James Madison’s most publicized friendship is undoubtedly with his colleague from neighboring Albemarle County, Thomas Jefferson. Madison also found a companion and mentor in another founding father—George Washington. Following their initial meeting in 1781, the two politicos collaborated during the next decade to shape the new nation and its government.1
In 1791, James Madison became friends with an unlikely companion, Italian sculptor Guiseppe Ceracchi (1751-1801) who moved to the new American capitol to carve a commemorative monument of the American Revolution. Madison, then a congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, lodged with Ceracchi at Mary House’s boardinghouse on the corner of Fifth and Market Streets.
The archaeology department recently finished its field season in the South Yard and just began an analysis of all the artifacts recovered during the nine-month excavation season. The analysis of the household items recovered from the South Yard will be very important for our overall archaeological study of Montpelier’s enslaved community.
Christmas day has come and gone at Montpelier and like Christmas, New Year’s Day gave the Madisons and their contemporaries an opportunity to send holiday greetings to family and friends along with wishes for a prosperous and healthy year to come.
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Christmas was primarily celebrated through fellowship, festive entertainment, visits to neighbors and family, and holiday tidings sent to friends and loved ones. While there is no evidence to suggest that holiday decorations were placed in the interior or the exterior of Montpelier during the Madisons’ time, James and Dolley had other Christmas traditions.
The Joe and Marge Grills Gallery is now showcasing a series a of historical images, objects, and artwork depicting the Montpelier estate. The exhibit is comprised of works from the early nineteenth to late twentieth centuries, and includes Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton’s 1802 watercolor, View of Montpelier.
The Madisons’ preference for stylish furnishings, as seen throughout the interior spaces of Montpelier, is further exhibited in a new installation in the Dining Room. On Friday, November 18, 2011, with assistance from historic textile consultant Natalie Larson, reproduction window treatments, including salmon colored silk drapery with green lining, sheer dimity under-curtains, and cornices decorated in the neoclassical style of John and Hugh Finlay’s Baltimore painted furniture, were installed in the Montpelier Dining Room.
Visitors to Montpelier during James Madison’s retirement vividly described the Drawing Room as museum-like and full of curiosities. Among these curious items was an “electrical machine,” likely intended as a party novelty to convey scientific principles and encourage socializing. Considered cutting-edge technology in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, electrical machines, also referred to as a “philosophical instruments,” were used to demonstrate emerging theories of electricity.
The first of several carpet installations at Montpelier was laid on Friday, October 28. The Dining Room floorboards are once more covered with the installation of a Brussels weave carpet. In the nineteenth century, elegant carpets conveyed status, provided warmth during cool weather, protected floorboards, and enhanced the overall appearance of a room by thematically linking furnishings.
If you saw Richard Brookhiser’s recent appearance on “The Daily Show,” you might have been surprised to hear him say that James Madison was 5′6″. The height of America’s fourth president is a recurring topic of interest to visitors and readers. So, how tall was Mr. Madison?