As our first presidential house visit, going into the former house of James Madison was both an open opportunity to learn about the complexity of our 4th president, as well as explore 18th century history on the grounds where it occurred. A vast estate, one finds themselves very quickly drawn into not only the beauty of the land, but also the history behind the people who lived, worked, and grew on this land.
A frail yet highly intelligent man, Madison’s roots as an academic and a leader are clear throughout his house, especially in his study, stocked full of readings and specimens. Great focus is given to the 4th president’s wife, Dolly Madison, and her role as a beloved public figure and the lady of the house.
Something I found shockingly wonderful about Montpelier in particular, that I have found to be somewhat of a fault at other presidential homes and institutions, was it’s willingness to talk about slavery on the Montpelier estate and how it impacted the lives of the enslaved individuals even past James Madison’s death. This tends to be something some historical sites brush aside, but more so than other sites I’ve seen, especially for those of presidents, the Montpelier guides don’t shy away from the darker sides of the history, shining a spotlight on the individuals who have been forgotten.