The South Yard Domestic Slave Community was home to around 30 enslaved men, women and children who served the Madisons and their numerous house guests, including the Marquis de Lafayette, as cooks, maids, waiters, seamstresses and footmen. As an active archaeology site, the Montpelier Foundation is excavating and reconstructing the South Yard and the homes of six families of enslaved domestic workers.

Enslaved field workers were housed farther away in log and mud buildings while the domestic slave quarters at South Yard were framed buildings with wood floors, stone chimneys and glazed windows. Adjacent to, and well within site of the Madisons' mansion, the South Yard domestic slave quarters put a genteel face on slavery for the Madisons and their guests.

Born into slavery at Montpelier, Paul Jennings could read and write. As a boy he accompanied the Madisons to Washington D.C. when Madison was President. As an adult, Jennings became James Madison's manservant. He spent his days at Montpelier by Madison's side and was present when he died. Jennings married an enslaved woman from a nearby plantation named Fanny, and they had five children together - Felix, William, John, Franklin and Francis. The children lived with Fanny at the plantation where she and the children were enslaved.

After James Madison's death, Dolly sold Jennings to a man in Washington D.C. who subsequently sold him to Daniel Webster. Webster later arranged for Jennings to purchase his freedom. As a freeman, Jennings became a leader in the free African American community in Washington D.C., and his sons served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Later, Jennings worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior and penned the first White House memoir - A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison. Jennings purchased a lot on L Street in Washington D.C. where he built a home. A successful freeman, Jennings was known to help out his former owner - Dolly Madison - when she fell into widowhood and poverty.

Montpelier offers a self-guided tour of The South Yard Domestic Slave Community and archaeology site that features a short walking trail with interpretive signs. Montpelier also offers a guided Slavery at Montpelier tour that tells about slavery and the enslaved men, women and children who lived at Montpelier.

Pictured at the top: The recreated stable quarter at the Montpelier South Yard Domestic Slave Community. It is said that the quarter may have been inhabited by a retired 104-year old enslaved woman named 'Granny Milly' and her daughters, both of whom were in the their 70s.

Historical Photo

Paul Jennings