Home of James & Dolly Madison
4:42 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Montpelier Slave Descendants Meet

Rediscovered by archaeologists in the 1980s, the slave cemetery at Montpelier contains roughly 40 unmarked grave shaft depressions.
Rediscovered by archaeologists in the 1980s, the slave cemetery at Montpelier contains roughly 40 unmarked grave shaft depressions.
Credit Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation

There’s an unusual reunion planned this weekend at the home of James and Dolly Madison.  About forty descendants of slaves will visit from around the nation to help administrators tell the story of enslaved families at Montpelier.

Slaves were the first people to live at Montpelier – clearing the land and building a house in 1723.  Over the next eighty years, the population of enslaved people would rise to 120, yet Education Director Christian Cotz says you wouldn’t know they were there.

“What we see today when we drive up the driveway is that great big, pretty brick house.  What we don’t see are the slave quarters, barns, dairies, stables that supported that one family’s life here.” 

In fact, slaves maintained the plantation, cooked for thousands of party guests and made sure Mr. Madison had everything he needed.

“Everything he was able to accomplish was built on the backs of this huge population of slaves.  It was their labor that allowed him the leisure time to devote his life to public service.”    

Working through the Orange County African-American Historical Society, Montpelier has located dozens of descendants from all over the nation.  Planners hope they’ll have family stories to tell – stories passed down through six generations of enslaved people.