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Archaeologists are working on complex where slaves lived

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April Kincaid
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« on: May 29, 2008, 10:23:23 pm »

Map from 1830s aids research, excavation
Archaeologists are working on complex where slaves lived
Friday, May 23, 2008 - 12:08 AM

With the help of an early-19th-century insurance map, archaeologists are having an easier time than usual in excavating an important historical site near Montpelier.

The researchers, including 17 students from James Madison University, are unearthing the South Yard, a residential complex where President James Madison's domestic slaves lived and worked.

The insurance map, which came to light in 2002, is proving invaluable.

"It was a perfect roadmap for us," said Jennifer Gullette, a spokeswoman for Montpelier. "The map basically gave us the site's dimensions and location from the house measured out in feet."

About one year after Madison's 1836 death, his wife, Dolley, insured the 27-room mansion and nearby outbuildings. The map detailed the location of the South Yard's two smokehouses and three residences -- each a duplex for two slave families. The slave complex also included a kitchen and a stable.

The map was "rediscovered" when the Pennsylvania Historical Society, which owned a copy of the map, offered it to Montpelier, said Matthew Reeves, director of archaeology at Montpelier.

"It was amazing," Reeves said of the map and the dig. "This has been the highlight of my career here."

. . .

Reeves said a dig in the 1990s had located one of the duplexes, and that find, combined with the map, allowed the archaeologists to dig with great accuracy this time around.

Reeves said archaeologists have found that the complex, which may have contained as many as seven households of about 40 slaves, may have been of higher status than most slave quarters.

The residences had brick chimneys and glass in the windows, unlike the field houses for slaves built of simple log construction, Reeves said. In fact, the South Yard may have been part of the formal yard for the Madison family, he said.

The JMU students are spending five weeks helping to dig out the mysteries of the South Yard. The students, who are living on the Montpelier grounds, are fulfilling the requirements of an archaeology course.

"The course is designed to teach not only technique," Reeves said, "but to also get a better feel for what archaeology is about."
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