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Revolving Bookstand: The Jeffersons at Shadwell


The Jeffersons at Shadwell (Front Cover)


The Jeffersons at Shadwell, Susan Kern, Yale, 2010, 320 pages, hardback.


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Brief Description

Merging archaeology, material culture, and social history, the author reveals the story of Shadwell, the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson and home to his parents, Jane and Peter Jefferson, their eight children, and more than sixty slaves. Located in present-day Albemarle County, Virginia, Shadwell was at the time considered "the frontier." However, Shadwell was no crude log cabin; it was, in fact, a well-appointed gentry house full of fashionable goods, located at the center of a substantial population. Kern offers new views of the family's role in settling Virginia as well as new perspectives on Thomas Jefferson himself. By examining a variety of sources, including account books, diaries, and letters, the author re-creates the daily lives of the Jeffersons at Shadwell -- from Jane Jefferson's cultivation of a learned and cultured household to Peter Jefferson's extensive business network and oversight of a thriving plantation. At Shadwell, Thomas Jefferson learned the importance of fostering relationships with slaves, laborers, and powerful office holders, as well as the hierarchical structure of large plantations, which he later applied at his own home, Monticello.

About the Author

Susan Kern is currently visiting assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary. She is a former archaeologist for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Monticello) and has also taught courses at the University of Virginia. This is her first book. She lives in Virginia.


"This well-researched, well-written, and wide-ranging book is microhistory at its best ... Kern's clean prose offers valuable insight and vital contextual detail to our understanding of the Jefferson family."&—Jeremy Dibbell, PhiloBiblos

"Kern's re-creation of the daily routines at Shadwell is both painstaking and path-breaking. All future students of Jefferson will turn to this as the standard account of his childhood world."&—Lauren Winner, Duke University

"Kern has intimate knowledge not only of the archaeology of Shadwell but also of the family history of the Jeffersons. This book provides us with an in-depth look at the material culture, social milieu, and domestic lives of the free whites and enslaved blacks who lived at Thomas Jefferson's childhood home."&—Timothy J. Shannon, Gettysburg College

"This elegant, vivid book shows us what a gifted historian and archaeologist can do with the state-of-the-art tools of her trades. Susan Kern has revealed a Shadwell we thought we'd never know."&—Virginia Scharff, author of The Women Jefferson Loved

"A quiet revolution in our understanding both of Thomas Jefferson's childhood and of late colonial Virginia! The material culture of Shadwell is delicately reconstructed from archeology and the documentation of Peter Jefferson's deceased estate.  A must-read for all interested not just in the Founder but also in the history of family and household in America."&—Rhys Isaac, author of The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790

"Is the field of Jefferson studies played out? Could be, but just below that depleted topsoil, archeologist Susan Kern has hit pay dirt. From the pipes and pottery fashioned by the sixty-odd slaves who labored at Jefferson's birthplace to the metal ornaments left behind by his father's Cherokee visitors, Kern's artifacts paint a portrait of colonial Virginia that is more intimate, complex, and exciting than could ever have been drawn solely from the testimony of the literate."&—Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams
"A scholarly portrait of life in the pre-revolutionary South that overturns some popular perceptions and historians' views . . . . [Kern] provides an intensely fact-based account of the young Jefferson's 'well-ordered, well-connected world.'"&—Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents

1. The house: the material world of the Jeffersons at Shadwell

2. The household: making women's work apparent

3. The home quarter: material culture and status

4. The field quarters: slave life and field work

5. Plantation business: Peter Jefferson at home

6. The colony's business: Peter Jefferson's vantage

7. The intangible legacies: creating and keeping family history

8. Thomas Jefferson's Shadwell stories: family and slavery

Appendix: Tables

Related Media

Susan Kern's Evening Conversation podcast {Add Link}

Susan Kern Tea-Time Talk 2006 - http://tjportal.monticello {Add Link}

Related Items the Monticello Shop

Book: Archeology at Monticello

Monticello Candlestand (reproduction of a table from Shadwell)

Related Items in Our Collection


Susan Kern was an International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS) Fellow in 2000.

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