In 1770, Jefferson&—now old enough to control his Shadwell inheritance&—moved two miles west, across the Rivanna River, to make his home at Monticello. Tobacco remained the plantation's major export crop, and, as Monticello archaeologists have found, when Jefferson established his home quarter on the mountain, he built new housing for field slaves at Site 7, where his father had situated an outlying quarter in the 1740s. Jefferson also erected new lodging for the overseer at Site 7, 50' from the, by then, demolished house of the Shadwell-era overseer. His papers make tangential reference to an overseer's dwelling at Site 7 from 1770 to c. 1805, but the location of housing for field slaves during this era was unknown until archaeological discovery.
The Plantation Archaeological Survey, which located Site 7 in 1997, also found three additional slave sites dating to the first three decades of Jefferson's tenure, designated Sites 1, 8, and 30. Each was identified by a discreet scatter of late-18th century artifacts (pottery, pipe stems, nails, etc.) generated by domestic activity. Sites 1 and 30 are north and west of Site 7, equidistant from the South Spring&—a primary source of drinking water.
Only Site 8, adjacent to Site 7, and with the largest concentration of artifacts, has been intensively investigated. Site 8 was initially occupied slightly later than Site 7, suggesting it may have been built to accommodate the additional slaves Jefferson acquired after his marriage. Sites 1 and 30, more limited in extent, were first inhabited a decade or more later, reflecting an increase in the size of his home quarter workforce. All four sites, 7, 8, 1, and 30, were abandoned by c. 1800.
Extensive excavations at Site 8, conducted between 2000 and 2009 by staff and students of the Monticello field school, uncovered the remains of four log houses and related artifacts, which greatly enhance our understanding of the lives of slaves and their overseers. These structures, sequentially built between the 1770s and the early 1790s, were identified by the subfloor pits, holes dug into the dirt floor in which slaves stored their provisions and few precious belongings.
The removal of slaves from Sites 7, 8, 1, and 30 by 1800 coincided with Jefferson's adoption of wheat as his major cash crop. Based on the identification of sites by the Plantation Survey, slaves lived farther down slope after 1800; their houses situated on steeper terrain, strung out along a stream fed by the South Spring (see map: Sites 3, 6, 9, 20, 21). By 1807, the overseer had also removed to this area as well (Site 17).
The adoption of wheat precipitated these relocations&—the relatively flat terrain of Site 7 and 8 was soon put to the plow&—but the new, more dispersed pattern of settlement represented a modest gain in autonomy for slaves. Now living at a distance from each other and the overseer, they achieved a measure of privacy and relief from constant supervision.
Archaeologists at Monticello have remarked that the timing of this change in housing provided for field slaves coincides with the change from barracks to family-based housing that occurred on Mulberry Row. Both happened after Jefferson switched from tobacco to wheat export. Pending further investigation, archaeologists at Monticello hypothesize that the improvements in field slave housing, like that in Mulberry Row housing, was the result of the new opportunities for negotiation which slaves realized under the work regimes introduced with wheat cultivation.