Unearthing a Slave Community

Location: Orange, Virginia, United States

March 1, 2016 to November 17, 2016

Session dates: 
One week sessions: Session #1: March 20-25 Session #2: April 17-22 Session #3: April 24-29 Session #4: July 24-29 Session #5: July 31-Aug 5 Session #6: August 7-12 Session #7: September 4-9 Session #8: September 18-23, Session #9: October 2-7 Session #10: October 16-21 One-month field schools: James Madison University Archaeology Field School: May 16 — June 10, 2016 SUNY Plattsburgh Archaeology Field School: June 19 — July 15, 2016

Application Deadline: 
Thursday, December 1, 2016

Deadline Type: 
Contact for details

Flyer: PDF icon mae_10_2015_info_packet.pdf

Program Type

Field school

This project is an RPA certified field school


Montpelier Foundation--James Madison's Montpelier

Project Director:

Matthew Reeves, Director of Archaeology

Project Description


Over the next several years, we will be examining a number of different archaeological sites. What makes Montpelier a wonderful property for surveys and excavations is its relative undisturbed condition. All of the sites we excavate have never been plowed--and most were abandoned in the 1840s, leaving the archaeological features in pristine condition.

In the Spring of 2016, we will be excavating domestic and work sites in the South Yard of the Montpelier Mansion, where the enslaved laborers of James and Dolley Madison worked and lived during the first half of the 19th century a series of outlying quarters for field slaves as part of our on-going ensalved community study.  These projects are part of a larger effort to interpret and reconstruct the South Yard slave quarter so it can be accessed by visitors.

The LEARN Archaeology Expedition program has been operating at Montpelier for a decade-and-a-half, with many of the same volunteers returning year after year. We are, however, keen to add new faces to the program. All of the scheduled programs are designed to give participants actual excavation experience on an archaeological site working side-by-side with trained professional archaeologists. We have a staff of seven archaeologists who work with participants both in the lab and in the field, which means you have personal interaction with archaeological staff and this allows you to work on sensitive features, artifacts, and deposits that normally one would not get to handle. You are treated as a member of the research team and we step you through the entire excavation process. While you are here at Montpelier, you will be engaged in lectures, take tours of various archaeological sites on the property, and of course get a tour of the mansion.

You can learn about all of our LEARN Archaeology Expeditions at the following link.

We also host two month-long university archaeology field schools.  For more information on these, please see our field school web page.

For project updates please see our archaeology blog.

For more information contact Matthew Reeves at dig@montpelier.org

Period(s) of Occupation: Colonial and federal period

Historical archaeology excavation at slave quarter sites. Participants live on historic Montpelier grounds.

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 1 week

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 
none. Participants living on the property who are under 18 yo need an accompanying guardian or parent.

Room and Board Arrangements

Participants in the Montpelier Archaeology Expedition program stay at Arlington House, an antebellum home located on the estate's historic grounds. At Arlington House, Expedition Members have access to two kitchens and laundry facilities set within a large home featuring a dining room, living room, screen porch and eight large bedrooms and five full bathrooms. Sleeping facilities are dormitory style with two rooms reserved to accommodate couples. Participants will be responsible for preparing all of their meals.

(for pictures of Arlington House see: arlington-house)

$750 for the 1-week expedition programs (includes housing) $600 for field schools (includes housing)

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
James Madison University State University of New York Plattsburgh
Number of credits offered 1
$200 per credit


Contact Information
Matthew Reeves
PO Box 67
Montpelier Station
540-672-2728 x161
Recommended Bibliography: 
  1. 1.      A Brief Landscape History of Montpelier.  This provides a brief outline of the landscape history for the mansion as well as a summary of various excavation seasons at the mansion grounds. 


    2.      Slave Housing at Montpelier.  This article describes some of the slave homes we have uncovered at Montpelier over the past two years.  This article also provides a context for the larger work landscape at Montpelier. 


    3.      Guide to Recording Archaeology Deposits. This guide is provides detailed instructions for filling out paperwork in the field.  It is recommended that you skim this, but it will make a lot more sense once you have spent a couple of days in the field.  Print and bring!



    4.      Field Methods at Montpelier.-This guide provides detailed instructions for the various procedures we carry out in the field.  It is recommended that you skim this, but it will make a lot more sense once you have spent a couple of days in the field.  Print and bring!



    5.      Laboratory Guide. Another detailed guide, but this time for the lab.  Print and bring!


    6.      Restoration of the front landscape. Details regarding the findings from excavations in the front lawn of the mansion.  The results from these excavations led to the restoration of the Madison-era fence and carriage road (see pages 21-30 for the pertinent details)