South Yard

Mansion & Grounds

Domestic Slaves Lived and Worked Near the Mansion

Domestic slaves who worked in the Madisons' household lived in this nearby area known as the "South Yard." Archaeological investigations in the yard between the garden and the mansion have revealed a number of outbuildings that date to the early 19th century, including three slave quarters and two smokehouses. Daily activities of the enslaved domestics working and living in this yard would have revolved around preparing the Madison family's meals, doing their laundry, and providing for their own households.

In 1837, about a year after James Madison's death, Dolley insured the home and nearby outbuildings. The insurance company's map shows these buildings in the South Yard: three residences, each a duplex for two slave families; and two smoke houses. The 18th century detached brick kitchen, absent from this map, suggests two things: first, that the structure was not of sufficient value to be insured in 1837 (or had been razed by that time); and second, that the structures of the South Yard domestic slave work complex had a high intrinsic value.

Archaeological excavations in the South Yard have provided clues to this intrinsic value.  The evidence has  revealed the structures were timber frame with masonry chimneys and raised wooden floors.  Large amounts of window glass has also been recovered in the area of the South Yard duplexes suggesting these homes had glazed windows.  The details suggest structures were built from more refined materials that would have been more costly than materials used for standard log structures that most slaves lived.  The location near the mansion suggests the attention to detail might have been due to aesthetic considerations.  The Stable Quarter structure is in complete contrast to these homes.

We have recently rebuilt the frames for these homes based on a combination of results from archaeological excavations, research on period timber frame structures, and surviving architecture in the region.  These ghosted structures represent the size and massing of the homes and outbuildings in the South Yard yet allow the conjectural details (such as windows and doors) to be left for future research.  The lack of walls and roof also allows these buildings to not have foundations that would impact the existing archaeological features.  Future research (both documentary and additional archaeology) is needed prior to full restoration of this space.



Webcam for the South Yard.  Click here or on image aboe to see live link!

Architectural drawing of timber frame duplex atop elevation based on archaeological excavations (clock for larger view)


Timbersmith Craig Jacobs driving pin for top of rafters to be installed in duplex ghost frame in South Yard.