I had a comfortable night’s sleep at Arlington House, one of several old homes on the grounds at James Madison’s Montpelier in the Piedmont region of Virginia. Well, there are four women in my second floor room, like camp, so it was as comfortable as overnight camp can be, in your mid-40s. A dozen men slept on the first floor and in the basement. By the time the sun came up, you could hear the thumping of boots and smell the coffee brewing.
I arrived at Arlington House late at night. I could not see the grounds. But by morning, I noticed the small slave house about 100 feet from where I slept. The slaves, who surely looked a lot like me, were likely the slaves who built the 1840s era house I’ll be sleeping in this week. The adjacent slave house is the only standing, original slave structure on the property.
I’m here to participate in the Montpelier Log Cabin Workshop. The task this week is to re-construct a slave cabin dating back to the early 1800s. President James Madison and his family lived at Montpelier until 1844. Matthew Reeves is the Director of Archaeology and Landscape Restoration at Montpelier. His team discovered and excavated the site in 2010. So, I will be helping to rebuild the slave quarter at the actual site where it stood generations ago.
Matthew says as Montpelier is restored, including the Madison mansion, visitors should have an authentic experience, which should provide a landscape that includes where slaves lived, as well. There were as many 125 slaves at Montpelier when the Madisons lived there.
Some of the tools we will use, will be more than 100 years old. But, I did have to stop by Lowe’s to pick up a few items for my work belt: Carpenter’s Pencils, 25’ measuring tape, framing square, torpedo level, gloves, and more. I look forward to documenting this week.