Prints, illustrations and ads are great assets when researching. They provide visual examples of how people lived, what they bought and how it was used. Oral histories and interviews with the people who experienced past events are invaluable and can help to make something from the past feel much closer to home. Below you can see some of the images and read portions of the interviews conducted with the Works Progress Administration that helped to influence the construction of the South Yard dwellings at Montpelier. 

The formerly enslaved individuals interviewed by the WPA resided in either Maryland or Virginia. You will notice that their experiences of slavery range on a spectrum- from food and clothing insecurities to ample time off and gifts. It should be remembered that although some may have experienced less severe enslavement, that these humans were still the property of another.

Explore excerpts of WPA interviews by topic, below.

Photos of formerly enslaved persons courtesy of The Library of Congress.

Furniture & Housing 

Food & Cooking 



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Introduction to the South Yard

 Through the reconstruction, furnishing, and interpretation of the South Yard buildings, Montpelier is sharing a more complete history of the Madison legacy and the place that nurtured the American Constitution as well as the horrendous system of slavery.

Photo: Proun Design
The South Yard: The Taylor and Stewart Families

Like the buildings they lived and worked in, we do not know everything about the 300 people who were enslaved at Montpelier. As slaves, they were viewed by those who held the power and made the records, as property, not equals. However, we do know some things about a few.

Display of personal household items in one of the South Yard dwellings.
The South Yard: Household Items

As an enslaved person living in the South Yard at Montpelier, some of your personal tools would have been used to support your family’s daily needs as well as the demands of your owners. Others would have been yours, alone.

LoC Spotsylvania Court House, VA
The South Yard: Food & Cooking

Much has been written about the food prepared and consumed by enslaved African Americans. From what was provided by the plantation owners, to what was grown or hunted by the individual; from how it was cooked to the social events surrounding eating.

Written By

Teresa Teixeira
Former Curator of Collections at James Madison's Montpelier

The above content was researched and written by Teresa Teixeira in 2017.

It was adapted for Montpelier’s Digital Doorway by Leanna Schafer in 2020.

Leanna Schafer, BA
Curatorial & Collections Assistant

Leanna joined the Curatorial & Collections Department at Montpelier in 2018 as a Museum Technician. She values the histories and stories told by objects and works to preserve those objects for generations to come.

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