Author: Matthew Reeves

the director of archaeology at James Madison's Montpelier

Montpelier, Archaeology at

Archaeology at Montpelier, the Orange County home of James Madison, began in the 1980s and continued over subsequent decades. Settled in the 1720s by Madison’s grandfather, the site was first called Mount Pleasant and included a modest plantation house. In 1764, Madison’s father arranged the construction of a new, two-story brick mansion about a half-mile away, and in 1797, Madison himself began an expansion project, creating what he called Montpelier. Dolley Madison sold the property in 1844, and in 1901 the du Pont family became its ninth owners, more than doubling the mansion’s size. In 1984 the National Trust for Historic Preservation took over the 2,650-acre estate, and archaeological excavations began soon after, first at Mount Pleasant and then at Montpelier. Investigations revealed that the original Mount Pleasant house was one and a half stories with a shed, kitchen, cellar, and at least one slave quarter. At nearby Montpelier, meanwhile, investigations uncovered a carriage road and fenceline and demonstrated how the formal grounds grew extensively from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, encompassing as much as five acres. Archaeologists also excavated a farm complex that appears to have been abandoned after 1844 and several sites associated with the American Civil War (1861–1865), including the winter quarters of South Carolina soldiers.