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Shadwell

Shadwell was the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson, and the main plantation of his father, Peter Jefferson. Located in Albemarle County, Virginia, it was named after the parish in London where Jane Randolph Jefferson was born.

Having acquired 1,000 acres for farming, Peter Jefferson purchased the adjacent 200-acre homesite from William Randolph in 1736, in exchange for "Henry Weatherbourn’s biggest bowl of Arrack punch."1 In October 1739, he and Jane Randolph were married and, within the next few years, they completed the original house at Shadwell and moved their young family to the Piedmont. Thomas Jefferson, their third child and first son, was born at Shadwell in 1743, though he spent only a few years of his childhood there.2

Thomas Jefferson inherited the Shadwell plantation from his father.3 In February 1770, the one-and-a-half story frame house burned.4 The surrounding acreage continued to serve as farmland, one of Jefferson’s four quarter farms in Albemarle County. In 1813, Jefferson deeded the property to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.5

Caryanne Randolph Ruffin, Jefferson's granddaughter, and her husband Colonel Frank Ruffin built the current main house. Although located on the original "punch-bowl tract," the current Shadwell residence is not located near the site of the original Jefferson house.6

In 1991, an archaeological excavation on the property uncovered two cellar foundations, one of which is believed to be the site of the original main house built by Peter Jefferson.7

Shadwell Chronology

1736 May 18. Peter Jefferson received a deed — actually more of an option to buy than a real deed — for 200 acres of land from his friend William Randolph, in exchange for "Henry Weatherbourn's biggest bowl of Arrack punch."8

1741 May 16. A confirming deed, adding 200 acres and noting the payment of £50, was recorded.9

ca. 1741. Peter Jefferson erected a house and moved his family to Shadwell.

1743 April 2/13. Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell.

ca. 1757. Peter Jefferson built a flour mill at Shadwell on the Rivanna River.

1764 April 13. Thomas Jefferson, at age twenty-one, came into the inheritance of his share of his father's lands, including Shadwell. Note that his mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, had a life estate in Shadwell, so that until her death in 1776 Jefferson leased it from her.

1765 to 1794. Jefferson operated the Shadwell plantation through overseers, producing tobacco as the main cash crop.10 In 1774, for an example, there were eighteen slaves at Shadwell, twelve of them children or adults too old to work.11

1770 February 1. The Shadwell house was destroyed by fire. As Jefferson wrote to his friend John Page, he lamented the loss "of every paper I had in the world, and almost every book. On a reasonable estimate I calculate the cost of the books burned to have been £200. sterling."12 The family story relates that Jefferson, arriving at the smoking ruins of the house, asked a slave if his books had been saved. The reply was, "Oh, my young master, they were all burnt; but, ah! we saved your fiddle."13 Another house was built on the property, but Jefferson apparently never again lived at Shadwell after this fire.

1771 May 26. Shadwell mill was destroyed by "the greatest flood ever known in Virginia."14

1794 to 1799. Shadwell was one of four farms (Monticello, Tufton, and Lego were the others) that were part of Jefferson's new agricultural schemes. Wheat replaced tobacco as the cash crop, and a seven-year rotation of principally wheat, corn, and clover was adopted. At Shadwell, there were seven forty-acre fields (Upper, Mountain, Middle, and Chapel Ridge on the north side of present-day Route 250, and West, South, and East fields to the south).15 The overseer at Shadwell (and Lego) in 1794 and 1795 was Eli Alexander, brought by Jefferson from Maryland in the hope that, because labor there was a mixture of free and slave, a Maryland farmer would "understand the management of negroes on a rational and humane plan."16

1799-1813. Because of his return to public service, Jefferson leased Shadwell in 1799 to William Page, its overseer since the tenure of Eli Alexander. He continued to lease it until 1813. The longest lease, to former overseer Alexander in 1805, was for eight fields of forty acres each, at $1 per acre.17

1803 December. A 1,200-foot canal and a toll mill were completed on the Rivanna River. This small mill ground grain (mainly corn) for Jefferson's household use, and, for a toll, that of his neighbors.18

1807. A large manufacturing mill adjacent to the toll mill was completed and leased by Jefferson for $1,200 a year or its equivalent in flour. This mill, which had two pairs of stones, ground the market wheat of Jefferson and his neighbors, and used the patent labor-saving machinery invented by Oliver Evans. Jefferson's slave coopers probably had their shop for making wheat barrels somewhere in the mill's vicinity.19

1813 March 13. Jefferson deeded Shadwell as a gift to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph.20

- Chronology based on report compiled by Lucia Stanton, 4/26/89

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