Mulberry Row Reassessment

Introduction

Previous archaeological excavations on Mulberry Row have been guided by a plat prepared by Thomas Jefferson in 1796. Jefferson drew the plat as part of an insurance policy he took out with the Mutual Assurance Company of Richmond. He meticulously mapped the location of his mansion in relation to all of the buildings along Mulberry Row, including such information as the buildings's functions, materials used in construction, and distance between structures. The letter designations ("Building l") and functional names ("the storehouse for iron") that modern researchers use to refer to different segments of Mulberry Row are largely drawn from this document. From an archaeological perspective, the 1796 Mutual Assurance Plat is a mixed blessing. It offers useful clues about the configuration of Mulberry Row at a single instant, but at the same time, it has deflected attention from earlier and later configurations and from the challenging task of deciphering them from the archaeological record.

The archaeological record of Mulberry Row contains the physical traces of over a half century of occupation by enslaved and free workers during the Jefferson period (c. 1770-1826). The large number of individuals who lived on Mulberry Row, space constraints, and changing economic and social circumstances mean that Mulberry Row's archaeological record is a complex palimpsest, in which evidence for later times superimposes and partially obscures evidence for earlier times. The picture is further complicated by continuing usage of this confined space up to the present. Thus a major goal of the Mulberry Row Reassessment is to develop an archaeological chronology that can be used to place the artifact assemblages and the archaeological traces of buildings in their proper temporal sequence. Once that chronology is in place, we can to measure systematically change over time in architectural and artifact form and begin to puzzle out its economic and social significance.

Methods

The classification and measurement protocols that we are using for the Reassessment have been developed as part of a larger project, The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). DAACS is a cooperative venture among archaeologists working in the Chesapeake region to develop common standards for reporting archaeological evidence associated with slavery, to use the standards to generate comparable data from 20 archaeological sites, and to place the resulting data on the Internet. Five Mulberry Row domestic sites are being analyzed as part of the DAACS project: Building l, Buildings r, s, and t, and Building o. The remaining sites will be cataloged using DAACS protocols as resources become available. This second group of sites includes important components of the Mulberry Row, among them the Nailery (Building j) and Carpentry Shop (Building i), which we strongly suspect also served as dwelling space for slaves engaged in these activities. The second group of sites also includes the Kitchen Yard, which contains refuse from the rooms of the mansion's south terrace wing, in which enslaved domestic servants lived from about 1800 on.

A pilot re-analysis of the Building l Site (Scholnick et al. 2000) was crucial to the development of DAACS standards. It also served as a test bed for the application of modern techniques for stratigraphic analysis and seriation to the Mulberry Row collections and field records from the 1980's. The Building l research has shown that fine-grained archaeological chronologies can be constructed for the Mulberry Row material.

Research Themes

The Mulberry Row Reassessment promises to improve our understanding of important historical issues. Until the 1790's most activity on Mulberry Row supported the construction of Jefferson's mansion and the cosmopolitan lifestyles cultivated within it. Buildings included housing for enslaved domestics and builders, for free workmen, and food preparation and storage facilities. In the 1790's Mulberry Row became the locus of key pieces of Jefferson's strategies for economic diversification. Smithing and nail manufacturing facilities appeared. The older functions persisted as well. How did the living conditions, lifeways, and diets of slaves change with the advent of economic diversification? How did they vary for slaves working in crafts, industrial activities, and domestic work? The Reassessment also opens the way for systematic comparisons of the Mulberry Row sites with the domestic sites, formerly inhabited by by enslaved agricultural laborers, that are the focus of the Plantation Archaeological Survey. We want to be able to document how the lives of slaves living on Mulberry Row differed from those of field laborers and understand the causes of the differences.

The use of DAACS protocols for the Reassessment means that, for the first time, we will be able to compare systematically assemblages from Mulberry Row with assemblages associated with slavery elsewhere in the Chesapeake region. The DAACS protocols will allow us to determine the extent to which slave life at Monticello departed from regional trends and why.

Promising Results

Although the data currently available from Mulberry Row are incomplete, our recent analyses of them reveal watershed changes in several areas of slave life. For example,

  • Shifts in the size and configuration of houses in which enslaved people lived on Mulberry Row point to changes in the composition of residential groups and an increase in the control slaves had over who they lived with.
  • Increases over time in the incidence of fashionable ceramics associated tea drinking and dining suggest variable participation by members of the enslaved community at Monticello in what historians have called the "consumer revolution."

Mulberry Row Research


Building l
Building o
Buildings r, s, t, and "Negro Quarter"

Discussion

says

One of the on-going projects of the archaeology department, the Mulberry Row Reassessment provides us with new insights into the lives of slaves at Monticello. Working on this project has given me a new appreciation for the people that lived and worked here beyond the Jefferson household.

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