James Madison's Montpelier, located in Orange County, Virginia, was the plantation house of the Madison family, including fourth President of the United States, James Madison, and his wife Dolley. The 2,650-acre (10.7 km2) property is open seven days a week with the mission of engaging the public with the enduring legacy of Madison's most powerful idea: government by the people.
Montpelier was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. It was included in the Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District in 1991. In 1983, the last private owner of Montpelier, Marion duPont Scott, bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) has owned and operated the estate since 1984. In 2000, The Montpelier Foundation formed with the goal of transforming James Madison's historic estate into a dynamic cultural institution. From 2003–2008 the NTHP carried out a major restoration, in part to return the mansion to its original size of 22 rooms as it was during the years when it was occupied by James and Dolley Madison. Extensive interior and exterior work was done during the restoration.
Archeological investigations in the 21st century revealed new information about African-American life at the plantation, and a gift from philanthropist David Rubenstein enabled the National Trust to restore the slave quarters in the South Yard and open a slavery exhibition, The Mere Distinction of Colour, in 2017.
In 1723, James Madison's grandfather, Ambrose Madison, and his brother-in-law, Thomas Chew, received a patent for 4,675 acres (18.92 km2) of land in the Piedmont of Virginia. Ambrose, his wife Frances Madison, and their three children moved to the plantation in 1732, naming it Mount Pleasant. (Archaeologists have located this first site near the Madison Family Cemetery.) Ambrose died six months later; according to court records, he was poisoned by three enslaved Africans. At the time, Ambrose Madison held 29 slaves and close to 4,000 acres (16 km2). After his death, Frances managed the estate with the help of their son, Colonel James Madison, Sr.
Madison, Sr., expanded the plantation to include building services and blacksmithing in the 1740s, and bought additional slaves to cultivate tobacco and other crops. He married Nelly Conway Madison (1731–1829) and had 12 children.
James Madison, Sr.'s first-born son, also named James, was born on March 16, 1751 at Belle Grove, his mother's family estate in Port Conway, where she had returned for his birth. James Madison spent his early years at Mount Pleasant.
In the early 1760s, Madison, Sr., built a new house half a mile away, which structure forms the heart of the main house at Montpelier today. Built around 1764, it has two stories of brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern, and a low, hipped roof with chimney stacks at both ends. His son James Madison later stated that he remembered helping move furniture to the new home. The building of Montpelier represents Phase 1 (1764–1797) of the construction. Upon completion, the Madisons owned one of the largest brick dwellings in Orange County.