Site 7 is located on the ridge of Monticello Mountain as it descends east toward the Rivanna River. The fields on Monticello Mountain were the home farm and one of the four quarter farms of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Plantation. Shadwell, Tufton, and Lego were the outlying quarter farms. In the previous generation the fields on Monticello Mountain were a quarter farm for Peter Jefferson’s Shadwell Plantation, and Site 7 was that outlying quarter farm’s one known domestic site from c.1750-1770. During Thomas Jefferson’s first configuration of the Monticello Plantation, Site 7 and its sister site, Site 8, housed the majority of enslaved field hands on the Monticello home farm, with a slave occupation at Site 7 during the 1770s and 1780s. A Monticello overseer or a succession of plantation overseers also lived at Site 7 during this period until c.1805, and the area was subsequently plowed. Evidence for one structure has been identified on Site 7, and it is likely that there are other undiscovered houses there (Bon-Harper et al. 2004; Bon-Harper and Wheeler 2005a 2005b, , 2006). Site 8, also in the DAACS database, is located 130 feet southeast of Site 7 and was occupied by Monticello slaves from about 1770 to about 1800.
Sites 7 and 8 likely functioned as parts of a single settlement during the early Monticello period. Although we present the sites as separate to allow flexibility, they can also be analyzed together. They share a grid system and single sequences of quadrat, feature, and house numbers, and were excavated using the same sampling strategies.
The most certain historic references to Site 7 are of the Monticello period overseer’s house. On 23 October 1778 Jefferson noted distances to plantation landmarks from the door of the Monticello mansion. Among the landmarks is an overseer’s house, calculated at .5 mile from the main house, which is the actual distance between Site 7 and the mansion (Jefferson 1766-1824, page 23).
A Garden Book entry from 28 September 1791 describes a planned road from Secretary’s Ford. This road was to meet Jefferson’s East Road, coming out near the overseer’s house: “Estimate of a road rising 1.f. in 10.f. from the Secretary’s ford….to the plantation fence 264. yds. [so far thro’ woods.] into the road about 200 yds above Overseer’s house 426.yds thro’ the open feild [sic]” (Jefferson 1766-1824, page 26). When plotted on a map, this fits the location of Site 7.
A little more than a year later a letter dated 12 December 1792 from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Biddle details some of the living and work conditions that Biddle, a prospective overseer, would encounter at Monticello. Jefferson writes that “…The house wherein you will live will be about half a mile from my own”, referring to the overseer’s house on Site 7 and again matching the actual distance between Site 7 and the Monticello mansion (Boyd et al., vol. 24: 724-725). This letter also identifies one of the overseers who presumably occupied the house. Biddle did come to Monticello and served as overseer from 1793-4.
Starting in the early 1790s Jefferson undertook a program of surveying his plantation. Among these surveys, the earliest reference to Site 7 is from 15 October 1793, in which the overseer’s house and a nearby “old cherry” tree are landmarks on which a bearing and distance are anchored (Jefferson: N196, N194).
Further references include an undated plat and corresponding survey notes in Jefferson’s hand showing a small square, which was Jefferson’s indication of a simple house, along the south side of Farm Road at Site 7; the nearby old cherry tree is also noted (Jefferson: N209). The presence of the North Road suggests that the plat post-dates August 1806.
Jefferson’s survey notes from May 10, 1809 began “…at a cherry tree on the S. edge of the road near the site of the former overseer’s house” (Jefferson: N213), which could be read as either the house of the former overseer, or more likely, the location (or perhaps previous location, if the building were either gone or derelict) of the structure that had formerly served as an overseer’s house. By that time, indicated on the same set of survey notes, there was a new overseer’s house further down Monticello Mountain toward the Meadow Branch (note: this new overseer’s house was identified by the Monticello Plantation Archaeological Survey and is called Site 17 in Monticello Department of Archaeology files). Further supporting this interpretation, artifacts from Site 7 indicate that occupation ended there c.1805 or very shortly thereafter.
Susan Kern’s doctoral dissertation on Peter Jefferson’s Shadwell Plantation suggests how documents associated with the administration of Peter Jefferson’s estate may shed light on the Shadwell-period occupation at Site 7. Extrapolating from multiple sources including Peter Jefferson’s account book and his probate inventory, Kern suggests that the lists of enslaved individuals appearing in P. Jefferson’s documents are groups that can be interpreted as residents of the quarter farms of the Shadwell plantation, and that one group can be tentatively identified as living on Monticello Mountain. Since the one known Shadwell-era occupation on Monticello Mountain is Site 7, the inference is that we may have a list of names of individuals living at that site (Kern 2005:213-223). Kern also interprets an overseer named Joseph Dawson as living with the group she assigns to Site 7, which places the construction of a two-celled slave dwelling built in 1753 “at Jos. Dawsons” on Site 7 as well. (Kern 2005:219). While physical evidence for a two-celled structure has not been found at Site 7, Kern’s interpretations may eventually be corroborated archaeologically.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
Site 7 was identified by Monticello archaeologists during the 1997 season of the Monticello Plantation Archaeological Survey during a systematic 40-foot STP coverage of the mountain. At Site 7, 20-foot interval STPs were placed over the site in two pairs of intersecting north-south and east-west transects, determining the site’s edges and identifying high-density artifact areas (Bon-Harper et al. 2003; Wheeler et al. 1998). Quadrat excavation was conducted during the summer seasons of 1997-99 and again in 2004 and 2006. Excavation initially sampled the site to the limits of the artifact scatter, and then pursued areas of interest as indicated by features or artifact densities. To date, 134 quadrats have been excavated on Site 7 by staff of the Monticello Department of Archaeology and students in the Monticello-University of Virginia Archaeological Field School. There are 132 5 x 5 foot quadrats and two 2.5 x 2.5 foot quadrats that were excavated on Site 7 in 1997 to ground-truth an anomaly identified by magnetometry. The anomaly was produced by bedrock close to the surface, rather than any anthropogenic factor.
Agricultural plowing began on Site 7 c.1800-1805 and continued through the nineteenth century. The research strategy for Site 7 was conceived specifically for the excavation and eventual analysis of plowed deposits. The sampling strategy was a randomly chosen 5 x 5 foot quadrat within each 20-foot grid unit on the site area defined by artifact distribution, with additional quadrats excavated in areas of interest, either around identified features, or as indicated by artifact distributions. This stratified random sample provided spatial sampling of both high and low artifact density areas within the scatter, and has allowed the examination of both house and yard areas on the site (Bon-Harper and Wheeler 2005a).
A twentieth-century borrow pit removed a 60 x 70 foot area of plowzone and underlying B Horizon soils just south of the current farm road that runs through Site 7. From testing around the borrow pit, we know that this is the most likely location of the Monticello-period overseer’s house.
All sediment from excavation that was not saved for water screening or off-site analysis (chemical, phytolith, pollen, e.g.) was screened through quarter-inch mesh. Samples from plowzone contexts were regularly water screened through window screen mesh until 2003, when it was determined that the return of unique data, artifact classes not also represented in dry screening, was minimal. Chemical and phytolith samples were taken from the corners of excavation quadrats; some of these have been analyzed and some archived. The sediment from cultural features and potentially cultural features was collected for flotation, processed at the Monticello Department of Archaeology Laboratory, and the residues sent out for specialist interpretation.
Summary of research and analysis
The lone identified house on Site 7 is the earliest of the historic structure on Sites 7 and 8. The footprint of this Shadwell-period house (House 5) has not been defined in excavation. It was likely sill construction, without any foundations or posts in the ground. The evidence for the house is just north of the current path of the Farm Road, and consists of a scatter of cobbles and bricks from a chimney base. The artifact assemblages from the quadrats around this house contribute its mid-eighteenth century date and association with an outlying farm from Peter Jefferson’s Shadwell plantation. No subfloor pits have been identified, although a quadrant of the cobble scatter was excavated (as Feature 14) during the 2006 field season.
A basin-shaped anthropogenic feature (Feature 10) was partially excavated in the central area of Site 7 in 2006. Due to its shallowness and sloping profile, it is interpreted as a source pit for clay used in chinking log houses.
A correspondence analysis of the plowzone artifacts of the site showed that the ceramic assemblages from excavated quadrats fell into three major groups that were spatially contiguous: a mid-eighteenth century group north of the current Farm Road, and two later eighteenth-century groups south of the road (Neiman and Smith 2005). The northern of the two later groups is adjacent to the modern borrow pit and was probably the location of the Monticello era overseer’s house. The southern one is the location of an unknown number of slaves’ dwellings.
The artifacts excavated prior to 2006 were analyzed in Jillian Galle’s doctoral thesis (Galle 2006). Her work found that the Site 7 assemblage contained more costly consumer goods than were present at other slaves’ dwellings at the time, fitting with the historic knowledge that an overseer was present during the site’s occupation.
Analysis of the ceramics excavated prior to 2006 were subsequently included in a conference paper by members of the Monticello Department of Archaeology following Galle’s analytical methods (Smith, Neiman and Galle 2006). This research revealed that the House 5 assemblage had more costly ceramics than other slave dwellings of the time, perhaps indicating that this house may have been an overseer’s rather than that of enslaved field hands. In that case, one or more slaves’ dwellings from this earlier period have yet to be discovered elsewhere on the site. A significant concentration of mid-eighteenth century artifacts along the western edge of the site may be the location of such a house or its midden, but even with specific testing in that area in 2006, no house has been found there. Smith et al.’s research supports Susan Kern’s interpretation of both an overseer’s and multiple slaves’ dwellings at Site 7 during the Shadwell period, and is intended as a future research direction in Monticello’s Department of Archaeology.