As you know, one of my favorite hobbies is visiting historic sites. The history of Virginia’s colonial origins and of the founding fathers are two of my favorite subjects to explore. On my week off of work, my parents and I took a day to explore Montpelier. We haven’t been since I was a kid, so this was a special treat!
James Madison was a founding father, “Father of the Constitution,” author of the Bill of Rights, and fourth president of the United States. Madison was born in the Northern Neck of Virginia in Port Conway, then grew up in Orange County. His father built Montpelier in the 1760s, and James Madison died there after an accomplished political career in 1836.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and a great story-teller. He pointed out architectural elements of interest, he talked about the restoration work that had happened and was taking place, and he pointed out and told stories of period pieces on display. It was a great journey through the life of Mr. Madison!
Following the guided tour were a couple of self-guided rooms on the upper level of the house. Exploring these rooms was a fun time, particularly reading the stories associated with the artifacts on display. There was one particular artifact on display near where they found it wedged inside of a wall. (Another fun story of how walls can talk!)
Outside of the house, visitors were able to enter the cellar level and explore additional artifacts and interpretive panels down there. Archaeologists working at the slave quarters site were standing by to answer any questions we had on their work, progress, and findings. There was restoration work taking place while we were there as well on Madison’s Temple. It was a busy place of action!
My favorite artifact on display was on the second level of the house: James Madison had custom made wine bottles with his name sealed into them. What a neat find! They have found fragments of these wine bottles and seals on site around Montpelier. He would likely give these bottles to friends; He may have used them to serve on special occasions. I wish I was able to take a photo to share, but pictures were not allowed in this space. (Guess you’ll just have to visit!)
This was not unique to Madison. Other wine purchasers, like Madison, had their seals added to their bottles, including James Madison’s father (James Madison, Sr.) And like many of his peers, Madison was known to enjoy his Madeira! While I couldn’t get a picture of his wine bottle seal, I did snap a picture of the Madeira wine label they were selling in the gift shop.
Interested in a good book to read on Madison and the founding fathers? I highly recommend Joseph Ellis’ book, Founding Brothers. Pour yourself a glass of Virginia wine and enjoy. Cheers!