Monticello archaeologists make exciting discovery of Jefferson-era artifacts, slave homes, and other dwellings on farm near Monticello

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - Thursday, April 26, 2012
Media Contact: Lisa Stites, 434-984-7529

Monticello archaeologists have discovered two previously unknown archaeological sites that contain nineteenth century artifacts, including remains of slave homes—some from Jefferson’s time. The sites were discovered at Tufton, historically significant as one of Thomas Jefferson’s four quarter farms located about a mile and a quarter east of Monticello.

Monticello archaeologists discovered the sites in April while conducting survey work at Tufton, as part of an ongoing research initiative: the Monticello Plantation Archaeological Survey.

A preliminary assessment of the artifacts indicates the earlier of the two sites was occupied in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, most likely by enslaved field laborers who worked on the Tufton farm.

Archaeologists recovered significant Jefferson-era artifacts including:  a padlock, which matches one found on Mulberry Row, a glass bead, a slate pencil, a metal coat button, along with scores of datable ceramic sherds in refined English earthenwares and some Chinese porcelain.

The second site contains artifacts that date from the mid through late-nineteenth century and contains above-ground remains of at least two houses: a stone foundation and a brick chimney stack. This indicates that after Jefferson’s death and the sale of his slaves to pay his debts, the site was occupied by slaves belonging to Tufton’s subsequent owners, the Macons, who acquired the tract in 1833. The earlier site also contains artifacts from the Macon period.

The Jefferson-era remains on the earlier site will give archaeologists an opportunity to assess how the material lives of slaves living on an outlying quarter farm compared to the lives of enslaved domestic workers and artisans living on Mulberry Row and enslaved field hands who cultivated the fields of Monticello Mountain and lived on its slopes. The later nineteenth-century remains offer the possibility of studying how the material lives of slaves changed from Jefferson’s time up to the Civil War, and then again after emancipation.

The archaeological sites are significant in size. The site with earlier artifacts measures about 875 by 500 feet, the later 750 by 200 feet.

“This is the biggest cluster of Jefferson-era artifacts we have found since we discovered Site 8 in 1998,” said Fraser Neiman, Director of Archaeology at Monticello.

Site 8 was the main slave settlement on the Monticello home farms in the late 18th century.

“Our initial hypothesis is that these newly discovered sites represent multiple, widely spaced single-family houses,” said Neiman.

Thomas Jefferson inherited Tufton and later gave it to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. Tufton served as important agricultural land, providing large amounts of crops and food sources for the Monticello plantation. Beginning in 1817, Tufton was managed by Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.

The Monticello Plantation Archaeological Survey began in 1997 as a way to document and explain the settlement and land-use history of the more than 2000 acres of land that comprised the core of Jefferson’s Monticello, owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation today.  The Survey relies on shovel test pits (STPs), dug on a 40-foot grid, to find archaeological sites.  So far Monticello’s archaeologists have dug roughly 20,000 STPs, across roughly 600 acres.   Archaeologists have covered about 64 of Tufton’s roughly 500 acres, with a total of 2800 STPs.

“We believe there is still more to discover at Tufton,  including the location of houses of slaves and overseers from the mid-eighteenth century, when the property was farmed by Thomas Jefferson’s father  Peter, and from the late-eighteenth century, when Thomas Jefferson assumed management of the property,” said Neiman.

In last year’s survey work at Tufton, archaeologists discovered a small late–eighteenth century site, adjacent to the Macon’s ante-bellum mansion. Jefferson’s survey plats reveal that Elizabeth Hemings, the matriarch of Monticello’s Hemings family, lived there in the early 1790’s.

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