Building D/j (Smith/Nailers Shop)
Buildings D and j functioned as the blacksmith shop and adjacent nailery on Mulberry Row. Building D, the blacksmith shop, was a substantial frame structure with a stone floor that may have been covered with clay. On the other hand, Building j, used as the nailery, was a post-in-ground "shed" with a dirt floor. Building j was attached to the eastern end of Building D, which was already standing. These two structures were first uncovered in 1957 by Oriol Pi-Sunyer and identified using Jefferson's 1796 Mutual Assurance Declaration. William Kelso first encountered the stone floor of Building D during his 1979 excavation of the garden fence line. Full excavations of Buildings D and j were conducted by Kelso in the 1980s. Artifacts indicate blacksmithing and nail-making activities occurred in both buildings. Domestic artifacts from Building j suggest some domestic activity took place there as well.
Limited documentary evidence exists for both Buildings D and j. It is unclear exactly when Building D was constructed, but documents referring to nail manufacture began in 1794 suggest the structure was built around that time (Evans 1987). The first mention of nail manufacture was a notation in Jefferson's 1791-1803 account book (Jefferson 1791-1803):
"recd. 40. bundles of nail rod from Caleb Lownes. 1 ton."
In an October 30, 1794 letter to Henry Remsen, Jefferson (Betts 1987:429) stated,
"I am so much immersed in farming and nail-making (for I have set up a Nailery) that politicks are entirely banished from my mind."
Both Building D and Building j were described in Jefferson's 1796 Mutual Assurance Declaration, even though Building j had not yet been constructed:
"D is a smith and nailer's shop 37. by 18.f. the walls and roof of wood."
"j. is a shed to be added to D. 50. feet by 18.f. for the nailers, to be built immediately, and making one building with D it is included in the valuation of D. as if it were already built, and is part of the ensured property"
Jefferson's statements on the Declaration suggest that Building D housed both the blacksmithing and nail-making operations until Building j could be constructed. No documents record the actual construction or use of Building j, so exact dates of occupation are unknown. Current researchers believe that Building j was constructed soon after the 1796 Declaration was written and was in use until the early 1800s. Numerous documents discuss nail-making activities and the enslaved individuals who were involved, although they do not directly state which building was used at the time (McVey 2011).
At some point in the 1790s, Jefferson produced a detailed, scaled plan of a nailery. The plan (Jefferson: N191) shows the locations of two pairs of forges, with four anvil locations on each side of the paired forges, occupying one end of the building. At the other end is a fireplace and a single larger forge and anvil location. The planned building is 37-by-18 feet, dimensions that match those of Building D. However, it is not clear that the plan shows building D, as it was actually constructed and used.
Enslaved Blacksmiths and Nailers:
In 1794 Jefferson began a nail manufacturing enterprise staffed by enslaved boys aged 10 to 16, although some worked as nailers until the age of 21. These "nail boys" crafted nails by hand for twelve hours a day, six days a week, in dirty, unpleasant conditions. Jefferson was enthusiastic about his nail-making business, bragging about it in letters to friends and personally supervising the operation during the first three years. Early on, he measured out the boys' allotment of nailrod in the morning and returned in the evening to determine how much rod was wasted by each boy. The boys' nailrod waste was recorded so that Jefferson could ascertain the efficiency of each individual. Incidents of disobedience are documented in letters between Jefferson and his overseers (Stanton 1996, 2000).
In addition to wrought nails, one nail boy was assigned to make cut nails with a nail cutting machine that arrived in February 1796. This machine used hoop iron to create small four-penny brads. A concentration of hoop iron and cut nails was found along the southern wall of Building j during Kelso's excavation, particularly Quadrats 162 and 163, hinting at the machine's location within the structure and attesting to its use during the building's lifetime (Sanford 1984).
Jefferson's extensive records and letters to his hired workman provide some information on the enslaved individuals who may have worked in Buildings D and j. George, also known as Little George, was an enslaved African American trained in blacksmithing by Francis Bishop and William Orr, both white hired workmen. He ran Monticello's blacksmith shop from 1783 to his death in 1799. Jefferson's blacksmithing records show George engaged in many activities, including shoeing horses, repairing agricultural tools, making parts for vehicles and guns, and making spoons, bridle bits, axes, and scythes (Stanton 2000). George was selected to be the first manager of Jefferson's nail-making business in 1794 and even received a small portion of its profits.
Isaac Jefferson, another enslaved man, learned the blacksmithing trade from his older brother George. In the early 1790s he studied tinsmithing during an apprenticeship in Philadelphia. Upon his return to Monticello he established a tinsmithing shop. When Monticello's tinsmithing operation failed, Isaac returned to nailmaking and blacksmithing. He became one of the most productive nail-makers in Jefferson's nail-manufacturing business. In adulthood he focused on blacksmithing work. Isaac gained his freedom in an unknown manner in the 1820s and left Monticello for Richmond. He was still working as a blacksmith in Petersburg, Virginia in 1847 at the age of seventy-one (Stanton 2000).
Joe Fossett started his training in metalworking as an enslaved nail boy in Jefferson's nail-manufacturing operation. He became one of the most efficient nailers and soon was selected to be the foreman, in charge of the work of the other boys. He was trained in blacksmithing primarily by William Stewart, a white hired workman (see Stewart-Watkins site background page). As a blacksmith, Joe was allowed to keep one-sixth of the blacksmith shop's profits as well as profits from the sale of other iron objects he made in his spare time. Joe was one of five slaves officially freed in Jefferson's will (Stanton 2000).
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
In 1957, Oriol Pi-Sunyer (1957) directed the first excavations along Mulberry Row. He dug two parallel trenches along the length of Mulberry Row in order to locate and identify the original buildings used during Jefferson's lifetime. He located both Building D and Building j. Building D was identified primarily by the cobble pavement that underlay the floor. After uncovering a section of closely-packed stone in both trenches, Pi-Sunyer excavated the area between the trenches and revealed the pavement covered an area 37-feet long and 18-feet wide. He recognized the pavement was associated with Building D and postulated that a packed clay layer may have covered the stones and served as the working floor. Pi-Sunyer also excavated a T-shaped test pit into the pavement, removing a large section of cobbles.
Pi-Sunyer's work provided the first confirmation that Building j had actually been built and used. The extent of his investigation of Building j is unclear. The records of his excavation do not specifically state that he excavated beyond the two trenches where they crossed Building j. Still, his excavation report suggests that he cleared a large area. In the report, he recounted finding an occupation area that matches the description of a nailer's addition, measuring 50-feet long by 18-feet wide, Jefferson provided in the Declaration. Further, records of Kelso's later excavation of Building j note fill from the 1957 excavation covering a wide area. Although Pi-Sunyer found the occupation layer, he did not excavate it. He did report finding ceramics, glass, tools, and many metal objects during his investigation (Pi-Sunyer 1957).
William Kelso led later excavations of both structures. In 1982-1983, his team excavated Building j along with Douglas Sanford (Sanford 1984). First, a grid system of eight-foot squares separated by two-foot-wide baulk walls was used to remove the modern strata, backfill from Pi-Sunyer's excavation, and backfill from Kelso's previous 1979 excavation of the adjacent fence line. Once he reached the occupation layer, Kelso switched to a grid of four-foot squares and two-foot-wide baulk walls. This smaller grid system allowed for better spatial control of the artifacts. Three strata were recognized within the occupation layer. The upper occupation level was named AA and the lower level was named AB. A third zone, named AC, was a dense charcoal deposit associated with several pits interpreted to be holes for anvil posts. Features included anvil pits, forge depressions, and postholes. Two forges were probably located in the western half of the structure, evidenced by brick and stone remains surrounded by nails, nailrod, charcoal, and clinker. The excavators noted two roughtly circular arrangements of anvil pots in the eastern half of the building and suggested that two more forges stood near their centers. Artifacts recovered included not only metal working debris, but also domesitc artifacts, including ceramics, bottle glass, and faunal remains (Sanford 1984).
Although it is adjacent to Building j, Building D was not fully excavated by Kelso until 1986 (Evans 1987). He first encountered the southern edge of the stone platform during his excavation of the garden fence line in 1979. During the 1986 excavation of Building D, a grid system of eight-foot squares and eight-foot long by two-foot wide balk walls was used. A smaller grid system was not needed because very little of the undisturbed occupation layer remained from Pi-Sunyer's 1957 work. Some parts of the original occupation layer appeared intermittently across the site and were recorded and mapped as individual features. Postholes, possible forge depressions, and anvil pits were found at the site. In addition, a trench was uncovered at the northern edge of Building D. It may have been created during the process of leveling the land before the construction of Building D. After the structure was completed, the builder's trench was lined with small, flat stones and repurposed as a drainage ditch (Evans 1987). As before, Kelso did not screen for artifacts during excavation.
Summary of research and analysis
Sanford (1984) wrote the site report for Kelso's 1982-1983 Building j excavation. Sanford argued that Building j was constructed in 1809 or after because postholes from the 1809 fence line corresponded to the southern wall of the structure. Based on this interpretation, he called Building j "a post constructed addition to an existing fence" (Sanford 1984:35). Sanford analyzed distribution maps of some artifact types to better locate specific work areas. Although Jefferson's records showed that the nailers usually made one size of nail each, the distributions of different sized nails varied in only minor ways. Anvil and hardy wasters were found in both the eastern and western ends of Building j. Combining these two findings, Sanford concluded that nail production occurred on both ends of the building, with one of the western forges (named Forge 3) used for both nail-making and blacksmithing. This differs from the strict nail-making/blacksmithing dichotomy drawn in Jefferson's "Plan for a Nailery." Sanford argued that longer or more intense nail production occurred at one of the eastern forges (called Forge 2) because of the uniform placement of anvils around the forge and the consistency in nail-related artifact distributions from earlier to later occupation layers. An open area in the center of the structure may have been used as a work and storage space. Concentrations of window glass in the southeastern and eastern parts of the building point to possible window locations. Sanford inferred that the lack of support posts for bellows meant that the bellows were suspended from the upper framing of Building j. He also concluded that the nail boys ate meals in one area because most of the domestic debris was located in the eastern half of the building.
Evans (1987) detailed Kelso's excavation of Building D in her report. She agreed with Pi-Sunyer that a clay floor likely covered the stone floor found archaeologically, although this clay floor was not found during excavation by either Kelso or Pi-Sunyer.
In 2002, Martha Hill (2002a, 2002b) summarized the archaeological and documentary evidence for both Buildings D and j. She noted that there is no documentary or archaeological evidence for blacksmithing or nail-making on the mountaintop until Jefferson's first retirement in the 1790s. Hill pointed out that the complexity of the Building j site can be problematic for those trying to understand the function and patterns of features, particularly postholes. She disagreed with Sanford's interpretation that the structure was not erected until after the 1809 fence was installed. Instead, she proposed that the structure was built earlier, probably in the mid-1790s, and may have been made by attaching a roof and additional walls to an existing fence. She therefore reasoned that any relationship between the Building j posts and the 1809 fence line posts would be due to reuse of the building's posts for the new fence line. She stated that it is likely that both Buildings D and j were gone by 1803.
Following Kelso's (1997) hypothesis that the nail boys lived in Building j at least some of the time, McVey (2011) analyzed the domestic artifacts from Building j in her master's thesis. The analysis focused on the remains of food production and consumption activities, specifically ceramics, glass, and utensils. The artifacts from Building j were compared to artifacts from domestic and industrial sites on Monticello plantation, including Building D. She found that Building j had abundances of food consumption-type artifacts, such as ceramic plates, that were as high as the abundances of those same types of items from domestic sites on Monticello plantation. In contrast, Building j had very low abundances of food production/storage artifacts compared to those same domestic sites. The abundances of food production/storage artifacts were more similar to the low abundances found at industrial sites like Building D. These results suggest the nail boys were frequently eating meals in Building j but perhaps did not prepare their food there.