Slave Quarter Revealed?


Winter for much of the Montpelier Archaeology Department has been spent in extensive Phase I (”shovel test pit,” or “STP”) survey of the areas of Montpelier in conjuction with developing long-range plans for the property.  We have focused the majority of our energy on the area of the duPont barn complex – much of the area seems to have been landscaped or otherwise altered by the duPonts.  Within this complex of early 20th-century structures, there is an island that harkens back to the Civil War era.

The Izard map (right), circa 1864, indicates that a set of “Negro Quarters” were located in the approximate location of this Farm Barn complex.  The evidence recovered from the Phase I and, recently, Phase II excavations confirms the survival of a mid-19th-century site in this area, primarily in the form of a historic road trace, what appears to be a yard surface, and the remains of a foundation for our tentatively-identified slave quarter.  What makes the site such a spectacular find is that it is completely undisturbed (never plowed) and contains an incredible density of artifacts and features.  While the site is bisected by a duPont era road leading from the Farm Barn to the Schooling Barn, excavations have revealed that historic deposits even survive below this 20th-century roadbed!

Slave Quarters?

To the north of the duPont road came the first clue to the survival of the potential slave quarter.  This clue consisted of a greenstone foundation within an artifact-rich STP that was almost immediately beneath the topsoil (approximately 2-3″ beneath the ground surface).  The stone feature was more fully exposed within an excavation unit placed around the STP.  As can be seen from the photograph (right), we have a clear distinction between what appears to be the greenstone foundation/pier base and a brick rubble layer (which is being brushed by Steve).  Could the area of brick represent the inside of the structure?Approximately 15′ to the north of the unit within which the foundation/pier-base was identified is an artifact-rich area that appears to be a yard surface related to the structure and which may also help define the size of the building. The large number of mid-19th-century artifacts being recovered from the units in this area confirms the incredible preservation of the structural remains–all of which exist just 15 feet from the duPont-era Secretary’s Barn (the current fuel shed)!

Historic Road Trace

Located in the area south of the duPont road and closest to the old archaeology laboratory (which offers pleasant respite from the seasonal weather–we have set up our screens within the warmth of the old lab!), is the remains of a historic road trace.   Orientated 45° to the structures in the farm barn complex, it also lines up with an old road trace that extends to the east into the surrounding wooded area behind House 11 (the old main office). The orientation of this road in relationship to the early 20th-century structures in the area suggests the road trace predates the duPont farm complex. An excavation unit placed atop this road revealed a surface covered with clinker/slag and metal working debris, a common surface for 19th-century roads.  This surface treatment also differentiates its from early duPont roads which were graveled with limestone.The relationship between this road and the structure identified in this area remains a mystery, and can only be explored with more extensive (Phase III) excavations.  It would be interesting to note whether the structure is on the same orientation as the road, which would confirm their association. Once more we hear the familiar refrain that we will only understand more about this area with future excavations.  Once excavated and interpreted, this area offers yet another insight into the nature of slavery at Montpelier just before emancipation, contrasting with the 18th- and 19th-century slave quarters around the mansion, and the trials that the Gilmore family faced in the antebellum years.

And next…?

With the successful identification of the slave quarters in this area as well as where archaeological deposits survived the construction of the duPont’s Farm Barn Complex, the archaeology department will return to the Phase I survey in areas planned for expanding Montpelier’s existing septic fields. Following that we shall return to the woods for more detailed survey of the various Civil War camps located around the Gilmore Cabin.

Montpelier and Surrounds

Montpelier and Surrounds.

Izard Map

Izard Map.

Pier base/foundation

Pier base/foundation.

Historic Road

Historic road.

Ordnance Button

Ordnance button.


Mark A. Trickett