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The Montpelier Home Farm Project


The Home Farm Project is a multi-disciplinary study of a 70-acre area located to the south of the Montpelier main home. While Montpelier had a variety of farms located across its 5,000 acres, this farm was the central agricultural complex of Madison’s slave plantation, consisting of slave quarters, tobacco and wheat barns, livestock, a mill and blacksmith shop, and an overseer’s house, in addition to the Madison family cemetery.

The project focuses on understanding the complexity of the plantation agricultural system during the period of slavery. This includes understanding how Madison organized his labor force, placed structures on the landscape, and the impact his support of the institution of slavery had on the lives of the African Americans he enslaved and the white overseers he employed. How these people survived, built community and family, and established identity surrounding race, class, status, and gender, all within the system of slavery, are critical questions guiding our examination and interpretation of this space.

Understanding the Overseer: Excavations at the Overseer's House

Very little is known about the people who lived in the Home Farm, particularly the Overseer’s family. Through generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Montpelier archaeologists have begun excavations at the likely site of the Overseer’s House to better understand the lives of the people who lived at the site. The focus of the excavations are to identify the house, explore the yard spaces, and uncover any trash deposits associated with the home to understand how the overseer and his family built their identities around race, class, gender, and status within the context of slavery at Montpelier.

Collaborative Research Grant

In 2019, the Montpelier Archaeology Department received a NEH Collaborative Research Grant to support the excavations of the Overseer’s House. Click below to read our press release about the project!

Project Overview Webinar

The Montpelier Foundation hosted an online webinar to announce the Overseer’s Excavation project, and make the information about the project available to stakeholders. You can watch the webinar above, and click below to read the Public Notice about the grant award.

Home Farm Excavations LIVE!

Visit the Home Farm Project website, that relies on the digital data collection from the field to make excavation and survey results immediately accessible and viewable by the public. Learn about the project, explore interpretations, and see photographs of units, features, and artifacts!

Identifying the Agricultural and Industrial Sites

Survey methods across the Home Farm are integral to our understanding of what archaeological resources exist in the study area. A variety of different methods will be used to evaluate potential sites, including metal detector survey at 20 meter and 10 foot scales, liDAR, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), and Shovel Test Pit (STP) Survey.

Shovel Test Pit Survey

Following metal detector survey, Shovel Test Pit Survey is one way that we identify and look for agricultural structures. Follow along the STP dashboard as our data comes in live during STP survey, and see the results as they happen in real time!

20 Meter Survey at the Overseer's Site

Gridded metal detector survey has identified a number of different site components across the home farm area that will be examined through this project. Learn about our metal detecting process, and how it has revealed new locations for us to excavate in the home farm, including the Overseer’s Site!

Virtual Tour of the Home Farm

In 2012, excavations in the Home Farm area revealed the foundations of an early 19th century tobacco barn that was later converted to a wheat threshing barn. Excavations also revealed that it was used as a temporary dwelling for enslaved laborers. The excavations demonstrated the value of metal detector survey as a tool for identifying agricultural structures, and the importance of archaeological excavation of these spaces. The link below takes you on a virtual tour of the discoveries at the Home Farm with a special tour of the Tobacco Barn and Field Quarter!

Exploring Race, Class, Gender, and Status

The archaeological sites discovered in the Home Farm will provide new opportunities for landscape and comparative analysis on the property. Previously excavated agricultural sites and slave dwellings in the Home Farm, coupled with the Overseer’s Site assemblage, will provide comparative datasets for archaeologists to examine how these different groups coped with and operated within a slave society, built identities around their race and status, and how they interacted with each other. Comparisons with the possessions of the Madisons will provide insight into the strategies employed by people of different economic classes.

Main House Midden

Excavations of a large trash deposit next to the Madison’s home revealed countless numbers of ceramics, champagne bottles, wine glasses, and other objects that point to elite entertaining and consumption patterns. Comparative analysis with assemblages from the Home Farm will provide a better understanding of differences in class in early 19th century America.

The Field Quarter Site

In 2013, excavations were conducted at the Field Quarter Site, uncovering the location of three log cabin field slave dwellings. These excavations were supported by the NEH through a Collaborative Research Grant, and were critical in our ability to tell a more complete story about African Americans at Montpelier. Now, these assemblages can reexamined in new comparative contexts.

Architectural Reconstruction

Making the Home Farm visible on the landscape is a critical step in helping visitors understand the scale and impact of plantation agriculture on the lives of plantation laborers. 3D Digital reconstruction is a first step in making these landscapes visible to the public, and also play an integral part in our ability to investigate the landscape from different viewpoints. Using ESRI’s ArcGIS Pro, archaeologists and spatial analysis experts will be able to better understand these complicated landscapes.

Reconstructions at the Field Quarters

One of the critical parts of interpreting archaeological sites is through the physical reconstruction of buildings and landscape features on the property. Reconstructions of the log cabin field quarters have taken place already at the Home Farm, but they represent only a small number of the buildings located on the landscape.

Reconstructions at the Field Quarters

Through a partnership with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technology (CAST) at University of Arkansas, Montpelier will be creating detailed 3D models of the Overseer’s House and the rest of the landscape of the Home Farm. These models will aid in the analysis of the area and its interpretation for the public.

Generous funding has been provided by:

The Perry Foundation

Private Donations and Support