Building r was one of three, one-room log cabins (Buildings r, s, and t) built in the mid-1790s along the eastern extension of Monticello's Mulberry Row. Kelso's excavation in 1983 discovered that, with the exception of artifacts deposited on the southern, downslope portion of the site, most of the 1558 square foot area of the Building r site had been profoundly disturbed by two episodes of 20th-century road work. Consequently, inferences about the appearance of the structure depend on Jefferson's 1796 plat and the more intact features of the adjacent Building s site. Of particular significance for the history of African-Americans living at Monticello is the documentary link between Building r and known individuals: Critta Hemings, her brother John Hemings, and his wife Priscilla.
The Kelso excavation of the Building r site also uncovered four brick piers (F02-04), remains of a post-Jefferson, Levy family era (1834-1923) structure. Two of the six supports of the 12' X 20' structure fall within the contiguous Building s site (F22-23). Analysis of the related assemblages has not been undertaken, but a c.1912 photograph from the Jefferson Library archives provides a glimpse of a wooden building in this location with a narrow brick stack.
In September of 1792, Jefferson wrote to his overseer from Washington:
Five log houses are to be built at the places I have marked out, of chesnut logs, hewed on two sides and split with the saw, and dove tailed…They are to be covered and lofted with slabs…Racks and mangers in three of them for stables (Boyd 1950, vol. 24:412-414).
The following spring, Jefferson instructed his son-in-law and steward, Thomas Mann Randolph (Boyd 1950, vol. 26:65), to move enslaved house servants out of the stone Workmen's House (now known as the Weaver's Cottage) into the new log houses. He specified that Critta Hemings (sister to Sally Hemings) should have the "one nearest the house," that is, the one later designated as Building r. Randolph wrote back in August (Boyd 1950, vol. 26:667) to report that construction had not yet begun but would be accomplished after harvest.
Three cabins for slaves, rather than two, were finally built as indicated by Jefferson’s description on his Mutual Assurance Declaration in 1796:
From q. it is 75. feet to r. which as well as s. and t. are servants houses of wood with wooden chimnies, & earth floors, 12. by 14. feet, each and 27. feet apart from one another. From t. it is 85 feet to F. the [three-part wooden] stable.
By 1808, with the completion of Monticello’s south dependencies, some house servants, i.e., the cook Peter Hemings and probably his sisters, Sally and Critta, moved with their families into the three heated quarters of the new wing, next to the new kitchen, smokehouse, and dairy (Stanton 2000:113).
Archaeological evidence indicates that Building r continued to be used until Monticello was sold in 1831. Documents suggest that by the 1820s—and possibly as early as 1809—John Hemings, skilled joiner and carpenter, probably occupied this small cabin with his wife Priscilla Hemings, nurse to Jefferson’s grandchildren (Hill 2002a and b). Surviving letters identify some of the objects in the Hemings’ cabin: a piece of case furniture; a bedstead; part of the harness for a draft animal; a packet of seeds; a prayer book; a looking glass; and mourning paraphernalia at the time of Priscilla’s death—a black cravat, a crepe hat band, and a lock of Priscilla’s hair.
Excavation history, procedure, and methods
The first archaeological probe into the area of Building r was a test trench (ER 521) opened in 1982 to assess the survival of Jefferson-period sites in the area of a WPA-era parking lot at the eastern end of Mulberry Row. Kelso determined the placement of the test trench by measuring from the extant Workmen’s House (Building e or Weaver’s Cottage) using distances specified in the 1796 Mutual Assurance plat. The following year he removed the entire paving by mechanical means, along with rubble from an underlying 1925 parking lot and a layer of furnace by-products. Kelso gridded off the exposed area in 10’ X 10’ units leaving 2’ balks. Excavation initially proceeded in 8’ X 8’ units, using a method of careful troweling; removal of the balks resulted in quadrats of 8’ X 8’ and 2’ X 2’.
The 1983 archaeological work revealed that much of the original living surface of Building r had been removed by the early 20th-century construction, including the cabin’s floor, foundation, and possible sub-floor pit. However, some related artifacts seemed to have escaped the steam shovels, primarily those deposited on the sloping southern portion of the site. Intruding into the destroyed 18th-century living surface, the bases of a number of postholes and molds also survived. Several episodes of fencing were represented by these features, including the 1809 paling surrounding Jefferson’s second vegetable garden (F16-19), a 20th-century fence line associated with the parking lot (F11-15), and a fence line (F06-10, F20-23, and possibly others) enclosing the yard of a post-Jefferson, 19th-century building set on brick piers. Recovery of evidence of Building r had been anticipated by excavators. The appearance of the remains of this additional building on the site was a surprise. Six brick piers, straddling the sites of Building r (F02-05) and s (Building s site: F22-23), mark the remains of a 12’ X 20’ structure. A search of the archives recovered a photograph of the structure dating to the period of ownership of Monticello by the Levy family. Its location and narrow brick chimney suggest a domestic function, but analysis of the artifact assemblage has not yet been undertaken.
Summary of research and analysis
Interpretation of the appearance of Building r has been inferred from the better preserved site of Building s and from documents that link construction of the two buildings. Until recently, the degree of disturbance of the Building r site has daunted attempts to use recovered artifacts for any other purpose than determining probable dates of construction and destruction. Preliminary analysis using DAACS data suggest that, despite the profound disturbance of much of the site, the assemblage can be used to make inferences about the behavior of the residents of Building r. Data on the artifacts associated with the 19th-century pier building are included in the DAACS database but have not been studied yet.
Using Jefferson’s Mutual Assurance plat, Kelso determined that Buildings r, s, and t were similar in appearance. He summarized his conclusions in an isometric drawing (1997:60, fig. 21). Combining observations about the exposed features of the Building s site (F01-03) in combination with surviving Jefferson documents, he determined that Building r had been a 12’ X 14’ one-room log cabin with an earthen floor and wattle-and-daub exterior end chimney. He based the date and manner of construction of all three structures on the 1792 letter from Jefferson to Clarkson cited above. However, later documents attest that these buildings were not constructed until at least two years later. Evidence from the Building s site shows that the method may have varied from Jefferson’s wishes, at least in the selection of species of timber; the archaeologically recovered fragment of wooden sill from Building s is Southern yellow pine, rather than chestnut as originally specified by Jefferson.
Sanford (in Kelso et al. 1985:181, 196-199; 1995:18-23) tentatively dated the Building r site to 1793-1809. He based the construction date on Jefferson documents and the destruction date on the proximity of the 1809 fence line. He argued that the placement of the postholes (F16-19) precluded the persistence of the dwelling after the garden was leveled and fenced in 1808-1809. However, the fence stood in the same relationship to Building s, which, based on associated ceramics, he believed to be occupied until Jefferson’s death.
Gruber (in Kelso et al. 1985; 1990; 1991) used archaeological evidence from Buildings r, s, and t collectively to address the issue of how much influence slaves exercised in the shaping of their domestic environments. She concluded that Jefferson controlled the size, placement, and form of the cabins in which slaves lived. Residents of Mulberry Row benefited from living in proximity to Jefferson’s mansion in that they received leftovers and cast-offs of better quality than that provided for field workers.
Preliminary DAACS analysis of the artifacts recovered from the sloping southern portion of the Building r site suggests that Building r was occupied from the documented c.1794 date until the sale of Monticello in 1831. The assemblage also offers the potential to discern important insights into the behavior of the enslaved people who lived there.
In contrast to the barracks-style housing provided for enslaved people on Mulberry Row in the 1770s, e.g., phase I of the Building o site and the Negro Quarter at the Building t site, Jefferson intended the quarters he constructed in the 1790s, i.e., Buildings r, s, and t, to house a single family each. This represents an important shift in the conditions of some enslaved people that occurred as a consequence of political and agricultural changes after the American Revolution (Neiman 1997 1998, ). The quality and quantity of ceramics present at Building r also attest to the ability and interest of some slaves to negotiate improvements in their conditions and to participate in the emerging consumer culture (Arendt 2003; Galle and Neiman 2003; Neiman et al. 2003; Olson 2003).