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National Endowment for the Humanities Awards Grant to Montpelier

Public Notice

Regarding the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Section 106 Review of Collaborative Research award, RZ-266251, Montpelier Foundation

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded the Montpelier Foundation a grant to support archeological field research on the overseer’s house at James Madison’s Montpelier, leading to public programs and publications on the social, economic, and racial complexity of 19th- century plantations in the United States.

NEH is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.  This public notice is issued as part of NEH’s responsibilities under 36 C.F.R. Part 800, the regulations which implement Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, as amended, 16 U.S.C. § 470.  NEH, a funding agency, is required by regulation to identify and assess the effects of any proposed actions on historic properties.  In consultation with the VDHR, NEH has found that the Foundation’s proposed archeological study will have an adverse effect on the Montpelier property.  This determination is based on the agency’s review of the Foundation’s proposal and on the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Historic Resources (VDHR)’s view that archaeological data recovery on National Register-eligible or -listed sites constitutes an adverse effect on historic properties because of its inherently destructive nature.

The property, which is a National Historic Landmark, owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), is located at 11350 Constitution Hwy, Montpelier Station, VA 22957.

The proposed scope of work for the project involves archaeological excavations to compare sites representing the overseer’s residence and the surrounding home and farm landscape.  This project continues previously funded NEH research under award RZ-51141, titled “Unearthing A Community of Households: Archaeology of the Early 19th-Century Enslaved Community at James Madison’s Montpelier”, which examined sites occupied by Montpelier slaves during the 1810s-1830s.  The close to one-dozen sites to be examined consist of the overseer’s house, blacksmith shop, stable, work areas, barns, and other sites (yet to be determined from archaeological survey).  The Foundation will exclude any work that would impact the area of the slave cemetery and the Madison family cemetery.  The immediate area of the sites consists of lawns and pasture.  Reference Attachment A for a map of the Area of Potential Effects and the sites to be excavated.

The Foundation will utilize the same field and laboratory methods as were used previously on the excavation of the slave quarters.  These include:

For the overseer’s house, the Foundation’s archaeological staff plans to excavate 5ft x 5ft excavation units at all sites to reveal an area of at least 80ft x 90ft for any below-ground features such as hearths, chimney bases, post holes, footers for buildings, trash pits, sub-floor pits, and pavements.  These features will then be excavated and documented to not only recover artifacts, but also to help understand the types of structures and activities that were at these sites.  For all other sites, the Foundation will conduct 10ft gridded metal detector survey (non-invasive), shovel test pits, and limited 5×5 excavation units to determine stratigraphy and presence of features.  The Foundation hopes that this information from the archaeological record will allow insight into how plantation owner situated the overseer in relationship to the rest of the community, and how the overseer and his household responded to this position through the organization of his household activities and consumer choices. 

The NEH will work with the VDHR, Montpelier Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Orange County African American Historical Society, and other consulting parties to develop a Memorandum of Agreement with the following proposed activities to mitigate the adverse effect to the historic property:

  1. Data Recovery Plan
    1. The Foundation shall implement the data recovery plan that meets the VDHR’s Conducting Archaeological Investigations (2009), the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic Preservation (Secretary’s Standards and Guidelines), and the ACHP’s Recommended Approach for Consultation on Recovery of Significant Information from Archeological Sites (1999) and Section 106 Archaeology Guidance (2009).
  2. Public Interpretation
    1. Continuing to provide interpretive signage to introduce visitors to the Project sites and encourage visitors to interact with and pose questions to the Foundation’s archaeology staff;
    2. to provide the public with access to an archaeology lab that features exhibits, hands-on activities for kids (e.g., a mock dig) and study cabinets;
    3. Arranging special open house days where the Project sites will be open to the local community for tours; and
    4. Directly involving the local and descendent community through the Foundation’s “Archaeology Expedition” programs, which run for one week ten times a year. These programs will provide participants with an opportunity to work side-by-side with the Foundation’s archaeology staff at the Project sites. Further, the programs will allow the Foundation to seek input from participants on research and interpretative agenda, and obtain valuable feedback from both the local and descendent community.
  3. Educational Training
    1. The Foundation shall continue to host students from James Madison University (JMU) and the State University of New York (SUNY) through summer programs that provide an average of fifty (50) students with intensive field and laboratory training.
  4. Technical Reports and Dissemination of Results
    1. The Foundation shall produce individual technical reports on the findings at each project site within one (1) year after completion of the excavation and shall make these reports publicly available on its technical reports webpage The reports will be composed of two (2) parts for dissemination to two (2) different audiences. The first will be a condensed interpretive synopsis designed for reading by the lay public and interpretive staff.  The second will be an expanded discussion that includes the detail of the archaeological context and will be designed for use by professional archaeologists.

As required by Section 106, NEH is providing the public with information about this project, as well as an opportunity to comment on any knowledge of, or concerns with, historic properties in the proposed project area, and issues relating to the project’s potential effects on historic properties.  Comments may be submitted to the NEH by e-mail to  The deadline for submitting comments is April 8, 2020.

Public Event

To learn more about this project, Montpelier will be hosting a public event for stakeholders and interested parties to learn more about the research. Learn more below to attend the program.