Mount Pleasant (1723-1763)

Research & Collections

When Ambrose Madison and Frances Taylor Madison moved to Montpelier in 1732, the site had already been prepared by enslaved laborers, working under an overseer. After nine years of slave labor, Mount Pleasant had been made “move-in ready,” and included slave quarters, barns, storage buildings, a kitchen, and work areas for processing the crops. Because few historic documents detailing the original homestead survive, archaeological investigations provided important information about the history of the site.

Aerial photograph of Mount Pleasant looking to the northeast towards the Montpelier mansion (not in the photograph). 

Archaeologists, 2001 expedition members, and field school students discovered that the main house survived only as a stone-lined cellar measuring 25×12 ft. Layers of ash, hundreds of pounds of burned plaster and clay daub from fallen walls, scorched and melted nails revealed that the house had been burned to the ground.  What was not recovered, however, was any architectural hardware, window glass, or even whole bricks--this suggested the house was stripped of any usuable building materials and then intentionally burned to remove it from the landscape.  Click the link above to learn more information.

The slave quarter and kitchen at Mount Pleasant was discovered in the 1990s.  These two structures appear to have been used continuously from the 1730s through to 1800.   Similar to the main house, archaeologists found the burned remains of the kitchen, but this structure was accidentally burned and resulted in the entire contents of an enslaved household to be consumed in the blaze--providing a snap shot of items owned by a group of field slaves.  Click link above to learn more.


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Main house cellar (foreground) and associated ditch feature (background).

This artistic rendering of Mount Pleasant shows how the home and its outbuildings may have appeared in the 1750s based on archaeological remains.  The early Madison home, one of the first in this part of Virginia, was a relatively small structure measuring 26 by 24 feet.

 Map of the Mount Pleasant site.  The tan lines in the photograph are visitor paths.