Sitting Down with the Madisons

21/03/13 8:14 AM


On Saturday, Brett and I headed to Montpelier to celebrate James Madison’s Birthday. We were excited since it was the first time we would see the wreath lying at his tomb. Little did we know it would be a day we would never forget.

As we drove down Constitution Highway, just before arriving at the main gate, the sky threaten us by dropping a few rain drops on the window. Brett and I looked at each other and it was as if we were communicating the same words, “We are going to get wet today.” But as we drove up the long drive with the Montpelier Mansion as a backdrop, the rain stopped and we both breathed a sigh of relief.



We parked in the overflow parking lot having arrived with just fifteen minutes to share. I quickly gathered my important items and Brett grabbed our umbrella. We made our way down the road to a side road. From here we could see the family cemetery in the distance. There was a crowd of people already there. We could also hear music. I smiled at Brett as we head to the path.

Just as we arrived at the path which is located across from the Slave Cemetery, we saw a gentleman talking to what we assumed were exchange students from James Madison University. He was explaining to them the roles of the slave on the plantation. I caught myself smiling thinking about the history that would be shared today.


As we walked down the path, you could see just over the ridge a small hill and fence line. I looked up just in time to see a herd of horses running over to the fence line. It was as if they too heard the music and wanted to come and see what it was all about.

When we arrived at the family cemetery, we realized that the ceremony was going to include the United States Marine Corps. If you have been following the blog and have read about us, you know that I am a former Marine and Brett is a retired Navy Corpsman. It was such a wonderful surprise to see these young Marine honoring such a great man.

Kat ImoffCEO of Montpelier

Kat Imhoff
CEO of Montpelier

The master of ceremony was the new CEO of Montpelier, Kat Imhoff. The ceremony started off with remarks from her followed by the Marine Color Guard and Invocation. There was a presentation give to James Madison and the people of Virginia by Governor McDonnell through one of his representatives declaring Saturday to be James Madison Appreciation Day. In the remarks it was really quite exciting to hear the governor state that James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. I looked at Brett who was video-taping the ceremony on the other side of the wall and gave him a smile and thumbs up.

Jonathan AlgerPresident of James Madison University

Jonathan Alger
President of James Madison University

The main speaker was Jonathan Alger, President of James Madison University. In his speak, Mr. Alger called for a “Return to Madison”. There were birthday wreaths presented by several public organizations and locations in honor of Mr. Madison as well as a wreath presented by the Marines by order of President Obama.












After the ceremony and just a small passing sprinkle, Brett and I had a chance to meet Mr. Alger and Ms. Imhoff. We also had a chance to say “Hello” to some of the other staff members we had met during our visit in October. One of them was Tom Chapman, one of the staff that works with the archaeology department. We renewed our invitation for Tom and others to visit us at Belle Grove.

Afterwards we headed to the Visitor Center to purchase our tickets to tour the house. We have seen the mansion many times and could almost do tour ourselves. But we were more interested in seeing “Mr. and Mrs. Madison”. We skipped the film and headed to the Mansion hoping to get into one of the tours. There we were greeted by a staff member helping to direct people. When we asked where the Madisons were, he told us that they were meeting people in the Constitution Room located in Nelly Madison’s wing. We asked if we could skip the tour and go straight there and we were happy to hear that we could.

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

As we entered the room, we observed Mr. Madison sitting with a young girl on one side of the room deep in conversation. Her father was sitting across the aisle tapping the conversation on his cell phone. Mrs. Madison was on the opposite side of the room also holding a conversation with a young boy. It was really fun to watch the children interacting with these two actors as if they were the real people. Of course I can’t say anything about that. When I met them in December, you would have thought I was meeting the man himself then too!

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mrs. Madison holding a conversation with a young boy

Mrs. Madison holding a conversation with a young boy

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Once the conversations were done and the family made their way out the door, we sat down and spoke to the Madison. All I can say is, “Wow!” It was really a lot of fun discussing history with them and talking about our plantation and his birthplace. Both were just so knowledgeable about the Madison that I could see why other people have told us that these two re-enactors were the best. We talked about the possibility of them coming to Belle Grove for a birthday celebration next year. Mr. Madison even made the suggestion that we have them come to Belle Grove in September to celebrate his  and Dolley’s anniversary. He explained it would be good because his father and mother, James Madison Sr and Nelly Conway Madison were also married on September 15th. This would be one of many things I would learn from Mr. and Mrs. Madison during our visit. He even asked if he could provide a menu for the dinner!

I think the best part of the visit was when we were discussing our final upcoming public hearing on Tuesday, March 19th with the Board of Supervisors of King George. Mr. Madison offered to come and speak on our behalf. Now wouldn’t that be something! To have Mr. Madison walk into the board room and give his blessings for our business. We were so touched!

We also asked Mr. Madison if he would consider giving us a list of books he would like to see in our library. We most definitely need a shelf of “recommended reading” by James Madison. We also discussed our Cookie Contest that is currently going on. We explained that the theme is “a Cookie James Madison would like”. This seemed to please them both.

All told we spent the better part of an hour talking with them. For Brett and me, it was truly the highlight of our whole trip. While I know that this isn’t really Mr. and Mrs. Madison, it really makes me wish I could have really known the man and woman. What great things he must have said and what a wonderful personality she must have had. But if this is as close as we could come to the real persons, I have to say, we got the best that there could have ever been.

Flowers at Montpelier

Flowers at Montpelier

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 44 Comments »

44 Comments on “Sitting Down with the Madisons”

  1. I am so excited for you! Thanks for taking time to write these blogs and upload all the wonderful pictures!

  2. You are so welcome! We really enjoy sharing it with all of you! Thank you!

  3. Dianna Says:

    What a special day for you two!

  4. Yes it really was!

  5. Sounds like it was a blast! I am a sucker for those types of celebrations and actors. Educational and fun. And what amazing stories for two of our founders. Thanks for sharing!

  6. You are so welcome! We are glad you enjoyed it! Thank you!

  7. John Says:

    An excellent day. Would have been lovely to attend the service.

  8. It really was a great day!

  9. I love this place and area. Looks like a great day for you two! Happy Birthday, JM.

  10. We love it too! Thank you!

  11. hideaheart Says:

    The more I read about your adventures extraordinaire, the more I am determined to visit your part of this marvelous country!

  12. Thank you! We do hope you can come!

  13. lucindalines Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. How wonderful to share this information about the author of our Constitution.

  14. You are so welcome! It was so much fun! Thank you!

  15. grahammb Says:

    Can’t wait to link this to the Be the Change blog. What a great run down of an eventful day for JMU. It is as if the past and the present were companions that day!

  16. Yes it really was! We just loved it! Thank you for sharing it with others!

  17. grahammb Says:

    It was rather symbolic, I think, that you “met” JMU people at Montpelier. Loved the pictures too!

  18. It was nice to be complete surrounded!

  19. […] follow the Darnell’s Belle Grove Plantation blog and noticed Michelle had written a post about their day at Montpelier. The couple met President Alger and John Douglas Hall, the man who brings James Madison to life. They […]

  20. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  21. JMU Be the Change Says:

    Loved sharing this!

  22. 🙂

  23. Ed Darrell Says:

    Thanks for the news — precious little of that ceremony gets out of the area to places like Dallas. Happy to see someone covering the story of James Madison’s birthday.

  24. You are so welcome! It was a great day! Thank you!

  25. Ed Darrell Says:

    P.S. — anybody got a copy of Alger’s speech?

  26. Brett video taped it. If you give me a little time, I can transcribe it for you!

  27. Ed Darrell Says:

    I’ve put in a request at JMU — they really ought to have a copy. Let’s see if they come through before going to a lot of labor.

    Thanks, though!

    Was it a worthwhile speech? Did he say anything really of note?

  28. There were several really great speeches that day! I don’t recall all of what he said. It started raining during his speech so I had to run over to cover Brett’s camera while he filmed it. But I do know Brett really enjoyed it.

  29. […] At the Belle Grove Bed and Breakfast blog we get a nice report and lots of photos from the James Madison birthday celebration last Saturday at Montpelier, Madison’s mountain retreat and home in Virginia. […]

  30. Thank you for sharing our blog!

  31. Emma Lewis Says:

    What a lovely place! And a fascinating piece of history. I have always fancied myself in one of those bonnets, too!

  32. Thank you! If you get a chance to come to the plantation, we are planing on having some of those dress up dates!

  33. An excellent day…

  34. […] Sitting Down with the Madisons from Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast […]

  35. Thank you so much for sharing us with your readers!

  36. Jane Sadek Says:

    What an exciting day! Mark it all on your heart. There will be frustrations and disappointments on this journey, but when you have memories like this to hold on to, you can make it through!

  37. Thank you! It is all right here for me to remember!

  38. […] Sitting Down with the Madisons ( […]

  39. Thank you so much for sharing us with your readers! It really means a lot to us!

  40. Jen Says:

    Wow, I loved this post. When we visited Montpelier a few years ago, we heard about James Madison Day and definitely want to be there for it at least once or twice. It’s great to see the Marines there.

    Also, it’s amazing how much the actor playing James Madison looks like the real man! How incredible. What a treat, to be able to spend so much time with them. You really had a great day!

  41. Thank you! Yes, it was amazing! I had a hard time remembering it wasn’t him!

  42. Mama Bear Says:

    I know they’re only reproductions, but I love seeing that period clothing. Sounds like you two had a great day!

  43. Thank you! Yes, it was great to see the Madisons and the clothes are great!

  44. Reblogged this on Practically Historical.