In 1981-82, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's Archaeology Department, under the direction of William Kelso, excavated the Building o site on Monticello's Mulberry Row. The extensive, 1392 square foot excavation exposed the remains of housing for enslaved workers dating to c. 1770-1800, which coincides with the construction and occupation of the first Monticello mansion. There is also evidence for a post-1800 occupation.
Despite the proximity of the Building o site to Jefferson's mansion and its original kitchen in the cellar of the detached South Pavilion, the construction and demolition of log cabins on the site received little comment in contemporary documents. A single glimpse is afforded by Jefferson's 1796 Mutual Assurance Declaration:
o. a servant's house 20 ½ f. by 12 f. of wood, with a wooden chimney, & earth floor. from o. it is 103 feet to E. the stone out house
Because the "stone out house" still stands-now called the Weaver's Cottage-it is possible to place Building o on the landscape. As recent archaeological analysis using DAACS data reveals, it is likely that the building mentioned in the Mutual Assurance Declaration is the second generation of construction on the Building o site.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
In 1979, in order to track the postholes of Jefferson's 1809 garden paling, Kelso initially opened a line of excavation units bordering the southeastern edge of the Building o site. Between 1981 and 1982, he extended the excavation to the northwest, opening forty-two units between the steep embankment above the vegetable garden and Mulberry Row, an area of 24 by 58 feet.
Only in the area bordering Mulberry Row did excavators find evidence of modern intrusion. Twentieth-century road work had cut into the edge of the site. More extensive damage had been caused by the root growth of a flanking Kentucky coffee tree. It had destroyed any evidence of the northwestern foundation of Building o.
Excavators initially laid out a grid of 10-by-10 foot units with 2-foot balks. As work proceeded, removal of the balks and extension of the site resulted in the excavation of quadrats varying in size from 2 by 2 feet to 8 by 8 feet. Recovery of artifacts in all units employed a method of careful troweling without the use of screens. Some lapses in stratigraphic control occurred. Notably, a portion of the contents of the large sub-floor pit was removed with the occupational level surrounding it. Although excavators recorded opening and closing elevations for most quadrats, these measurements are not related to a known, fixed datum point.
Summary of research and analysis
Analysis of the Building o site has been periodically revisited since excavation in the early 1980s. Recent recataloguing of the assemblage by DAACS and related reanalysis of the site stratigraphy by the Monticello Department of Archaeology has provided new insights into the history and dynamics of the site.
Prior to DAACS reanalysis of the Building o site, interpretation assumed that only one building event had occurred at the Building o site and that event was captured by Jefferson's 1796 description of Building o. Kelso (Kelso et al. 1984; Kelso 1997)-based on his calculation of mean ceramic dates-estimated that enslaved house servants occupied the site between 1770 and 1800. An overlay of artifact-rich fill, which he dated to c. 1810, sealed the occupation context. Because of the type, quality, and quantity of artifacts, Kelso concluded that the inhabitants of Building o enjoyed a standard of living significantly above that of other enslaved people living on Mulberry Row; for example, in comparison with Building l. The results of Crader's faunal analysis (Crader 1990) agreed with this conclusion.
Kelso interpreted all the architectural features as representing fragmentary evidence of the 20.5-by-12 foot, single-room, log cabin specified by Jefferson; the three surviving stone wall segments formed part of a continuous dry-laid foundation underpinning the structure. The unaligned stones outside the northeastern gable end located the base of the "wooden" or wattle-and-daub chimney. Kelso argued that a small, brick-lined storage pit had been inserted into its hearth. The larger, stone-lined pit occupied much of the floor space and, therefore, must have been covered with planks creating a wooden floor. Brick paving in the northwest corner may have been the base of a corner stair or a doorway, or both. In support, Kelso used structural evidence from a standing, antebellum log cabin at Bremo Recess, a nineteenth-century plantation thirty miles south of Monticello.
Sanford, field supervisor during the excavation, included Building o in his doctoral dissertation (Sanford 1995). He concurred with Kelso's analysis of the structure. Sanford extended the discussion to include the features in the cabin's flanking yards and suggested their potential for understanding activities on the site. Each yard contained a shallow depression filled with occupational debris. He proposed that a 6-by-6 foot area of brick and stone paving on the northwest side may have been the base of a small shelter, possibly used for dairying. Extending down from the southeast corner towards the garden was a drainage ditch. Sanford noted that its fill contained higher amounts of iron and metal-working debris than any other domestic quarter on the Row.
Shumate, who joined the Monticello field crew in the mid-1980s, subsequent to the excavation of Building o, tangentially touched on Building o in his master's thesis (Shumate 1992). He observed that the configuration of wall fragments suggested that more than one building episode could be represented at the site. He urged that additional stratigraphic and artifactual analysis be undertaken; reliance on a single document-the Mutual Assurance Declaration-tended to prejudice interpretation and obscure the rich depositional history.
Recent reanalysis using DAACS data bears out Shumate's suspicion (Arendt 2003; Arendt and Sawyer 2002; Galle and Neiman 2002; Grillo 2002; Hill 2002a and 2002b; Neiman et al. 2003). The three surviving fragments of stone foundation walls represent two distinct episodes of construction. Based on ceramic dates, the first log cabin went up in the 1770s. This earlier structure had been destroyed by the early 1790s and replaced by the 20.5-by-12 foot Building o Jefferson described in 1796. Construction and use of the second cabin obliterated almost all features of the first dwelling. Building o had a large, 5-by-8 foot sub-floor pit, suggesting use by a single family or closely related group of people (Neiman 1997). The placement of the contemporaneous brick-lined pit implies that the eastern gable end contained the heat source.
As Kelso noted, a layer of subsoil fill encapsulated the features associated with Building o and its predecessor. The source of the deposit, however, is more likely the excavation in 1801 of the hillside between the mansion and the South Pavilion for the construction of the south dependency wing rather than the later garden excavation. The early nineteenth-century artifacts contained in the fill might have been deposited with trash onto the site. An alternative explanation is that they represent the remains of a third log cabin, which rested directly on the ground and has left no architectural trace.
The fine-grained recataloguing of the Mulberry Row assemblage under DAACS prompts researchers to readdress previous conclusions and formulate new questions. Comparison of the assemblage of Building o with Buildings l, r, s, and t reveals a complex picture of the behavior of slaves living on Mulberry Row. Preliminary studies suggest that the surviving objects at Building o do not appear to be of superior quality or quantity than other Mulberry Row sites, but are different. Variation in the kinds of artifacts (for example, buttons and ceramics) at each site appear to be a function of both changes in the offerings of the market place and the motivation of the choices made by slaves. (Arendt 2003; Heath 2003; Neiman et al. 2003; Olson 2003).