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Local students take part in field school at James Madison's Montpelier, working to find stables
Ford Lautenschlager of Stafford and Emma Simpkins
ROB HEDELT/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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By Rob Hedelt
Both students said the work was hard at times, mainly because of the heat, early mornings and occasional monotony of their tasks.
But they enjoyed getting to know the other students and seeing the Montpelier home and grounds from the inside.
The pair, like most of the students taking part, will get academic credit through an exchange program. JMU handled the first; State University of New York at Plattsburgh the second.
Students taking part in the two field schools--21 in the first session, 13 in the second--came from a range of colleges, from Carleton College in Minnesota to Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania to the University of Tennessee.
The student work fits in with a three-year effort to investigate the life and quarters of slaves who toiled at Montpelier during Madison's time. The undertaking will be funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Included in the effort will be archaeological fieldwork to excavate the home sites of three groups of slaves:
House slaves, who worked directly under the Madisons in the mansion and who lived close by in the South Yard.
Stable and garden slaves, who lived and worked slightly farther away in the Stable Quarter.
And field slaves, who lived away from the mansion in the Home Quarter.
In a release on the grant, Montpelier Director of Archaeology Matthew Reeves said the excavation will provide a better understanding of the more than 100 slaves who served Montpelier and the Madisons.
"Few plantations have pristine archaeological remains of an entire slave population like Montpelier, and this creates a remarkable opportunity to gain insight into the complex workings of the whole plantation," he said in the release.
Although Montpelier has professional archaeologists on site to spearhead that effort, student and volunteer programs will continue to assist.
"I'd like to come back and help at some point," said Lautenschlager. "I'm not sure I'll ever do this as a profession, but as a history major, it's interesting to see how archaeology can fill in so many of the blanks."montpelier.org
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415