Montpelier (Orange, Virginia)

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Montpelier restored to its original state
Montpelier (Orange, Virginia) is located in Virginia
Montpelier (Orange, Virginia)
Nearest city Orange, Virginia
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Built c. 1764
NRHP Reference # 66000843
VLR # 068-0030
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[2]
Designated NHL December 19, 1960[3]
Designated VLR September 9, 1969[1]
Montpelier circa 1975, during the du Pont family's ownership of the property.

Montpelier, located near Orange, Virginia, was the plantation house of the prominent Madison family of Virginia, including James Madison, fourth President of the United States. The manor house of Montpelier is four miles (6 km) south of Orange, Virginia, and the estate currently covers nearly 2,700 acres (1,100 ha).[4]

Montpelier was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It was included in the Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District in 1991. In 1983, the last private owner of Montpelier, Marion duPont Scott, bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has owned and operated the estate since 1984, and from 2003–2008 carried out a major restoration, in part to return the mansion to its original size of 22 rooms during the years when it was occupied by James and Dolley Madison. Extensive interior and exterior work was done during the restoration. Visitors to the estate can follow the multifaceted restoration in the "Restoration Room." In the 21st century, archeological investigations in four quarters have revealed new information about African-American life at the plantation.


The Madison family

In 1723, James Madison's grandfather, Ambrose Madison, and his brother-in-law, Thomas Chew, received a patent for 4,675 acres of land in the Piedmont of Virginia. Ambrose, his wife Frances Madison, and their three children moved to the plantation in 1732, naming it Mount Pleasant. (Archaeologists have located this first site near the Madison Family Cemetery.) Ambrose died six months later; according to court records, he was poisoned by three enslaved blacks. At the time, Ambrose Madison held 29 slaves and close to 4,000 acres.[5] After his death, Frances managed the estate with the help of their son, Colonel James Madison, Sr.

Madison, Sr. expanded the plantation to include building services and blacksmithing in the 1740s, and bought additional slaves to cultivate tobacco and other crops. He married Nelly Conway Madison (1731–1829) and had 12 children.

James Madison, Sr.'s first-born son, also named James, was born on March 16, 1751 at Belle Grove, his mother's family estate in Port Conway, where she had returned for his birth. James Madison spent his early years at Mount Pleasant.

In the early 1760s, Madison, Sr. built a new house half a mile away, which structure forms the heart of the main house at Montpelier today. Built around 1764, it has two stories of brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern, and a low, hipped roof with chimney stacks at both ends. His son James Madison later stated that he remembered helping move furniture to the new home. The building of Montpelier represents Phase 1 (1764–1797) of the construction. Upon completion, the Madisons owned one of the largest brick dwellings in Orange County.[6]

Phase 2 (1797–1800) of construction began in 1797, after the son James Madison returned to Montpelier with his new wife Dolley Madison. He was then 39 and she was a young widow with a child. At this time Madison added a thirty-foot extension and a Tuscan portico to the house. Next, he directed construction of single-story flat-roofed extensions at either end of the house; these provided space for the separate household of the newlyweds James and Dolley Madison. Madison's widowed mother Frances still resided in the house following the death of her husband, James, Sr., in 1801.[7]

In the last period of construction, Phase 3 (1809–1812), Madison had a large drawing room added, as well as one-story wings at each end of the house. After his second term as president, in 1817 Madison retired there full-time with his wife Dolley.[6]

James Madison died in 1836 and is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. His widow Dolley Madison moved back to Washington, D.C. in 1837 after his death. In 1844 she sold the plantation to Henry W. Moncure. After Dolley Madison died in 1849, she was buried in Washington, DC and later re-interred at Montpelier next to her husband James.

After Dolley Madison sold the estate to Henry W. Moncure in 1844, the property was held by a total of six additional owners before the du Ponts bought Montpelier in 1901. The various owners and the dates associated with the site include: Benjamin Thornton (1848–1854), William H. Macfarland (1854–1855), Alfred V. Scott (1855–1857), Thomas J. Carson and Frank Carson (1857–1881), Louis F. Detrick and William L. Bradley (1881–1900) and Charles King Lennig (1900).[8]

The name Montpelier

The origins of the name Montpelier are uncertain, but the first recorded use of the name comes from a 1781 James Madison letter. Madison personally liked the French spelling of the name Montpellier, meaning 'Mount of the Pilgrim.' Montpellier, France was a famous resort. Clues from letters and visitor descriptions suggest these origins of the plantation's name.[9]

Slavery at Montpelier

The work of Montpelier was done primarily by its permanent and integral staff of about 100 enslaved African Americans during James Madison's tenure as owner. Slaves served in a variety of roles: domestic servants in charge of cleaning, cooking, and care of clothing; and as artisans for the mill, forge, wheelwright, and other carpentry and woodworking. During the time that the Madisons owned the estate, "five, six, and possibly seven generations of African Americans were born into slavery at Montpelier."[5]

The most well-known slave from Montpelier was Paul Jennings, who was body servant to Madison from the age of 10, when he accompanied him to the White House, to the president's death in 1836. Born in 1799, Jennings was purchased from Dolley Madison and freed in 1845 by the northern senator Daniel Webster after Madison's death. Jennings continued to live in Washington, DC, where he worked and became a property owner.

In 1848 he helped plan the largest slave escape in United States history, as 77 slaves from the Washington, DC area took to The Pearl, a schooner, intending to sail up the Chesapeake Bay to a free state.[10][11] They were captured and most were sold to the Deep South.

Jennings was noted for his account of Madison, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison (1865), which is considered the first White House memoir.[12]

Archaeological research and documentary analysis has revealed much about the life of Montpelier-born slave, Catherine Taylor (ca. 1820 – after 1892). Catherine married Ralph Taylor, a house slave, and had four children with him. When Dolley Madison moved to Washington, D.C. in the years after James Madison's death, Ralph was chosen to accompany her to serve her in the capital. Catherine decided to stay at the plantation.

Dolley Madison willed all her slaves to her son, John Payne Todd. He stipulated in his will that upon his death, the slaves would be manumitted. However, due to legal and financial complications after Todd's death, the slaves were not manumitted. The Taylors petitioned James C. Maguire, the administrator of the estate, for their freedom. After being officially freed in 1853, they chose to live in Washington, which had a large free black community and opportunities for varied work.[5]

The Montpelier staff continues to research plantation slaves by a variety of methods: studying historical documents such as court records and autobiographies, conducting archaeological excavations, contacting current descendants, and working to understand the contributions and sacrifices of the enslaved community.[5]

The Du Pont family

After some renovations in the later 19th century (c. 1855 and c. 1880), the house was acquired in 1901 by William and Annie Rogers du Pont, of the Du Pont family. A horse enthusiast, William du Pont built barns, stables, and other buildings for equestrian use. The Du Ponts were among several wealthy families in the Upper South who were influential in the development of Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States. The Du Pont family also added a Hodgson House to the property. These were known as "America's First Organized Prefabricated House Manufacturer before Aladdin, Sears, and Montgomery Ward," emphasizing that the homes could technically be built in a day. Still located on Montpelier's property, it is now known as the "Bassett House."[13]

William and Annie had a daughter, Marion duPont, and a son William du Pont, Jr. Upon William du Pont, Sr.'s death in 1928, William du Pont, Jr. inherited the family's Bellevue estate in Delaware, whereupon he had the estate's mansion converted into a replica of Montpelier (now preserved as a state park),[14] and Marion inherited the Montpelier estate. Marion preserved much of the core of the Madison home, gardens, and grounds as a legacy for all Americans. After her father's death, Marion made only one change to the house; she remodeled her parents' music room in the latest Art Deco style, using modern and innovative materials such as laminated plywood, chrome, glass block, and plate glass mirrors. A weather vane was installed on the ceiling, which allowed wind direction to direct the hounds for fox hunting. An exact replica of the Art Deco room can be seen in the DuPont Gallery, in the Visitors' Center at Montpelier. Prior to her parents moving into the property, they enlarged the house considerably, adding wings that more than doubled the number of rooms to 55. Her parents also had the brick covered with a stucco exterior for a lighter look.

In 1934 Marion and her brother William founded the Montpelier Hunt Races, to be held on the grounds. Natural hedges were used as jumps for the steeplechase. The races continue to be held annually, the first Saturday each November.

Marion duPont Scott died in 1983 and bequeathed the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with $10 million as an endowment to buy and maintain it. But, her father's will had stated that if she died childless, the property would go to her brother William duPont, Jr. and his children. As he had died in 1965, his five children legally inherited the property. Scott's will encouraged them to sell or give their interests to the National Trust; if they did not, they would get no share of an additional $3.1 million trust she had set up for them. Three of the children sold their interests in Montpelier to the National Trust, followed by the other two in 1984 after a court battle in which they tried to break the trust.[15]

National Trust property

Since the National Trust for Historic Preservation took ownership in 1984, the organization has worked to restore Montpelier to the Madison era. It has paid tribute to Marion duPont Scott's influence by retaining one of her favorite rooms in the newly renovated and expanded Visitor's Center, along with the annual Montpelier Hunt Races.[16]

The National Trust has provided an Education Center for students and teachers. It sponsors the "We the People" program to promote the understanding of civics for upper elementary and secondary students, along with national and state programs for teachers, such as the National Advanced Content Seminars, which focuses on historical content and teaching methods.[16]

In conjunction with the James Madison University Field School, Montpelier has been the site of annual, seasonal archeological excavations from April to November. Under a four-year collaborative research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, four quarters have been excavated related to the lives of enslaved African Americans: including the Stable Quarter (2009), South and Kitchen Yards (2011), Tobacco Barn Quarter (2012), and Field Quarter (2013).[17] The excavations have revealed early structures in those areas, including possible slave quarters, as well as a variety of artifacts dating to the Madison residency and their slaves. The artifacts are helping researchers form a much broader and deeper picture of the lives of the slaves at Montpelier. "The four residential locations provide a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the conditions of chattel slavery of the period. Differences and similarities between these locations – particularly architectural styles and household goods such as ceramics, glassware, and clothing items – reflect the relationship of individual households to each other, the community to which they belong, their relationship to the overarching plantation complex, and regional patterns of both market access and cultural traditions."[17] New exhibits have been mounted to interpret the lives of Africans and African Americans at the plantation.

From 2003–2008 the National Trust carried out a $25 million restoration to return the mansion to its 1820 state; it is again less than half the size of the expanded residence created by the DuPont family. The National Trust is conducting a search for furnishings either original to the property or of its era.

In 2003, the National Trust formed a partnership with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, to provide a 200-acre portion of the estate for use as a TRF farm. Montpelier's former president, Michael C. Quinn, stated, "In partnership with the TRF, we are proud that Montpelier will continue to be a showcase for America’s race horses."[18]


Close-up of Montpelier (2011)
Entrance to the gardens at Montpelier
Restored Montpelier railroad depot is now a civil rights museum

A $25 million restoration project launched in October 2003 was completed on Constitution Day, September 17, 2008. A Restoration Celebration was held with major funding by National Trust Community Investment Corporation.[19] The restoration returned Montpelier to its 1820 appearance: it demolished additions made to the house by the duPont family, removed the stucco exterior to reveal the original brick, restored the original brick exterior, and reconstructed the house's interior as it appeared during Madison's tenure as owner. Authentic materials were used in the restoration, including horsehair plaster, and paint containing linseed oil and chalk. The Collections staff and archaeologists are working to understand the decorations of each room and reinstall original furniture.[20]

A wing in the visitors' center has been dedicated to the DuPont family. It includes a restored art deco Red Room from the Marion duPont Scott era, moved from the mansion and permanently installed here.[20]


Montpelier is open to visitors Tuesday through Sunday except Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the following hours: January – March: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, April – October: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., November – December: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Montpelier includes the a Hands-on-Restoration-Tent open from April–October; Hands-on-Archaeology Lab and Kid-Sized Archaeology open daily; Hands-on-Cooking offered April–October; Civil War and Gilmore Farm Trail open daily; and, the Archaeology Dig open April–October. Visitors can also walk around the James Madison Landmark Forest, a 200-acre (0.81 km2) stand of old growth forest.[21]

Annual events

Montpelier is the site of many annual events. Three particularly draw large crowds: the Montpelier Hunt Races, Wine Festival, and the Fiber Festival.

The annual Montpelier Hunt Races, an autumn steeplechase event, were started by Marion duPont Scott and her brother William duPont, Jr. in 1934. The races are held the first Saturday in November.[22] Montpelier has one of the few steeplechase tracks in the country that use traditional hedgerows for jumps. Montpelier hosts seven races at this event. Guests may watch the races directly at the rail for a close experience.

The Montpelier Wine Festival showcases distinctive arts and crafts, specialty food vendors, local agricultural products, and Virginia wine from approximately 25 different wineries in the state.

The Fall Fiber Festival is held each October and is a popular regional event. The event showcases every aspect of textile manufacturing, from the production of wool to the finished product. Events include sheep shearing, craft demos, and a host of other activities. The most popular feature of the Fall Fiber Festival is the Sheep Dog Trials.

Other events include: summer programs for children, such as the "Mud Camp," a barbecue held in the summer with local barbecue cuisine, Archaeology Expeditions, civil war demonstrations, and, in December, a candlelight tour of Montpelier in the evening.[23]

See also


  1. "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Montpelier (James Madison House)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-08-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Visit Montpelier | Visit – James Madison's Montpelier... Restore Montpelier, Rediscover Madison". 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2010-02-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "The Enslaved Community | The Montpelier Community – James Madison's Montpelier... Restore Montpelier, Rediscover Madison". Retrieved 2010-02-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "slaves" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "slaves" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Madison's Montpelier | Montpelier Estate". Retrieved 2012-05-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Madison's Montpelier | Montpelier Estate". Retrieved 2010-02-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Montpelier's Owners | Montpelier Estate". Retrieved 2012-05-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Origins of the Name Montpelier | Montpelier Estate". Retrieved 2012-05-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Reading 2: Slavery at Montpelier", National Park Service Lessons
  11. G. Franklin Edwards and Michael R. Winston, "Commentary: The Washington of Paul Jennings—White House Slave, Free Man, and Conspirator for Freedom," White House History, I, no.1 (1983): 61
  12. Swarns, Rachel L. (August 15, 2009), "Madison and the White House, Through the Memoir of a Slave", The New York Times, retrieved 2009-08-24<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Hodgson Houses |". Retrieved 2012-05-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "The duPonts". Retrieved 22 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Marjorie Hunter (NY Times News Service), "James Madison's Montpelier to become museum:, Gainesville Sun, 18 November 1984
  16. 16.0 16.1 "The Program". Retrieved 2012-05-17. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 "With Thanks from Montpelier", Caroline Godfrey's blog
  18. "About". Retrieved 2012-05-18. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "The Restoration | Restore – James Madison's Montpelier... Restore Montpelier, Rediscover Madison". 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2010-02-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Provence, Lisa (2008-09-11). "Madison for resident: Montpelier gets extreme makeover". The Hook. Retrieved 22 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Visit Montpelier". Montpelier. Retrieved 2012-05-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Calendar of Events | Visit – James Madison's Montpelier... Restore Montpelier, Rediscover Madison". Retrieved 2010-02-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Calendar of Events | Visit – James Madison's Montpelier... Restore Montpelier, Rediscover Madison". Retrieved 2012-05-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links