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Montpelier Archaeology Collections

A Variety of Archaeological Sites

The Archaeology Collections are composed of nearly half a million artifacts, archaeological samples, and records from the archaeological excavations at Montpelier. These collections are organized into five major sub-collections based on the sites from which they were excavated. These sites are the Entire Woods Survey, Madison Farm Complex, Mansion Grounds, and Gilmore Farm. Together these collections make a “library of artifacts” and a rich documentary record so that researchers and staff can use to analyze and interpret the past.

Entire Woods Survey - Metal Detecting

Metal detecting is our department’s primary survey technique for locating new archaeological and historic sites on the property. Our trained metal detectorists systematically search the fields and woods in search of metal artifacts, plot their coordinates, and then either recover them for processing in the lab or photograph and rebury them for future recovery. Reburial is an important curatorial method, because it not only returns the artifact to its archaeological context which will be better understood during future excavation, but because it protects artifacts from future damage or loss that could happen without proper conservation and environmentally controlled storage. These artifacts, whether recovered or reburied are crucial in locating, identifying, and dating a site prior to future excavation or construction. This collection is primarily composed of iron and other metal artifacts and a large collection of digital photos which document both the collected and reburied artifacts.

44OR333 - Montpelier House Farm Complex​

The Madison House Farm Complex was the central hub of activity at Montpelier. Not only did the area boast a tobacco barn, threshing machine, and a blacksmith’s shop, but it was also home to the dozens of enslaved laborers and the overseer of the home farm. This collection is comprised primarily of agriculturally related artifacts as well as domestic artifacts such as ceramics, glass, and faunal materials.

44OR249 - The Main House and Grounds

The Main House and Grounds is where the majority of our archaeological collection comes from. Not only were the Main House and Grounds the nexus of social activity at Montpelier, but they also housed the domestic support that the Madison’s were reliant upon. The South Yard is located a stone’s throw from the Main House and composed of three domestic dwellings (for the enslaved domestic laborers), two smokehouses, and a kitchen. In addition to the domestic service structures. This site also includes excavations from the cellars of the Main House, a stable, the Temple, icehouse, planted areas, trash middens, additional slave quarters, and a variety of 18th century structures.

44OR219 - Mount Pleasant Site

Mount Pleasant is the original Madison homestead and dates to the 18th century. The complex consisted of slave quarters, barns, storage buildings, a kitchen, and work areas. Later in time an overseer’s house was built near Mount Pleasant with a clear view of the Field Slave Quarters. Highlights of this collection are burnt and nearly complete ceramic vessels, found when the cellar of Mount Pleasant was excavated. In addition, a large amount of faunal material, glass, and ash deposits exist in this collection.

The Gilmore Cabin

After Emancipation, George Gilmore, a former slave of Montpelier, purchased a 16-acre farm directly across from Montpelier. The family lived in this cabin for many years until the land was unfortunately foreclosed upon. During excavations of the Gilmore Cabin thousands of glass beads, safety pins, buttons, and other sewing items were found underneath the floorboards of the cabin.