Dolley's Midden: Phase II Investigations of the 19th-century Midden from the Retirement Yeas of the Madisons, 2007 Field Season

Abstract: In 2002, Phase I “shovel-test pit” investigations in the immediate environs of the Montpelier mansion that were designed to reveal evidence for historic deposits and dependent structures revealed two concentrations of artifacts:

  1. Immediately north of the mansion beyond a wall also identified in the survey. Subsequent Phase II investigations would label this trash deposit as “Senior’s Midden” and define the nature of the 18th-century symmetric Georgian landscape. Later excavations in 2008-2009 would distinguish between the two deposits as the “North Kitchen” and “North West Yard” (Marshall 2009; Trickett 2010).

  2. North of the duPont Circle road.

Excavations and shovel-test pits placed in this second area during the 2006 field season revealed an incredible density of artifacts that confirmed the position of a second trash deposit containing variable artifacts and numerous high-status items. As a result, in 2007 a Phase II investigation was opened to explore what was then affectionately known as “Dolley’s Midden.” The excavations would subsequently identify an 18th-19th-century drainage gulley within which were deposited literally tens of thousands of ceramic and glass sherds, wine and champagne bottles, animal bone and oyster shell, as well as unique artifacts that had not at that time been encountered anywhere else on the property. The deposit therefore offered an unparalleled look into the day-to-day life of the Madisons and their hospitality practices. Although the duPonts had modified the area with the construction of the brick-lined “rain pit” as well as a certain amount of grading that impacted upon the upper-most part of the drainage gulley, the artifacts remained closely associated and the deposit almost entirely intact. As in the basements of the house where the duPonts had poured Portland cement over the entire footprint of the building and thereby sealing and preserving the evidence for the 18th and 19th centuries, the construction of the duPont Circle road and the resultant soil embankment also served to seal and preserve the artifacts of “Dolley’s Midden.” At the time of writing it is estimated that only approximately 30% of the 19th-century midden has been excavated, and the remaining bulk of the assemblage remains untouched beneath the 20th-century road embankment. Future plans may involve the removal of this road, in which case the assemblage could be recovered in full and our understanding and curation of these important materials dramatically improved.