Liberty Pipe

Unearthing pieces of the Liberty Pipe.
Unearthing pieces of the Liberty Pipe.

The the labor of enslaved Africans brought to America through forced migration and that of their children and grandchildren allowed our Founding Fathers the luxury to spend their days studying, writing, and debating grand ideas like freedom and liberty. However, these concepts, which were never intended to be embraced by the people who served them, became important values of the enslaved laborers at Montpelier and throughout the USA.
No object embodies the juxtaposition between slavery and freedom for enslaved people laboring at the homes of the Founding Fathers more than the Liberty Pipe found at James Madison’s Montpelier. This pipe is adorned with Lady Liberty's profile, the word  "LIBERTY" written across her headband, and an eagle under the words “e pluribus unum.” Its pieces were recovered from an area of Montpelier known as the South Yard. The slaves who lived in the South Yard, were the same people who stood in the dining room as Madison talked over dinner about the concepts of liberty and equality. They attended to him in his library as he wrote letters and read about government. They talked with free African Americans at market, church, or while traveling to DC, all the while learning about liberty. Through these experiences, Madison’s slaves formed their own ideas and opinions about liberty in America. Perhaps, the enslaved person who owned this pipe was sending a message to all who surround them that liberty is a value that they have and it’s something they deserve.

Place(s): James Madison's Montpelier, A National Historic Trust Site

– Mary Furlong Minkoff

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more