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The Earliest Slave Site at Monticello: Shadwell and Its Quarter Farm

Images:     Photograph of Shadwell cellar in Kern 2005 article;

Photo or plan of cobble scatter at Site 7

Quarter section of Spanish Reale (see DAACS site);

Map including Shadwell Plantation, river, Monticello Mt., Site 7, and spring (is there a map of the extent of Shadwell Plantation land?)

Read more: Kern, Susan, "The Material World of the Jeffersons at Shadwell," in William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. LXII, No. 2. (April 2005): 213-242.

In the late 1990s, during the first season of its on-going Plantation Archaeological Survey, the Monticello Archaeology Department discovered artifacts indicating a colonial-era habitation site&—designated Site 7&—which pre-dated Thomas Jefferson's residence on the mountain. Subsequent excavation revealed the remains of a hearth for a log overseer's house, part of a slave quarter associated with the Shadwell plantation of Jefferson's father.

Plantation Archaeological Survey

Sites 7 and 8

In 1737, at the age of thirty, Peter Jefferson moved to the western edge of the Virginia Piedmont, becoming one of the first white settlers in the region. Two years later, he brought his young bride Jane Randolph&—the educated daughter of a prominent Tidewater family&—to live in the house he built on the north bank of the Rivanna River at his Shadwell Plantation. 

Far from our image of buckskin-clad pioneers, the Jefferson's lived lives of gentility and refinement on the Virginia frontier. They wore the latest fashions, sat on upholstered furniture, and set their table with silver and fine ceramics. Tobacco planter, surveyor, co-author of the famed Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia, large-scale land speculator, and public official, Peter and his wife moved in the elite circles of colonial society and prepared their children to participate in polite society.

Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia

As Peter Jefferson's wealth and family grew, he extended his landholdings at Shadwell from 200 acres to over 1400. He also increased the size of his manor house, a framed wooden structure heated by brick fireplaces. During excavations conducted at Shadwell in the early 1990s, Monticello archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large, brick-lined cellar in the English style, which supported a portion of his house and provided secure storage for food and goods. They also identified traces of a detached kitchen and slave quarters, probably built of logs.

By his death in 1753, Peter Jefferson owned over fifty slaves, about two-thirds of whom were able-bodied adults. Some of them performed domestic service, but most tended the tobacco crop that he shipped down the Rivanna every fall for export to England. The majority of his field hands worked and lived at Shadwell, but beginning in the 1740s, he established a quarter farm across the river on the northern slope of what his son later named Monticello Mountain, within sight from his house. It was located immediately to the southeast of the forty acre tract Thomas Jefferson called the "Ancient Field," with easy access to the South Spring. Calculating three acres per worker, this would entail a work force of a dozen or so slaves. Surviving documents suggest he provided a two-room structure for the enslaved workforce and a single-room dwelling for the overseer.

(See also: The Landscape of Slavery)

Excavations by Monticello archaeologists at the quarter (Site 7) revealed the cobble and brick remains of the hearth for a log dwelling. The quality of associated artifacts identifies the structure as a dwelling for the overseer. A nearby scatter of ceramics, clay pipe stems, and other artifacts marks the site of the slave habitation, but remains of a structure have not yet been found. After Thomas Jefferson took up residence at Monticello in 1770, he continued to quarter field slaves near this site until c1790.

(See also: Housing for Field Hands at Monticello)


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