Archaeology in the South Yard—Summer 2011


The summer has flown by and in the archaeology department we have made much progress in our excavations in the South Yard. We have completely uncovered the two southernmost slave quarters in the South Yard and have redefined our understanding of these buildings. Earlier excavations showed these homes, inhabited by Montpelier’s house slaves, were wooden structures with central chimneys. Unlike the Stable Quarter (with its stick and mud chimney, clay floor, and log walls), the homes in the South Yard had masonry chimneys, raised wooden floors, glazed windows, and timber frame architecture. Both of these excavations are part of a three-year NEH funded project to examine the homes of Montpelier’s enslaved community.

Spurred on by the need to have an accurate understanding of the size and position of the structures of the South Yard so we can outline these buildings with the timber frame structures, the excavations have shown us these buildings are 32′x16′. This dimension has rung true with both the southeastern duplex with its stone chimney base and stone foundation and the southwestern duplex with its central brick chimney and brick corner footers. Once we confirmed this dimension, we felt comfortable in moving forward with the construction of the two smokehouses (to see a video of the smokehouse being built, click here). We will be building the two southern duplexes we are currently excavating in late November once we have finished our archaeology digs.

In addition to evidence for the structures, we have recovered thousands of artifacts which we are processing in the archaeology lab. These artifacts show that the yards around the structures were active with a wide range of activities ranging from washing clothes to cooking meals. The yard space between the two duplex structures appears to be defined by a swept clay surface that was reserved for daily activities. On the west side of the duplex with the brick chimney base we are excavating a feature that appears to be a tree hole but to date have not discovered any tree plantings between the two structures. We have also discovered fence post holes that indicate the yards of these slave homes were demarcated by a fence on the south side (visitor center side).

Our progress in these excavations is possible through the two field schools and numerous expedition programs we held in the spring and summer of this year. Moving into the fall season, we are hosting three more expedition programs and hope to complete the excavations of the intervening yard between these two structures. In addition to these participants, Montpelier’s visitors to the site and lab have been privy to these latest finds and daily experience the thrill of discovery while watching our research in progress. This weekend, we will be dedicating the structures in the South Yard and the archaeology site on Sunday September 25 at 2:00. For more information, please see our calendar of events.

Photograph of archaeological excavations on two southern slave homes in the South Yard.


James Madison wine bottle seal recovered from SouthWest slave home in South Yard.





Montpelier Staff