the remains of the west wall that collapsed soon after the Madisons left Mount Pleasant. This stone retaining wall was repaired with postholes and the partial cellar was backfilled to prevent further collapse. The structure continued to be occupied by an enslaved family until around 1800 when a fire consumed the house and the occupants’ possessions.
The accidental burning of the kitchen/slave quarter is attested to by the large collection of ceramics recovered from the uppermost deposits of the cellar hole. Over two dozen plates, tea bowls, and saucers were mended and provide an unparalled glimpse into the possessions of an enslaved family. In addition to the ceramics, archaeologists recovered jewelry including cuff links with paste gems, sewing thimbles and pins, buckles, and other personal possessions that were either slipped through the floorboards during occupation or were lost during the blaze.
During the late 18th century, the enslaved occupants of the kitchen used the adjacent cellar hole for the burnt main house as a trash pit. Archaeologists recovered a layer of hearth ash over a foot thick that contained a myriad of animal bone, floor sweepings (that were deposited into the hearth and then thrown out when hearth ash was removed), egg shell, fish bone, and burnt plant remains from cooking. The combination of recovering the family’s household possessions and their dietary remains provides an wealth of information in regard to enslaved family diet and possessions.
For more details on the kitchen excavations, click here for a detailed report.
The Slave Quarter
To the south of the kitchen, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a post-in-ground structure or a structure whose framing members (studs) are set into the ground rather than on a sill. The use of post-in-ground construction was a much simpler method of building a structure and was a technique usually reserved for outbuildings or slave quarters. This construction technique contrasts with the frame structures of the kitchen and main house at Mount Pleasant.