The Utopia Quarter site (44JC32) was inhabited by several generations of enslaved Africans and their descendants between the 1670s and 1770s at roughly 20- to 30-year intervals. Each of the four periods of occupation at Utopia can be considered a discrete site, and in fact, each new group of occupants situated themselves in a slightly different location so that there was little or no overlap of the archaeological contexts. Occupation at Utopia III took place between ca. 1730 and 1750, primarily when James Bray’s II son, Thomas Bray II, and then his grandson, James Bray III, owned the Littletown/Utopia plantation. Sometime in the 1730s, the Brays had two new quarters built several hundred feet north of the Period 2 compound which evidently had been abandoned or dismantled not long after James Bray II died in 1725 (Fesler 2004a).
The James River Institute for Archaeology, Inc. (JRIA) excavated most of Utopia III in the spring and summer of 1995, and completed excavations on it in 1996. The site is located within the residential and recreational community of Kingsmill on the James, outside the town of Williamsburg, Virginia. The property is owned by Anheuser Busch, Inc.,which funded the excavation of Utopia III as part of its mandate to preserve and study the historical resources on its property. Utopia is situated on prime riverfront real estate that Busch made plans in 1995 to develop into house lots, thus providing the impetus to conduct an archaeological salvage excavation prior to development.
In his will, James Bray II temporarily left the Littletown/Utopia plantation and the slaves living there to his daughter, Elizabeth Allen, until his grandson, James Bray III, reached adulthood in 1736 and could claim ownership of the property. Elizabeth Allen sold her rights to the property in 1728 to her brother, Thomas Bray II, for £500 (Stephenson 1963:19; Winfree 1971:382). Thomas Bray II operated Littletown/Utopia for eight years until 1736 when its rightful heir, James Bray III, turned 21 years of age. The younger Bray died eight years later in 1744. As a result of settling his estate, his wife Frances Thacker Bray received 29 slaves and the Utopia acreage of the Littletown/Utopia plantation as her dower share (Burwell v. Johnson 1758).
There is little documentation about the opertation of Littletown/Utopia during Bray II’s tenure as owner. In 1732, the General Assembly granted his petition to “dock” or suspend the entail on many of the properties he inherited from his father, including Littletown/Utopia (Winfree 1971:381-384). Bray proceeded to liquidate some of his smaller tracts of land to buy more slaves, and by 1738, he had purchased at least 44 slaves and presumably integrated them into his existing slave population, some of which ended up at Utopia (Fesler 2004a).
More is known about James Bray III and the fact that he struggled financially throughout his short career as a planter and was in debt at the end of his life (McClure 1977; Burwell v. Johnson 1758). For eight years, he kept a ledger that documented his financial travails at the Utopia Quarter (Burwell Papers; McClure 1977; Walsh et al. 1997). While tobacco was the principal commodity produced at Littletown/Utopia, a significant amount of slave labor was devoted to a diverse array of crops and small industries. During the eight years he operated Littletown/Utopia, Bray III sold corn, wheat, fodder, oats, peas, onions, various species of livestock, butchered meat from his herds, wool, butter, tallow, animal hair, cider, brandy, lime, bricks, and firewood (McClure 1977:67-73, 77-94; Walsh et al. 1997:136). He also operated a mill on his property and rented out some of his vacant landholdings to tenants (McClure 1977:52-53, 87-89). He employed overseers to manage his operations and the available evidence indicates that John Green managed Utopia from 1740 until Bray’s death in 1744 (McClure 1977:42-43). During those five years, Green received shares of tobacco, corn, pork, and even a small amount of butter, which suggests that these were commodities specifically produced by the slaves working at Utopia (McClure 1977:42-43).
Although the exact number is not known, James Bray III may have owned as many as 80 to 90 slaves at the end of his life, distributed between Littletown/Utopia and other properties in the region (McClure 1977:50-51; Kelso 1984b:38-39; Walsh et al. 1997:14). His wife received 29 slaves and the Utopia property as her dower share of the estate in 1745. One can infer from the 1745 list that most of the slaves Frances Thacker Bray inherited were living and working at Utopia.
Table 1: Enslaved Persons Received by Frances Bray in 1745
Women Men Older Girls Older Boys Young Girls Young Boys Total
*Corresponds with a name listed at Littletown/Utopia in 1725 under James Bray II's ownership.
a. These two female slaves were chosen by Frances Bray to resolve a separate matter and not part of the original 27.
1. A slave named Sarah (along with one named Jeremiah) reputedly was Frances Bray’s personal maidservant (Burwell v. Johnson 1758).
2. Jupiter is listed as “Doll’s son.” There is no Doll among the 27, although a woman named Doll was present at Littletown/Utopia in 1725. It is also possible that the scribe intended to write “Moll’s son” and made an error. Jupiter may be the son of the Jupiter listed for James II in 1725.
3. An adult male Sam is listed for James II in 1725, probably the father of Little Sam here.
The names of three men and four women are found on both James Bray’s II 1725 inventory and Frances Bray’s dower list in 1745. On both lists, adults appear to be ranked roughly by value, with the prime fieldhands at the head of the lis, and less productive older adults or adolescents at the end. Martin and Daniel appear as children in 1725 and are listed as prime adults in 1745. Nanny may have been a late adolescent in 1725 and is the prime adult woman in 1745. Caesar also may have been a young adult in 1725 and was in his prime by 1745, as may have been the case for Juno. The reverse was probably true for Moll; a prime adult in 1725, by 1745 she may have been one of the older females in the group of 29. The Lucy listed as a child in 1725 may have been listed as an adult in 1745 as Deaf Lucy.
Some of the 29 slaves in Frances Bray’s dowry may have been African-born. Among the adults, classical or place names like Cesar, Juno, and York suggest that these names were imposed on new Negroes, and Ebo almost certainly was a reference to her place of origin. The presence of Mulatta Pat, possibly the child of a European or Anglo-American father and an African or creole mother, suggets that at least one mixed race individual was living at Utopia.
According to his ledger, James Bray III hired out his slaves periodically for periods of time ranging from a day or two to a year. For example, in 1741, he hired out Jupiter for a year and in 1743 he hired out Simon for six months (McClure 1977:49). According to later accounts, an unknown number of James III’s slaves “were Tradesmen and House Servants, no Ways concerned in the Crop” and at least one of his slaves was a cooper whom he hired out locally for short periods of time (Burwell v. Johnson 1758; McClure 1977:95).
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
A small amount of testing took place at Utopia III in 1972-73 when William Kelso first began intensive study of the Kingsmill property. At that time, one test unit (KM167) was excavated into a subfloor pit that yielded a variety of domestic artifacts including an English half-penny dated 1721. Kelso considered the findings to be evidence of a probable quartering site dating to the first half of the eighteenth century that he tentatively labeled as Jacko’s Quarter (Kelso 1984b:108). Because the location was not threatened by development, Kelso did not pursue any further excavation of the area. When JRIA archaeologists returned to the site in 1995, they verified that the site was indeed a slave quarter, and in fact the subfloor pit that Kelso tested (KM167) turned out to be subfloor pit 43 (DAACS Feature F043) inside one of two dwellings at Period 3 Utopia.
As a means of sampling the topsoil and plowzone at Utopia III, archaeologists excavated more than 700 shovel test holes at 10 ft. intervals throughout the site area. The backfill from each shovel test was sifted through ¼” hardware cloth and all artifacts as well as a soil chemistry sample were collected. Furthermore, 63 test units were excavated at the site and blocks of units were used to uncover both dwellings in their entirety as well as sizeable portions of two major trash pits. Once the shovel testing and test units were completed, an excavator mechanically removed the remaining topsoil and plowzone from the site. Archaeologists used flat shovels and trowels to scrape down the site and expose and define the features. A plan map of the site then was generated a scale of ¼”=1 ft. and each feature received a context number. Trowels were used to excavate the features and all soil was sifted through ¼” hardware cloth. All features were bisected at least once and a profile and plan was drawn at a 1”=1 ft. scale. Some of the more complex subfloor pits were bisected several times. One-hundred percent of the soil from all subfloor pits was saved and processed through a soil flotation system. All postmold fill was saved and floted, whereas five liters of each posthole was floted. All other features were sampled and floted as well. Heavy and light fraction generated by the flotation machine were sorted by hand with the aid of a magnifying glass and incorporated into the artifact collection from the site.
Utopia III consisted of 36 features or macro-features (sets of related features). The macro-features included two post-in-ground dwellings and a small post-in-ground outbuilding, a post-and-rail fence, and a paling ditch enclosure connected to Structure 40. Regarding individual features, archaeologists excavated 21 subfloor pits, three in Structure 40, and 18 in Structure 50 and two enormous trash pit complexes adjacent to both of the housing units. Although all of the Period 3 features were excavated in their entirety or sampled, the subfloor pits and trash pits produced most of the 21,500 artifacts.
Table 2: Period 3 Utopia Features
Type of Feature N JRIA Field Numbers Description
FE40, FE50, FE107
Two housing units and one small outbuilding
Hall Subfloor pits
FE41, FE42, FE43, FE45, FE48, FE51, FE52, FE53, FE54, FE55, FE56, FE57, FE58C/E, FE58B, FE58D
Subfloor pits in the hall in Structures 40 and 50
Parlor Subfloor pits
FE39A, FE39B, FE44, FE46, FE47, FE49
Subfloor pits located in the parlors of Structure 50
FE61 (and FE97), FE62, FE119, FE127
Trash pits associated with Structures 40 and 50
Paling ditch enclosure connected to Structure 40
Post-and-rail fence near Str. 50
FE64, FE113, FE122, FE123, FE130, FE136
Various miscellaneous pit features
Like Utopia I and Utopia II, the carpenters used post-in-ground architecture to build all three Utopia III structures (Carson et al. 1981). Structures 40 and 50 were used as housing units and Structure 107 was a small 10 ft. by 10 ft. outbuilding probably for agricultural storage. Structure 40 was 12 ft. by 16 ft. in size and contained three centrally located subfloor pits that had been partially disturbed in recent years, causing them to have a non-linear appearance on the surface. A paling ditch enclosure formed a private yard behind Structure 40 and a large trash pit complex (DAACS Features F062, F119, and F127) was located immediately outside the enclosure, filled with trash and debris from the housing unit.
Structure 50 was built in stages. The original core of the structure was identical in size to Structure 40, 12 ft. by 16 ft. At a later date, two 6 ft. by 16 ft. sheds were added to each side of the main core to form a structure 16 ft. by 24 ft. in size. Eighteen subfloor pits were arrayed throughout the interior of Structure 50, many cutting through one another, evidence of repeated episodes of filling and re-digging. A very large trash pit was located within a few paces of Structure 50, used exclusively by the residents living in the building.
Summary of research and analysis
A number of archaeologists have analyzed all or portions of the Utopia Quarter site since the early 1970s. Garrett Fesler has produced the majority of research on all occupations at the Utopia Quarter site including several technical reports, publications, and a dissertation (Fesler 1997, 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2004a, 2004b). Other archaeologists who have worked with the Utopia data include William Kelso, Patricia Samford, and Donna and Clifford Boyd.
In addition to technical publications, Fesler has written a dissertation that examined the composition and growth of households at the Utopia Quarter, and compared these findings with the wider Chesapeake region. The three types of archaeological data used to test and explore household and family formation processes at the site include artifact assemblages, subfloor pit morphology, and architecture and use of space. (Fesler 2004a). Preliminary findings suggest that house size at Utopia grew smaller over time. Fesler inferred that as the 18th century progressed, the site’s enslaved residents lived in housing units that could better accommodate smaller family groups. The gradual reduction in the number of subfloor pits within the dwellings at the three Utopia sites also suggests a changing group dynamic as family members began to share storage spaces. Fesler argued that consumption patterns at Utopia, as measured by the number of artifacts generated by each living unit, also indicated the steady growth of family groups. Overall, Fesler illustrated with multiple lines of evidence the likely evolution of what he considers the “slave family” (2004a).
In a separate article, Fesler analyzed gender relations at Utopia II (2004b), hypothesizing that three possible living arrangements—single-sex barracks, a village compound, or family households—may have been implemented at Utopia II. Fesler used architectural, spatial, and artifactual data to conclude that Utopia II most closely resembled an indigenous West or Central African compound, possibly with living arrangements segregated by gender (2004b). Fesler has also written several technical reports that detail the excavation of Utopia (2000a, 2000b) and a study of the spatial organization of the site by examining artifact distribution and soil chemistry patterns (Fesler 2001).
William Kelso led the first excavations at Utopia in the 1970s and described his findings in a technical report (1976). Kelso's research was eventually published in his book, Kingsmill Plantations 1619-1800: Archaeology of Country Life in Colonial Virginia (1984b).
Patricia Samford has used data from the subfloor pits at the site during the course of writing a dissertation (2000) and for an article (1999). Samford argued that some of the subfloor pits at Utopia may have been used as religious shrines, as well as for the more pedestrian use as storage for food and personal belongings.
Donna Boyd and Clifford Boyd:
Donna and Clifford Boyd conducted the osteological analysis of the skeletal remains from twenty-five human burials at Utopia (1996). Despite poor preservation in the thirteen burials containing skeletal remains, the Boyds were able to determine that the general health of the burial population, based on the dentition patterns of the adults, was relatively poor.