Mansion Cellars Report: Excavations of the Cellar Spaces for the Main Block of the Mansion (2003-2005 Seasons)

Abstract: When William duPont became the owner of Montpelier, his workers poured a concrete floor across the entire basement. Probably unknowingly, this action resulted in the preservation of very fragile Madison-era historic deposits in place and prevented 20th-century activities from disturbing the evidence for earlier habitation in the cellar spaces. The archaeologists used jackhammers and chisels to remove the concrete floor, and the soil layers, artifacts and features they found below have helped to tell the story of the basement.

The report provides a detailed description of finds made by archaeologists during their eight month investigation of this space.  During the restoration (2003-2005) archaeologists excavated every square inch of the cellar floors combing the area for evidence of its use during the Madison era.

Based on their discoveries, archaeologists have been able to tell that the basement served two major purposes during the 18th and 19th century. First, it was used for storage. Vegetables, daily stores, and more valuable items such as wine, were kept in the basement. Secondly, the basement was a place where enslaved individuals carried out chores for the Madison family and perhaps where they spent their personal time while on duty in the main house. Areas loosely called “servant’s halls” have been identified that provided a seemless integration of work and off-time for enslaved individuals working in the house.  The findings from the archaeological investigations served as the primary evidence for restoring these spaces to their Madison-era appearance.