Home Montpelier Foundation begins purge of whistleblowing employees

Montpelier Foundation begins purge of whistleblowing employees

Descendant first cousins Iris Ford, PhD and Madlynn Anglin. Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

The Montpelier Foundation has begun firing long-time staff members who questioned the Foundation’s retraction of its promise to share governance of President James Madison’s estate with the Montpelier Descendants Committee, according to a press release from the organization representing descendants of the families whom Madison enslaved.

The Foundation has terminated Elizabeth Chew, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief curator, Matthew Reeves, Ph.D., director of archaeology and landscaping restoration, Christy Moriarty, director of communications, and Alex Walsh, events manager.

The Foundation has also suspended Christopher Pasch, archaeology field director, and Mary Furlong Minkoff, Ph.D., director of archaeology and curator of archaeological collections.

The targeted employees collectively have more than 50 years of service to Montpelier and 100 years of experience in their fields.

“We are in awe of these faithful employees for their principled stand, and pray that their leave from Montpelier is temporary. Any historic site would be lucky to have them. Montpelier, however, will be unable to replace the brain trust it has so thoughtlessly discarded,” said Dr. Bettye Kearse, a leader of the Montpelier Descendant’s Committee and Foundation board member.

As news of the Foundation board’s abandonment of its commitment to the Montpelier Descendants Committee emerged in recent weeks, the majority of Montpelier’s full-time staff issued a statement of support for fulfilling the promise.

Nearly 7,000 members of the visiting public and donors have signed a petition supporting the MDC and Montpelier staff.

“It is now plain to all that Montpelier will not recover with (Foundation CEO) Roy Young or Board Chairman Gene Hickok at the helm. MDC calls on them to step down before the damage they are doing is irreparable,” James French, chairman of the Montpelier Descendants Committee, said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the 2,650-acre presidential plantation and leases it to the Foundation, issued a statement condemning Young’s retaliation against employees.

Dr. Reeves has been director of archaeology at Montpelier for 22 years. He has built an acclaimed public archaeology program that has set precedent in the United States for inviting the public to work side by side with professional archaeologists in the excavation of sites where enslaved people lived and worked. He has collaborated with members of Montpelier’s Descendant Community since his arrival at Montpelier.

Reeves is a distinguished scholar who has published widely on the landscape and material world of slavery at Montpelier, archaeology-metal detector partnerships, and descendant archaeology. He has trained a generation of archaeologists passionate about working with the public in the investigation of the institution of slavery.

“I have devoted my archaeological career to understanding the lives of the enslaved men, women, and children who lived at Montpelier in partnership with the Montpelier Descendants Committee. To be retaliated against by the Montpelier leadership for doing my job is a bitter irony,” Reeves said.

Chew has served as executive vice president and chief curator for seven years, in a distinguished career at museums and historic sites that spans 35 years. She joined Montpelier to head the projects funded by David Rubenstein’s 2014 gift of $10M and led the team that created the award-winning The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition in partnership with the Montpelier Descendant Community.

She was on the team of authors of the 2018 Rubric of Best Practices for Descendant Engagement in the Interpretation of Museums and Historic Sites. While at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, she was co-curator, with Rex Ellis of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, of the 2012 exhibition Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.

“My colleagues and I stood up for our longtime partners in the Montpelier Descendants Committee, just as they have always encouraged and valued us. I do not regret taking this stand,” Chew said.



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