Have You Ever Seen the Rain?: The 1791 Drought’s Damage to Agriculture at Montpelier

Before leaving for Philadelphia on November 9, 1790, James Madison wrote specific instructions for each farming overseer at his Virginia plantation, Montpelier, “to plant his corn.”2 A rich corn crop in the coming year of 1791 would mean plenty of nutritious grain to sustain humans and livestock.3 But 1791 brought extreme drought, threatening Madison’s corn as well as the private and communal gardens of the people he enslaved. In this exhibit on the 1791 drought at Montpelier, you’ll learn how weather extremes like drought are extremely bad for agriculture—including the droughts we experience more frequently due to climate change.

This exhibit was designed and written by Joe Makuc. Mr. Makuc is a Masters in Public History student at Temple University, and was the 2020 Martin L. Levitt Fellow at the Center for Digital Scholarship.