The Gilmore Farm (1865-1900)

Research & Collections

George Gilmore, a former enslaved African-American at Montpelier, built his home after his emancipation.  George and his wife, Polly, leased the land from Dr. James Madison (a great-nephew of President Madison) in the late 1860s.  The Gilmores build their initial home from the remains of huts of a Confederate officers camp that were in the yard area. By 1873 the Gilmores had built the cabin that stands today, and in 1901 purchased the 16 acres of land on which their home sat.  Our interpretation focus of the Gilmore Farm is to understand the transition that the Montpelier enslaved community made from bondage to freedom after the Civil War.

In our excavations at the Gilmore Farm, we have focused on two areas: the soils below the cabin, and the yard.  The excavations carried out below the cabin revealed a dense deposit of small items such as glass beds, sewing and safety pins, and buttons that likely fell between the cracks in the floorboards.  Excavation units in the yard allowed us to uncover what appears to be the remains of a Confederate encampment and a small structure in the back yard, which the Gilmore family might have used for their first home prior to constructing their cabin in 1873.

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A 1920s photograph of the Gilmore cabin showing the present-day cabin and their original home in the background..  The yard around the house was commonly used as part of the living space by rural families of the era.  The yard was the site for many day-to-day activities such as cooking, washing, craft work, carpentry, and socializing.  Notice the bee hives in the foreground – the Gilmores raised bees for honey, which served as a sweetener, a preservative, and a revenue source.


A sample of straight and safety pins, glass beads and buttons recovered in 2001 from soil under the floorboards of the cabin.  These items date from the late 19th-century, and illuminate the role of Polly Gilmore as a seamstress and dressmaker.

Photograph of summer 2005 excavations at the Gilmore Farm that revealed the location for the potential early Gilmore residence and the location of the base for a chimney of Confederate hut.  The photo in the inset was taken in 1920 and shows the structure still in existence, but with the chimney removed.  It is likely the Gilmore reused the stone chimney from this early structure for the “new” cabin they built in 1873.