Sites 7 and 8

In 1997, the first field season of the Plantation Archaeological Survey, artifacts recovered from shovel test pits revealed two adjacent scatters of domestic artifacts. The ceramic assemblage included types that predate the Revolution, for example white salt-glazed stoneware, delft, and Midlands slipware. In addition, there were also ceramics from the last quarter of the 18th century, including creamware and pearlware. The mix suggests an occupation that may have begun in the second quarter of the 18th century and continued into the early 19th century.

The two sites are currently the focus of extensive excavations Monticello-University of Virginia Archeological Field School. Since 1997, over 150 five-by-five foot excavation quadrats (open squares in the figure above) uncovered 30,000 artifacts. The scattered quadrats are the best means of retrieving representative samples of artifacts from the sites and for documenting variation in the spatial distribution of chronologically and functionally sensitive artifact classes across the sites. Analysis of the quadrat samples has begun to reveal the complex and changing character of life on Jefferson's plantation and its predecessor.

Site 7 was originally occupied in the middle of the 18th century. This occupation represents the initial settlement of Monticello Mountain by a small group of slaves who belonged to Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's father. The slaves were responsible for growing tobacco on a portion of the mountain just to the west of the site, an area Thomas Jefferson would refer to as "the Ancient Field." In 1998 Field School researchers located the cobble hearth of the log dwelling in which these slaves lived. The hearth, along with the bulk of the mid-18th-century artifacts are located north of the road (shown in red).

Thomas Jefferson began active development of Monticello Plantation around 1770. Sites 7 and 8 became the center of domestic activity for the Monticello home-farm quarter. On Site 7, we can detect a shift in the location of artifact deposition to the south and an expansion in the area occupied. Both events date to about 1770. Statistical analysis resolves variation in the ceramic assemblages from this area into two zones, one occupied from 1770 to 1805 and the other from about 1770 to 1790. Archaeological evidence, in the form of more costly ceramics and a higher density of coins, suggests that the first of the zones, just south of the road represents an overseer's house. This is corroborated by a series of surveys and plats starting in 1796 by Thomas Jefferson that shows an overseer's house in this location. Thus the second zone, comprising the southern half of the site, represents an occupation by slaves.

Preliminary evidence from the few 5-by-5 foot quadrats excavated on Site 8 indicates that its ceramics are stylistically similar to those from the southern or slave zone of Site 7. Hence we infer that Site 8 also represents a slave occupation from the 1770's and 1780's. Both these slave occupations appear to have ended around 1790. Because the overseer's house remain occupied for another decade or so, the shift implies that after 1790 slaves lived at greater distances form the overseer's house. The change is roughly synchronous with the transition at Monticello from tobacco to a more diverse agricultural regime, based around wheat. The implications of the settlement change for the lives of enslaved people and the causal connections to agricultural diversification are among the primary foci of our current field research.

  • Related Link: Monticello Podcast on current archaeological work at Site 8 {CREATE LINK}

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