Montpelier Yard Contexts
During the 1970s, eight quadrats were excavated by Higman in order to investigate landscape features and yard spaces at the New Montpelier Slave Village. These quadrats can be broken into two spatially distinct groups. The first group is comprised of five trenches located in the northern half of the slave village. Initially these trenches were associated with House 26. The second group consists of three quadrats located in the southern half of the village. The southern yard quadrats were initially associated with House 37.
In most cases these units were several hundred feet away from the house with which they were associated. DAACS wanted to capture the data in these units but also wanted to separate them from this often distant house designation. In 2006, DAACS staff, in consultation with Higman, designated both groups of quadrats as contexts separate from the excavated houses. A separate project number was given to these yard contexts (1204). The Before You Begin page for the Montpelier Yard Contexts describes this separation in greater detail.
Very little documentary evidence exists that mentions explicitly the use of yard space within the New Montpelier Slave Village. An 1825 report on Montpelier indicates that gardens at New Montpelier covered over 20 acres. This report was published in the British Parliamentary Papers in 1832 and conflicts with the 1821 plan of the site which suggests that gardens covered 16 acres at the slave village (Higman 1998:341). No other documentary data exists that describe how the slave village yard areas were used.
The entire village, as defined by its exterior walls, measured around 16 acres and it can be broken into three topographical areas. Higman notes that “the northern quarter located closest to the works, was relatively level and partially waterlogged during the wet season. The second section sloped steeply, rising 30 feet over a distance of just 40 yards. The third section, covering the southern half of the site, formed an elevated plateau from which it was possible to look down on the great house and works and to take in part of the vista across the valley” (1998:143).Some of the garden acreage mentioned in the 1825 report was most likely located in the slave village.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
Surface survey and excavation of the New Montpelier Slave Village commenced in 1973 and continued until 1980. These projects were led by Barry Higman and Tony Aarons and included students from the University of the West Indies, staff from the Port Royal Archaeological Project, and volunteers. Elevations were taken using the plane table and tied to a local datum, and a north-south grid established, for the entire village site.
Excavation was principally by levels of varied depth and excavation units or quadrats linked to the site grid, though construction trenches and other special features were treated separately. Most of the excavation was achieved using hand tools, generally trowels and brushes. Screening was used throughout most of the yard contexts, using a 1/8 inch screen, but no flotation.
The first yard quadrat, E52/N4, was excavated during the 1973 season. This 12 x 4 foot exploratory trench was placed across the sunken pathway that is represented on the village site map. Four 20 x 2 foot trenches were subsequently placed along the datum’s baseline (W40/N2, W80/N2, W120/N2, W160/N2) in 1975. These quadrats, along with E52/N2, comprise the northern group of yard contexts excavated by Higman.
The second group of yard contexts, located in the southern half of the village, is comprised of three 10 x 10 foot quadrats (N160/S450, N160/S500, W60/S450). Only these southern quadrats contained ceramics. A mean ceramic date and TPQs for these quadrats are located on the Chronology Page.
Summary of research and analysis
Although little analysis of the archaeological data from the yard contexts has occurred, Higman conducted extensive historical research of the yard and village landscape, which is discussed in detail in his 1998 book, Montpelier Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 1739-1912.
The New Montpelier village measured around 16 acres and was bounded on three sides by stone walls, with its northern boundary formed by the masonry aqueduct that powered the sugar mill. The substantial stone wall along the eastern edge of the village was four feet wide at its base and ran for over 300 yards. Higman notes that it separated the slave village from the adjoining “pasture planted in Guinea grass, as shown on the plan of 1821” (1998:143). Stone walls located within the village suggested to Higman the presence of yards created by multiple-household families to demarcate space. He writes that “The obviously important role of permanent, stone walls within the village, however, demonstrated equally the political significance of space and the worker’s desire to establish boundaries internal to the village, defining the individuals (generally kin) with rights to use the resources of that space” (1998:144).
The village also contained a system of pathways not recorded on historic maps or plats. A number of these paths were visible during surface survey in the 1970s but are now completely obscured by the bush. One pathway, which ran along the eastern boundary of the village, appears to have served as the main route connecting the village to the sugar works to the north and the Great River to the south (1998:144).
The eight excavated yard quadrats contain few artifacts. Only the southern group of quadrats (N160/S450, N160/S500, W60/S450) contained ceramics. The mean ceramic date for these quadrats is 1818 with a TPQp95 of 1830. Please see the Chronology page for more details on dating the yard contexts.