African-American history at Montpelier spans hundreds of years. From the 1720s to the mid-nineteenth century, enslaved individuals labored for three generations of Madisons at Montpelier and, for a short time, for post-Madison residents of the property. Former slaves who once labored in bondage at Montpelier later made the property their home post-emancipation, living and working as freedmen.
When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the Civil War had been raging in the United States for over a year-and-a-half. In his executive order, Lincoln declared, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Simply put, only slaves residing in non-Union controlled states were declared free. Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
George Gilmore and his family have come to define the post-emancipation era at Montpelier. According to oral histories, Gilmore was born into slavery at Montpelier and it was during this time as a slave that he met his future wife, Polly. Gilmore likely continued as a slave under subsequent Montpelier owners, including Henry Moncure and the Carson brothers after Madison’s death in 1836. While it is unclear exactly when he was emancipated, by the close of the Civil War, and certainly by December 1865, Gilmore and his wife and children were living as a freed family near the Montpelier property. The Gilmore family eventually purchased a plot of land from Dr. James Ambrose Madison and established a small, independent farm. They resided in a log cabin that would be home to at least three generations of Gilmores.
The Gilmore Family
George Gilmore and his family have come to define the post-emancipation era at Montpelier.