Slave quarters to be rebuilt at Madison's Va. home

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Slave quarters to be rebuilt at Madison's Va. home
circa 1900: 'Montpelier', the house where James Madison (1751 - 1836), the 4th President of the United States of America, used to live in Orange County, Virginia. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A Living Flag made up of 2,500 school children, was created on the grounds of Montpelier,the home of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, as part of the Restoration Celebration which unveiled the $24 million, five-year restoration of the building. While the children held colored placards, Eric Greene of the Virginia Opera Company sang "The Star Spangled Banner." The event took place on Constitution Day Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. Madison is generally referred to as Father of the Constitution. (AP Photo/ P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The restoration of Montpelier, the home of former President James Madison, is shown near completion in Orange, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Visitors walk in the back entrance to the restored home of former President James Madison's home Motnpelier in Orange, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Visitors walk around the restored home of former President James Madison's home Montpelier in Orange, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Montpelier, the home of James Madison, fourth President of the U.S., stands in Montpelier Station, Va., May 17, 2000. Thanks to a $1 million federal grant, Dolley Madison's bedroom, two other chambers and a kitchen she supervised will be restored to their original state. President Clinton announced the grant and others for historic sites across the country Wednesday, July 12, 2000, as part of Save America's Treasures, a partnership between federal officials and the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation. The group will need to raise $1 million dollars to match the grant. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
James Madison's Montpelier mansion and Gazebo in Montpelier Station VA, Orange County (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
Exterior view of Montpilier, the home of American president James Madison, Orange, Virginia, early 1800s. (Kean Collection/Getty Images)
Exterior view of Montpilier, the home of American president James Madison, Orange, Virginia, early 1800s. Cows graze across the street and a horse-drawn carriage rides past. (Kean Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: Riders pass James Madison's copy of Versailles' Temple of Love, Montpelier Plantation, Virginia (Photo by Sam Abell/National Geographic/Getty Images)
RE_MANSON MONTPELIER STATION, VA 9/2/05 #173338 BY: MARGARET THOMAS TWP Montpelier, the historic estate of President James Madison, is undergoing a dramatic reconstruction to restore the house to the way it looked when President Madison lived there. The 33,000 sq.ft. house being cut down to 12,000 sq.ft., is part of a controversial preservationist trend to return structures back to its prime historic period, regardless of what alterations occurred after. Montpelier has had a storied past as an equestrian center owned by the DuPont family, and it took a family vote to decide whether to demolish the additions the family made to the house over the past 100 years. Montpelier, historic home of President James Madison, is shrouded in plastic during the restoration process. (Photo by Margaret Thomas/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) - Homes of slaves who served President James Madison at his Montpelier estate in Virginia will be rebuilt for the first time over the next five years, along with other refurbishments to the home of one of the nation's Founding Fathers, thanks to a $10 million gift announced Saturday.

David Rubenstein, a leading Washington philanthropist and history buff, pledged the $3.5 million needed to rebuild the slave quarters next to the mansion in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Another $6.5 million will be devoted to refurnishing parts of the home where Madison drafted ideas that would become the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

After widow Dolley Madison sold the estate in 1844, many family belongings were dispersed or sold, leaving some rooms mostly empty of period furnishings after the estate opened to visitors in 1987. Now, curators hope to recover or borrow artifacts from the fourth president's family life to bring the estate back to life, said Montpelier Foundation President and CEO Kat Imhoff.

Rubenstein told The Associated Press he wanted to help make the estate more authentic. Montpelier could draw more visitors to learn about history, he said, if the house is fully restored and its slave quarters built out. It currently draws about 125,000 visitors a year. Last year, Rubenstein gave funds to recreate slave quarters on Thomas Jefferson's plantation.

"It's this dichotomy. You have people who were extraordinarily intelligent, well-informed, educated; they created this incredible country - Jefferson, Washington, Madison - yet they lived with this system of slavery. Jefferson, Washington and Madison all abhorred slavery, but they didn't do, they couldn't do much about it," he said. "We shouldn't deify our Founding Fathers without recognizing that they did participate in a system that had its terrible flaws."

The donation marks a trifecta of gifts totaling $30 million to projects at Virginia's oldest presidential sites. Last year Rubenstein gave $10 million gifts to both Jefferson's Monticello estate and George Washington's home at Mount Vernon.

Recreating Montpelier's South Yard, where domestic slaves lived, as well as the basement areas of the mansion where they worked, will help tell a fuller version of history, Imhoff said.

"For folks that have been coming to any of these presidential sites, the fact that we're bringing this complete American story back into the landscape I think is very important," she said. "It is challenging, but I also think it's that wonderful tension that we as Americans are embracing, that this is our history, that making the invisible visible is very important to us as a nation, and it will make a stronger American story."

The slave quarters at Montpelier were cleared away 165 years ago and planted over with grass, but the site has not been disturbed since. Archaeologists plan to excavate the South Yard in public view to recover remnants of slave life to help illustrate new stories.

One of the slaves who lived in a cramped dwelling was Paul Jennings. He was born at Montpelier in 1799, and at the age of 10 moved with the Madisons to serve in the White House. He later wrote a book about his experience, which is considered the first White House memoir. Jennings recalled helping Dolley Madison save curtains, silver, documents and a famous portrait of George Washington when the British burned the White House in 1814.

Jennings returned to Montpelier as Madison's personal manservant. After Madison's death, Jennings purchased his freedom and moved to Washington.

Matt Reeves, Montpelier's director of archaeology, said his team can recreate the slave quarters close to their original construction through research from documents and excavations.

"By bringing the slave quarters back, what we're able to do is tell the stories of the slave families that lived here and tell their more personal stories that allow visitors to imagine the enslaved community not as just workers, but as people, as mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles," Reeves said.

Visitors now get an authentic experience at the front of the mansion and see the home inside as it was when Madison lived there, after a major $25 million architectural restoration completed in 2008, Reeves said. But as visitors leave the back porch, they see a 20th-century landscape of grass and trees, void of any evidence of the plantation where more than 100 slaves lived.

"It's really going to bring this larger community back to life," Reeves said. "It will really help define Mr. Madison as who he was - as a Virginia planter, as a slave owner."

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