The Piedmont Virginian Magazine Winter 2021

Page 44

HISTORY

footers, and trash pits, for example. Excavating the home farm and up to 20 dwellings there can “provide an even fuller story of the world at Montpelier,” says the website. In addition to excavating, volunteers learn to identify, clean, mend, conserve, analyze, and catalog artifacts. Some volunteers learn metal detecting. Some work in the laboratory there. Every hour of excavation requires 20 hours of archaeology lab work, say experts. WORKING WITH THE DESCENDANT COMMUNITY Recognizing that Montpelier was much more than the Madison family and their mansion, today’s managers have made other efforts to tell a fuller story. They have connected with descendants of former slaves and collected oral histories from people who trace their roots to Montpelier. In the early 2000s, they connected with Rebecca Gilmore Coleman, granddaughter of George Gilmore, a freedman formerly enslaved at Montpelier, and re-

Rebecca Gilmore Coleman, granddaughter of George Gilman, a freedman formerly enslaved at Montpelier, excavating the hearth at the Gilmore Cabin.

stored the Gilmore family cabin, across from the estate’s entrance. On the involvement of descendants, Reeves believes, “The community guides our interpretive efforts, aids in our understanding of slavery and the African American psyche of the time, and gives a different perspective on the lives of the people we are striving the humanize and understand.” Archaeological research also supported the exhibit titled “The Mere Distinction of Colour” in which living descendants of the enslaved relate their ancestors’ experiences there. The exhibit also traces the history of slavery in America and its lasting legacy. In hopes of telling a more complete story, archaeologists are literally unearthing history at a place where the fundamentals of freedom may have been conceived, but were denied to those in bondage. “This isn’t African American history,” says Hugh Alexander, a descendant of Paul Jennings, one of Madison’s enslaved servants. “This is American history.”

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| WINTER 2021


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