Mansion Cellars (1763-1797)

Research & Collections

In the Georgian mansion, archaeological and architectural evidence has revealed that the cellars were divided into two rooms, each partitioned into separate spaces that provided secure storage, sleeping quarters for enslaved “on-call” domestic servants, and work areas.  

The secure storage area was — and remains — protected by a heavy wooden door that in the 18th century would have been locked, the key kept by Nelly Conway Madison or perhaps a trusted enslaved domestic servant. This door would have served to bar the entrance and protect the contents, which may have included wines, liquors, spices and other valuable ingredients that would have been stored here until required for specific meals.  Unlike other parts of the cellars, the secure storage area had absolutely no materials or features associated with domestic activity.

Outside of this room were two separate partitions.  To the east was the Servant’s Hall, attested to by the presence of the only fireplace in the 1760s basement.  This fireplace would have kept the enslaved domestic servants warm throughout cold nights and the winter months while they awaited the call from the main house.  In front of that fireplace archaeologists found evidence for a subfloor pit that would have stored goods and vegetables—a classic feature in contemporary African-American homes.

To the west of the secure storage were work and storage areas, as well as the main service entrance into the cellars that led to the detached kitchen in the South Yard.  After the wings were added to the house in 1808, a central door was cut in the south wall to provide passage through the room from the Wine Cellar to Nelly’s cellar kitchen.

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Servants’ Hall in 1765 Cellar showing partition outlines, hearth location, and sub-floor pits.