The estate of former U.S. President and Founding Father James Madison has received a $10 million gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein to rebuild slave quarters and make other refurbishments on Madison’s Montpelier estate in Virginia. The slave quarters are being rebuilt next to the mansion on the estate in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. They were cleared away approximately 165 years ago, and the site has been left undisturbed since that time.
The quarters are located on the estate’s South Yard, and there are plans to have archaeologists excavate the area to recover remnants of slave life. Those working on the excavation and restoration hope that rebuilding the slave quarters will help provide a fuller version of history. Experts have estimated that around 30 people, which included “house slaves” and their families, lived in the structures that are going to be rebuilt and furnished. The wooden structures will include glass windows and wooden floors similar to the original buildings, and they will also feature a fully functioning kitchen from that time period. The cabins that “field slaves” lived in were not as nice and were made of logs and mud and located near the fields they worked in.
Despite Madison having been troubled by the institution of slavery, his convictions were strong enough to keep him from owning 118 slaves at one point. Matt Reeves, who is Montpelier’s director of archaeology, says that his team will be using research from documents and excavations to rebuild the slave quarters as close to the original structure as possible. In addressing what he hopes the restoration will accomplish, he states, “By bringing the slave quarters back, what we’re able to do is tell the stories of the slave families that lived here and tell their more personal stories that allow visitors to imagine the enslaved community not as just workers, but as people, as mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles.” Reeves says that the estate is currently, “void of any evidence of the plantation where more than 100 slaves lived,” and he is hoping that by making Montpelier more authentic will, “really help define Mr. Madison as who he was – as a Virginia planter, as a slave owner.”