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The Pillars

Memorialization Overview

Memorialization at Montpelier began in 2019 by descendants of those who were enslaved, to honor their ancestors’ contributions and memories. A document known as the Rubric, that outlines this process led to the establishment of the Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC).

The Montpelier Burial Ground for the Enslaved is a 4-acre site in the center of Montpelier that archaeologists estimate is the resting place for approximately 250+ enslaved people. The MDC has full jurisdiction over how the site is surveyed and preserved and how their ancestors will be honored, including the designing and construction of a memorial to the ancestors at the burial ground.

Memorialization involves the history of every individual who lived and worked at Montpelier. Telling the whole history means that The Montpelier Foundation and the MDC will work together to incorporate the whole history of the intellectual and economic contributions of the enslaved, whose histories to a large extent have been hidden until today. This will result in a richer and more robust story at Montpelier and the surrounding communities that are connected across the entire regional cultural landscape.

The process of uncovering the whole history at Montpelier includes descendants of the enslaved working closely with archaeologists, museum curators, and designers to ensure that decisions made about these projects are inclusively developed from the idea phase to implementation through to completion. Funding for Memorialization is made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the State of Virginia.

March 21, 2023: Mellon Foundation Grants $5.8 Million to Memorialize Lives of Enslaved People

March 20, 2024 – April 20, 2024: Memorial at Montpelier – Request for Qualifications

Civic Engagement

The Montpelier Foundation established the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution in 2002 as a nonpartisan hub of civic learning and dialogue. Robert H. Smith shared our belief that helping educators become better teachers helps students become more knowledgeable about the Constitution, and that both are key to the future of America.

Its professional development programs include: multi-day residential educator seminars where participants hear from guest scholars, take tours, and experience various pedagogical models; multi-day law enforcement officer seminars that teach officers about the legal framework of policing and how they uphold the Constitution; and hosting international leaders and professionals. Its public programs include: Consider the Constitution podcast launched in 2023 that provides insight into constitutional issues that directly affect every American; grant-funded community workshops hosted in Central Virginia communities that focus on the First Amendment; and a Bill of Rights tour about Supreme Court cases relating to the first 10 amendments.

We know that the Constitution profoundly affects our day-to-day lives, but trying to decipher and apply it can be an intimidating task. That’s why the Center exists. We strive to help people gain a better understanding of the document that still serves as the foundation of our nation. We give people the tools to more fully appreciate and understand the Constitution and encourage informed debate, deeper involvement in democracy, and continuous improvement to our nation.

Visitor Engagement


Through research, educational programs, and impactful in-person experiences, Montpelier is helping people around the world understand Madison’s vision of a free country governed by the rule of law and enslaved people’s role in both challenging and achieving that vision. Montpelier offers tours that: interpret the rich history of the plantation and historic house; visit the sites where multiple generations of Montpelier’s enslaved community lived, loved, and labored; explore the origins of the U.S. Constitution at Montpelier and the legacy it leaves today; and explore Madison's critical role as "Architect" of the Bill of Rights. In addition to these regular offerings, Montpelier also has seasonal offerings that include Working Woods walks, Restoration tours, Nature walks, and Formal Garden tours. Montpelier’s Digital Doorway blog explores the people, projects, and process behind the stories we tell at Montpelier, featuring deep-dive posts from Curatorial and Collections, Archaeology and Landscape Restoration, Education and Visitor Engagement, Architecture and Historic Preservation, and Research.


Montpelier preserves, cares for, and interprets the Madisons’ restored home and its surrounding landscape; the reconstructed South Yard, home to members of the plantation’s Enslaved Community; the Montpelier Family Cemetery and Montpelier Burial Ground of the Enslaved; a 4,300-object museum collection; the Gilmore Cabin, the first freedman’s farm in the United States; the 1910 Train Depot, preserved to represent what it would have looked like during the Jim Crow era; and 150 historic structures built across multiple periods of American history.


Public archaeology programs at Montpelier are designed to give participants an immersive, team-based archaeological experience. Montpelier offers a range of opportunities for the public, including visiting the site and lab, attending week-long expedition programs, participating in a field school, or volunteering in the lab. These programs connect the public to the past, the past to the present, and build a community around the unique processes at Montpelier. The public has the benefit of excavating extremely well-preserved archaeological deposits located on the property. These sites provide the archaeology department with a wonderful space for the public to learn and participate in the process of interpreting the past, and critically and holistically examining the context of race and liberty in the United States, all under the umbrella of inclusivity and public engagement.