ORANGE—The Montpelier Foundation has received a major, three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the overseer’s house at the estate of President James Madison.
The grant will further Montpelier’s understanding and interpretation of the Madison family’s agricultural complex, which includes the archaeological site of the overseer’s house, the foundation announced Wednesday.
Studying the site through archaeological excavation, analysis and documentary research will paint a fuller picture of all the people who lived and worked at James Madison’s plantation in the early 19th century, and allow for fuller interpretation, the foundation said in a statement.
The highly prestigious grant was very competitive, Montpelier said. It was the second Collaborative Research Grant received by the foundation since 2010, and the second NEH grant awarded to Montpelier this year.
“The role of the plantation overseer—often a non-elite white man—is regularly overlooked by scholars as well as by historic sites that interpret slavery,” said Terry P. Brock, the foundation’s assistant director of archaeology. “This work will expand our understanding of the overseer’s role on the plantation, and the ways the institution of slavery shaped the lives of Montpelier’s overseer and his family.”
The grant will support two years of archaeological excavation and historical research as well as archaeological survey and preliminary investigations of the locations of other agricultural buildings and slave dwellings on the property.
Project team members will create architectural renderings and a 3-D digital reconstruction of the overseer’s house to aid in the site’s analysis and interpretation.
“This grant marks the beginning of a larger project to research and interpret agriculture at Montpelier, and supports our overall goal of understanding the totality of the Madisons’ plantation landscape,” said Elizabeth Chew, Montpelier’s vice president for museum programs. “Overseers obviously played a critical role in the American system of plantation slavery and Montpelier will be among the first, if not the first, historic site to interpret an overseer’s house to the public.”
This grant builds on a 2010 NEH grant that supported the study of enslaved African-American sites across the Montpelier property. This earlier work was integral to Montpelier’s ability to rebuild slave dwellings and work buildings next to the Madisons’ house and to organize the award-winning slavery exhibition “The Mere Distinction of Colour.”
With the new grant, Montpelier experts will have the resources to delve deeper into the complex institution of American slavery and its legacies by extending their knowledge of the agricultural landscape. New interpretation will encompass the complex relationships of race, class, and status between enslaved African-Americans, free white laborers, and the Madisons at Montpelier.
Montpelier is the lifelong home of James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution, architect of the Bill of Rights, and fourth U.S. president, and his vivacious wife, first lady Dolley Madison. A museum of American history and a center for constitutional education, it stewards the legacy of James Madison’s most powerful idea: government by the people.
The historic home and its 2,700-acre grounds are open throughout the year. Its Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at Montpelier offers world-class residential and online educational programs.
Montpelier is administered by The Montpelier Foundation and is a National Trust for Historic Preservation site. To learn more, visit montpelier.org.
“We’re humbled to receive this grant as a signal of the commitment from the NEH to this important work of engaging in whole truth history at Montpelier,” said Kat Imhoff, Montpelier’s president & CEO. “We realize we have only scratched the surface of telling the complete story of the lives of all those who lived and worked at Montpelier and we’re thankful to have the resources to further study and understand the totality of the lived experience on our 2,650 acres.”
For details on the grant, visit digitaldoorway.montpelier.org.
The National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency, is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. NEH convey the lessons of history to all Americans by supporting museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television and radio stations, plus individual scholars, for top-rated proposals that are examined by panels of independent, external reviewers. To learn more, visit neh.gov.