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«C. Thomas Chapman The Montpelier Foundation 540-672-2728 x162 tchapman WHO WAS BURIED IN JAMES MADISON’S GRAVE? A Study in ...»

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A study




C. Thomas Chapman

The Montpelier Foundation

540-672-2728 x162



A Study in Contextual Analysis


A Thesis

Presented to

The Faculty of the Department of Anthropology

The College of William and Mary in Virginia In Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts _____________

by Charles Thomas Chapman


This thesis is dedicated to all those who have come before us, who have created our ideas, our thoughts, our lives, our words, and our stories, and to all those who will follow and recreate what we have done.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

One generation passesth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

-King James Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 The use of words is to express ideas. Perspicuity, therefore, requires not only that the ideas should be distinctly formed, but that they should be expressed by words distinctly and exclusively appropriate to them. But no language is so copious as to supply words and phrases for every complex idea, or so correct as not to include many equivocally denoting different ideas. Hence it must happen that however accurately objects may be discriminated in themselves, and however accurately the discrimination may be considered, the definition of them may be rendered inaccurate by the inaccuracy of the terms in which it is delivered.

And this unavoidable inaccuracy may be greater or less, according to the complexity and novelty of the objects defined. When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.

-James Madison, The Federalist No. 37

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This thesis is the culmination of many years of research that has been generously supported by many people too numerous to account for in this small section. And though the thesis is complete the work is not done. Countless stories contained within the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier still remain to be unearthed with future research.

To attempt to acknowledge some of those who have made this work possible I must begin with the professionals who I hold in high esteem. Lynne Lewis, Senior Archaeologist, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Scott Parker, a past director of the Montpelier Archaeology Department, realized my potential, though I lacked experience, and gave me the opportunity to supervise the archaeological survey of the Madison family cemetery. If not for them this thesis would never have seen the light of day. An additional acknowledgement must go to Lynne who as a member of my thesis committee has been a constant support and a supremely helpful editor. Frederick Schmidt, a former research historian at Montpelier, provided the foundation upon which I have built the history of the cemetery. Erin Baxter went above and beyond her role as a member of the archaeology crew in her dedication to the cemetery project. Dr. Norman Barka, as my graduate advisor and as a member of my thesis committee, was an unfailing guide and an inspiration for a young archaeologist. Dr. Audrey Horning was kind enough to jump in and chair my thesis committee as I wrapped up my work. To her I owe an abundance of gratitude for helping me to bring this thesis to a close. And last, but certainly not least, Dr.

Matthew Reeves, Director of the Montpelier Archaeology Department, is a friend and a mentor who has guided, pushed, cajoled, pleaded and praised, and in the end been my biggest supporter in the process of putting this thesis together.

Without the love and support of my family and friends I never would have been able to complete this thesis. I am constantly humbled by the admiration and praise of my parents, Thomas and Linda Chapman. Who I have become and the education I have been fortunate to receive would not have been possible without the love and support of my grandparents, Omer and Theresa Fortier, Marie Chapman and the late T. I. Chapman. In the six years which it took to complete this thesis many friends have come and gone. During this time I was lucky enough to make one of these friends my wife. To my wife Stacey and my children Preston, Kaley and Alicia, thank you for putting up with the countless hours spent finishing this work.

–  –  –

6. Sarah Macon Family Burials in Madison Family Cemetery 145

7. Ambrose Madison Family Burials in Madison Family Cemetery 164

8. William Madison Family Burials in Madison Family Cemetery 190

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7. Dismantling of President Madison’s Obelisk Prior to Restoration 23

8. Madison Family Cemetery Trench Excavation – View to South 25

–  –  –

10. Genealogical Chart of Madison Family by James Madison, Jr. 110

11. Map of Madison Family Cemetery Showing Family Groupings 125

12. The Burials of James Madison, Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison 131

–  –  –

The Madison family did not write the history of their cemetery, but by combining a storytelling method with historical, genealogical and archaeological information, a thought provoking construction of the history is presented. On June 29, 1836, James Madison, Jr. was buried in an unmarked grave beside his parents in the family cemetery at Montpelier. The President’s grave was later marked in 1857, but his parents still lie unmarked. As many as 100 burials are contained within the cemetery, but only 31 of these burials are marked with a gravestone. Utilizing the concept of a cemetery as a community of the dead, created, maintained, and preserved by the community of the living, the President’s death, burial and the marking of his grave will be used as an entry point into the contextual history of the family cemetery. This thesis asks the question: Why are some burials in the cemetery marked and others unmarked? And in particular, why was President James Madison’s burial not marked with a gravestone until 21 years after his death? Focusing on the cemetery community concept this thesis examines how nearly 275 years of history can be contextualized and used as an analytical tool to answer these questions. The research brings to life the numerous past and present living communities who have created, maintained, and preserved the cemetery’s community of the dead through time, from the Madison family up through the Montpelier Foundation; and as the historical context is created the context in turn creates and explains itself. Simple answers do not exist for the questions posed in this thesis, but through an engagement with context one can see that both the marked and unmarked graves were commemorative acts. A famous gravestone epitaph states, “Remember me as you pass by, as you are now so once was I, as I am now so you shall be, prepare for death and follow me.” In the pages that follow, this thesis, through the use of fictional prose and non-fictional narrative, tells the previously untold story of the marked and unmarked graves contained within the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier.




MADISON’S MONUMENT AND REMAINS. -- Since his death and burial in 1836, the mortal remains of Ex-President Madison have been quietly reposing at Montpelier, in Orange county – a locality distant some nine miles from Gordonsville, on the line of the Virginia Central Railroad. During all this time no mural record with high-sounding eulogy disclosed the place of his final rest; only neighborhood tradition and historic record serving to point the way to it. The neglect in attesting his worth by some suitable monument attracted attention, and some few years since a number of gentlemen of Orange county set about the task of procuring one. Having been procured, it was conveyed to Montpelier on the 15th inst., and placed in position… In digging for a suitable foundation, it became necessary to go below the coffin, which was consequently exposed to view. The boards placed above the coffin had decayed, but no earth had fallen in upon it, and everything appeared to be as when the coffin was deposited there, except that the coffin-lid was slightly out of place, allowing a partial view of the interior. As their were no fastenings to prevent, the part of the lid covering the superior portion of the body was raised, and the several gentleman present looked in upon the remains of the great Virginian…

- Fredericksburg News, 6 October 1857 The curiosity which drove the gentleman in 1857 to peer in upon the remains of James Madison, Jr. in his grave (Figure 1) is the same curiosity which drives this study of the Madison family cemetery. For almost 275 years the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier has been an integral and important part of the landscape, not only the physical landscape of the property but also the less tangible cultural landscape created by each successive generation of the family, each successive postMadison owner of Montpelier, and the larger milieu of social and cultural change through time. The cemetery is a relic of the past, and at the same time, a portal through which one can view the dynamic social and cultural processes that have shaped the history of the cemetery over the past 275 years.

This newspaper illustration is an artist’s impression of the view which the gentleman had of the exhumed burial of James Madison during the construction of the obelisk’s foundation (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 30 Jan 1858, in Via 2000).

The cemetery at Montpelier is not a cold and lifeless archaeological site. It is an important data source alive with information. The problem is in trying to get this information to speak. When the initial cemetery research began in 1999 very little was known except for what information could be gained from the gravestones, and as will be shown in this study, the gravestones only tell part of the story. Specific historical documentation concerning the history of the Madison family’s use of the cemetery is scant to the point of being non-existent, due in part to the unfortunate destruction of most of the Madison family papers in the mid-19th century (see Fredericksburg News 22 November 1855, and also Miller 2001:4). The archaeological project, which this study is based upon, provides some valuable information, but the limitations of the project’s scope also led to more questions. Before excavations were conducted visual surveys of the cemetery revealed the presence of grave shaft depressions. Excavations verified the presence of unmarked burials, even in areas where depressions were not present, revealing that more unmarked then marked burials existed in the cemetery. The preponderance of unmarked burials is not unusual in historic period cemeteries (see Bell 1994), but since excavation of the burials was not an option within the scope of the project, archaeology was unable to reveal anything more about the unmarked graves.

In trying to understand the history of the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier one thing became glaringly obvious – without the ability to know the identities of the family members buried within the unmarked graves then the history can only be half-told. This study attempts to solve this problem. Even though historical documentation specific to the cemetery is limited, the history of the Madison family has been researched by many scholars, but never with the express purpose of trying to understand the cemetery’s history (Schmidt 2000). By utilizing a genealogical perspective, a method which has as its hypothetical premise the ability to compile a list of all the Madison family members, then a baseline is obtained for understanding the family’s use of the cemetery.1 With specific contextual parameters placed upon the genealogical information, provided by information from the 1 This study utilizes an extensive genealogical database for the Madison family created by the author using the genealogy software Ancestry Family Tree, a copyrighted program (1994-2001) produced by Incline Software, LC and MyFamily.com, Inc. Portions of the database are included within Appendices 1, 2, & 3 and are also presented as tables within this study.

gravestones and the known history of the Madison family at Montpelier, one can begin to assign identities to the unmarked burials within the cemetery. Identifying the family members buried within unmarked graves is an important step, which when combined with the gravestones allows for a fuller understanding of who is buried in the family cemetery, but it is not the final step in constructing the history of the cemetery (see Chapman 2000, 2002, 2003).

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