Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ceramics and Pottery at Montpelier

     During my volunteer archaeology trip to James and Dolley's Madison's Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia, I was introduced to the different kinds of pottery, china, or earthenware that we were likely to find. It was mind boggling and I have to admit I did not commit the variations to memory. Since the Madison family owned the property from 1723 to 1844, and finds also included pieces owned by the enslaved peoples as well as freedmen, the possibilities were diverse.

Digging out
The highlight of the week for me was when I found a piece of English delftware (?) which was the largest piece found this summer! This type of ceramic most folks consider ugly, but apparently it was quite popular in the 1740's. The piece likely belonged to the

senior Madisons, James Madison's parents, during their Mt. Pleasant years. Mount Pleasant was the house that James and Nelly Conway Madison lived in, and where James the president grew up. James Sr. built the Georgian mansion in the early 1760's.

     Dolley Madison would have owned 'prettier' tableware sets. Many of the archaeologists joked that Dolley Madison likely despised her mother-in-law's choice of decor and tableware. Nelly Conway Madison (1731-1829) lived to the age of 98, and had her own southern side of the mansion duplex. She continued to maintain a rural lifestyle Dolley would have considered 'outdated.'

In fact Dolley was very much a 'fashion queen' of the times and greatly influenced by high society living. She frequently shopped in Philadelphia and Washington, and ordered hats, turbans, gowns, and furniture from Europe, even during wartime! Dolley is famous for her low cut, bosom revealing dresses, and colorful, feathered
turbans.Too bad I didn't find any jewelry or buckles!