Day Four: Montpelier Log Cabin Workshop 2/20/14


There’s an awful lot of work to do if the slave cabin we are resurrecting is to look like a cabin. 

“I think we are doing a bang-up job, based on the fact that none of us has built a log cabin before,” said Paul VerNooy of Hockessin, Delaware.  The research chemist found out about the cabin building workshop in an email newsletter from Fine Homebuilding Magazine and he jumped at the chance to be here.


Paul has always dreamed of building a log cabin.  When he was 10-years-old, he did just that with a pile of small logs in the backyard.  “It didn’t last very long and it wasn’t sturdy.”  But Paul won’t be able to say that about “our” log cabin.

The front and rear of the cabin requires eight logs each, 21 feet long. The sides of the cabin will have seven logs each.  That equals 30!  I think we have de-barked most of the logs.  I saw about six large logs needing to be stripped.  We should be able to get that done today.  We must get it done today.  Wednesday’s morning rain set us back about two hours.

The rain stopped and the sun shined, just like weather reports predicted.  Craig Jacobs and his team moved all the loose logs from the barn back to our site, overlooking the Madison mansion, before noon.  I know.  You don’t have to say it.  The enslaved people of Montpelier would not have had the luxury of postponing work due to weather.

I am told the slaves who originally built this cabin were considered “master” builders.  Old letters reveal, James Madison Sr., the president’s father, often jobed out his slaves to build cabins for other people.  Today is sunny with just a litte chill in the air.  I don’t even need to wear a cap.  My goal today is to learn how to use a “Slick.”  We are using 12 to 15 inch slicks that are 150 years old.  “Slicks” are used to scrape and clean the angle of the V-notch in the wood, so we can place another log snuggly on top.


The days have been long and tiring, but everyone is still full of smiles and there have only been a few cuts and scrapes.  I have a couple of sore knuckles, so I put down that12 pound axe!  I would like to thank Kimberly Trickett for reminding me why I’m here this week and willing to deal with the sore knuckles, back and butt.  Kimberly is the Curator of Archeological Collections at Montpelier.   She gave me a small saucer to hold in my hand that was found in fragments during two different excavations near the mansion.  The dainty saucer is tinted blue with hand-painted brown flowers.  Kimberly said it was the only earthenware they found with that pattern.  She says the slaves who lived in the cabin we are re-building probably sold or bartered food they grew in a nearby garden to acquire the saucer.  Kimberly said, “Someone loved it and used it enough until it broke.”  Time for me to get back to work.



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