What is: George and Polly Gilmore’s farm, Montpelier, Virginia.

What was: This was George and Polly Gilmore’s farm in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both George and Polly were born into slavery at James Madison’s Montpelier. The Gilmore family lived here until the 1930’s.  The cabin is representative of not just the Gilmore family’s early years of freedom, but countless other newly freed African Americans in the Piedmont region of Virginia during Reconstruction.

President Madison died in 1836. When Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, George Gilmore and his future wife Polly conveyed with the property. They were married in 1850 and were freed in 1865 when Federal troops occupied Orange County.  Excavation units in the yard allowed historians to uncover what appears to be the remains of a Confederate encampment.

Like millions of African Americans throughout the South, many emancipated slaves worked on the same plantations where they once labored. After emancipation, Gilmore stayed at Montpelier, and is listed in census records as having worked as a saddle maker and as a tenant farmer. In 1873 the Gilmores built this cabin, and in 1901 purchased the 16 acres of land from Dr. James A. Madison, the great-nephew of President Madison. Members of the family lived on the farm until the early 1930s.

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