You all might have noticed that the tents have popped back up at the quarter for field slaves--which means spring is finally here!  While this site is very visible, we have been located on other areas on the property since January that are not so easy to find.  We spent January through March surveying Chicken Mountain (a wooded parcel on the east side of the property) and had a very productive season.  We gridded a 150-acre portion of the mountain closest to Chicken Mountain Road with a 65’ (20m) grid and used metal detectors to locate historic artifacts (nails, buttons, coins, etc). The majority of these finds were nails, and these concentrations allowed us to identify at least three Madison-era slave quarters, two work areas, and three potential barn sites.  This survey was carried out to help us understand what sites are on the property so they can be protected for future excavation and interpretation.  These surveys (similar to those found in the east woods last year) illustrate how intensive the agricultural operations were across the property during the 18th and early 19th century. The presence of these sites shows that even steep areas of the property were being used for farming during the Madison period. Shortly before the Madisons sold the property is when many of these former fields and sites were abandoned and allowed to grow back into woods—which they have remained to this day and have resulted in a well preserved archaeological record. We have completed our surveys for this season and will document our finds over the summer. Thanks go out to Minelab and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Historic Site Funds Archaeology Endowment) for their generous help on these projects.

In conjunction with the surveys of Chicken Mountain, we have also been metal detecting the front lawn of the mansion to locate the Madison-era carriage road (and any other sites that are out there). From previous metal detector surveys, we have found that old road traces contain heavy concentrations of artifacts—everything from horse shoes to carriage/wagon parts. What we have found in the front lawn is that it was very actively used during the 18th century. Initial finds indicate the presence of work areas—and allow us to trace the extent of the blacksmith shop  in the area of the Madison temple (built in 1813).  On the opposite side of the lawn (closer to the visitor center) we are also finding concentrations of 18th-century blacksmithing debris that suggest work areas.  We need to finish the cataloging and plotting of the artifacts to determine any patterns that might indicate evidence for a carriage road vs. 18th-century sites. One other possibility for these concentrations of artifacts is they are the result of topsoil being removed from the area of the blacksmith shop (by the Temple) to cover over Madison-era carriage road when the new driveway was installed in the late 1840s. We found similar patterns of artifacts during our investigation of the carriage road in front of the mansion back in 2006.  We will continue this survey work into this summer and fall.  These surveys, as with the surveys on Chicken Mountain, were part of a public program where metal detectorists from around the United States spent a week with us learning about archaeological research and survey.

So what do we do with all of these sites that we have located?  For the front lawn of the mansion, we will begin to investigate these sites in the fall of this year. Beginning in August, we will be examining the formal grounds of the mansion for evidence of plantings, roads, and fences that were in place during the Madison retirement period. As for the sites on Chicken Mountain, we are applying for grants to begin to study these sites in 2014. While we have located various sites this season and during the 2012 surveys in the East Woods we have not excavated enough to understand their exact function and occupation. Future testing will involve metal detecting on a tighter grid (such as we are using on the front lawn of the mansion) and opening test pits to understand the deposits.

In the meantime, we will spend the next four months opening units at the quarter for field slaves.  We have just finished several 5x5 test pits in a new area and have discovered a number of potential features. In the next week or so we will report back on what we have found!




Matthew Reeves