Site ST116 is located on Stratford Hall Plantation, a historic estate of the Lee family along the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia that is owned and operated as a house museum by the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association. The site’s designation stems from the convention employed in the mid-1970s survey of plantation property conducted by Fraser Neiman (1977a), then working for the Virginia Research Center for Archaeology (now the Virginia Department of Historic Resources), that resulted in ST116’s discovery. A combination of field school students from the Department of Historic Preservation at Mary Washington College and staff from the Center for Historic Preservation at the same institution conducted the site excavations during the summers of 1998, 1999, and 2000, with both groups directed by Douglas W. Sanford.
ST116 represents a small earthfast dwelling for slaves situated in a field northeast of the mansion complex, with the building located about 300 feet from the Lee family manor house. Ever since the 1930s restoration of Stratford, the field has been used as an orchard, with a 1969 Historic American Building Survey site plan referring to the field as the “old orchard.” Modern tillage of the orchard during tree re-plantings transformed ST116 into a plowzone site (Sanford 1999a). Excavations relied on both the block area method in the structure’s immediate vicinity and the systematic sampling of areas farther from the building. Recovered artifacts indicate a site date range of ca. 1770 to 1820.
Except for two plantation inventories and a series of fire insurance policies for the mansion complex, there are few records concerning the plantation’s operation and its main physical components. For example, an 1801 fire insurance policy records the two stone slave quarters within the mansion complex, but not ST116 (Sanford 1999a). There is a dearth of known documents for ST116 and much of Stratford’s landscape and history.
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
The orchard’s past uses are not well documented until the early 20th-century. Archaeological investigations indicate that Native Americans utilized the area during the Archaic and Woodland periods, followed by brick making activity in the mid-18th century. For instance, site ST115, to the southeast of ST116, contains a borrow pit backfilled with brick refuse. In the late 18th- and early 19th-century, the field contained the slave dwelling represented by ST116 and probably another quarter to the northeast, ST117. In the latter half of the 19th-century, the area became a scrub field and pasture. Restoration work in the 1930s and 1940s established ornamental plantings of fruit trees, grapevines, and boxwood, along with the reconstruction of an octagonal brick garden pavilion on the ST117 site (Sanford 1999a).
ST116 was located during the 1976-1977 survey work led by Fraser Neiman. Neiman initially conducted a Shovel Test Pit (STP) survey of the entire plantation property, using close interval (20 feet) test holes to delineate significant artifact concentrations. These artifact concentrations were further tested with small excavation units (3 x 5 feet, for example), with the initial test unit’s number serving as the designation for the site. No further archaeological study of ST116 occurred until the Mary Washington College (MWC) field school investigations.
The 1998 season involved the initial testing of the ST115 and ST116 sites, with greater emphasis placed on the latter site (Bell et al. 1998). The 1999 season focused purely on ST116 (Sanford 1999b). In contrast, the 2000 season completed the examination of ST116, implemented several test units in the site ST117 area to the northwest, and partially tested other portions of the orchard field through a systematic random sampling design utilizing 50-foot blocks (Sanford 2000). Removed soils from ST116 were dry-screened (1/4-inch mesh) only, with soil samples taken on a limited and non-systematic basis from a few features. The site, as indicated by greater artifact density, measures approximately 100 feet in diameter, although similar dating artifacts occur farther to the east and southeast.
Excavations largely relied on five-foot quadrats, except where either modern landscape features or orchard trees required units of other sizes. A total of 34 units formed the block area excavation at the earthfast building, while another 14 test units represented the systematic random sampling strategy and purposively placed units at greater distances from the building.
ST116’s stratigraphy consists of modern topsoil covering the aforementioned plowzone, beneath which survived a limited number of features, mostly those corresponding to the earthfast building that measures eight feet on a side. Four large (over two feet in diameter) postholes with postmolds of six-inch diameters represent the structure’s corners. At a later date, a brick foundation (one brick wide and of English bond) was introduced to the building’s north side, likely to repair a sagging sill. The foundation brick surround the corner posts, indicating that the northwest and northeast posts remained in place during the repair work. A wide builder's trench feature accompanied the foundation, with the greater width indicative of the foundation’s installation beneath a standing structure. Due to plowing, no evidence of the building’s wood and mud chimney survived, although a stake-like posthole on the building’s east side could infer its former position. The building has no sub-floor pit. Other features on the site include several amorphous, shallow depressions; the remnant of a boundary ditch (oriented east-west) that is situated south of the building; and a couple planting holes or postholes in the building’s yard. The vast majority of artifacts were recovered from ST116’s plowzone contexts. For instance, other than brick fragments, there are no dateable artifacts in the building’s postholes.
Summary of research and analysis
Documentary and secondary sources provide a historic context for ST116 as part of the Lee family’s plantation system (Neiman 1977a; Sanford 1999a). During the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries, Stratford’s residents experienced the outcomes of Virginia’s newly diversified agricultural economy that centered on the shift from tobacco to wheat cultivation. The Lee family responded to these changed circumstances by both reducing the plantation’s acreage and slaveholdings, and by having slaves engage in a wider variety of tasks and trades. The wholesale nature of these changes is corroborated by architectural and archaeological evidence, for example, for the alteration and re-organization of the mansion house and the landscape of its surrounding complex. Outlying farm quarters were sold off and some remaining slaves were consolidated and re-located to a series of newly established quarters closer to the Stratford mansion. Apparently site ST116 represents one of these quarters and its placement just outside the mansion complex may be reflected in the building’s orientation (NW-SE) that doesn’t correspond to the north-south, east-west alignment of the brick and stone buildings within the mansion complex.
Artifact and field information from ST116 had not been analyzed systematically until its entry into the DAACS system at the end of 2002. Using this data, a Mean Ceramic Date of 1781 was generated (see Chronology). Initial artifact analyses that compare ST116 with slave sites at Monticello indicate that ST116 likely contained one enslaved household and represents a lifestyle more in keeping with a farm quarter wherein residents had less access to marketed resources (Arendt et al. 2003; Galle and Neiman 2003; Sanford 2003). The building’s small size and lack of a sub-floor pit correspond with Neiman’s (1998) hypothesis of decreasing quarter size and pit frequency for late 18th-century slave dwellings.