George Gilmore, born a slave on the Montpelier plantation about 1810, was freed with the Federal occupation of Orange County in 1865. With his wife Poly and three children, he established a small farmstead near the plantation where he had been enslaved. Over time, they purchased 16 acres of land from Dr. James A. Madison, grand-nephew of the President. Three generations of the Gilmore family lived here prior to its sale in 1920.
Today, the cabin and farm illustrate the history of the African-American transformation from slavery to freedom, and document their hard-won success in purchasing land, building their own home, and establishing new lives after emancipation.
Gilmore Farm, ca. 1880
The layout of the Gilmores' 16-acre farm has been reconstructed based on the 1880 agricultural census, 1937 aerial photography, and recent archaeological surveys. In 1880, the Gilmores owned one horse, one milk cow, five pigs, and 11 chickens. They farmed 12 acres, planting two acres in corn, which produced 40 bushels that year, and three acres in wheat, which produced six bushels. The remaining seven acres were probably planted in vegetables and fruit for the family and fodder for their livestock. The farm provided for the family's basic needs, but little more.
Overhead shot of archaeological excavation units open in yard of the Gilmore Farm
In 2002, Montpelier archaeologists discovered a series of cobblestone surfaces in the yard. Confederate Army artifacts were found with them suggesting the cobblestone surfaces may have been constructed by the Confederate Army as part of the 1863-1864 winter camp. A camp hut may have served as the Gilmore family's first home after emancipation, since they built their cabin in the spring of 1873.
1920s photograph of Gilmore Farm
At the time of this photograph, George and Polly Gilmore had died and their son William occupied the farm with his family. He made several improvements, enlarging the home with a one-room frame addition, planting an orchard, and keeping bee hives. As citizens and landowners, George and Polly were able to pass on the achievements of their hard work to their children, enabling them to build more successful lives.
Glass beads, buttons, straight pins and safety pins recovered by archaeologists in excavations under the cabin
These items had fallen through the florboards of the cabin during the first 30 years of the Gilmore occupation. They corroborate family tradition that Polly Gilmore worked as a seamstress and dressmaker. Earning cash to purchase necessary supplies was the responsibility of every member of the family, whether male or female, young or old.
Archaeological excavations inside Gilmore Cabin, 2001
Gilmore family descendants have kept their connection with the family homestead. In 2001, they volunteered their time to help Montpelier archaeologists conduct excavations inside the cabin, helping to recover the hundreds of beads, pins, buttons, and other items that had slipped between the floorboards of the cabin.