Spanning 200 years of occupation, the West Kitchen Yard area is one of the most artifact-rich archaeological sites excavated at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. This site, located just to the south of Monticello’s southern wing of dependencies includes deposits from three large features: the Dry Well, Mulberry Row Structure 1 (MRS-1), and a large ditch feature. The Dry Well, or large cold-storage feature, is dominated by early Jefferson-period household refuse, while the rest of the yard features are a mixture of deposits from the kitchen, South Dependency slave quarters, landscaping projects, and the MRS-1 structure.
This photograph is an overhead view of the West Kitchen Yard excavations, facing northeast. Taken near the end of excavations, the Dry Well is in the foreground, the MRS-1 (F11) stone foundation is to the south, and the ditch (F05) is to the north. The South Dependency wing of the Monticello mansion is visible in the background. Under the direction of Dr. William Kelso, this block excavation included over 45 excavation units, over 350 individual archaeological contexts, and recovered more than 100,000 artifacts over the course of three field seasons from 1979 to 1981.
Recent re-analysis of the West Kitchen Yard excavations conducted in the 1980s by Kelso established a robust relative chronology for the features of this site. The Dry Well (F01) was the earliest of the three major features, followed by the ditch (F05), and then MRS-1 (F11). Furthermore, the MRS-1 assemblages were contemporary with a small assemblage from the Ha-Ha (F17). More information about this site’s chronology can be found on the DAACS Chronology page for the West Kitchen Yard.
This gallery includes artifact images, photographs, site maps, and Jefferson documents pertaining to the West Kitchen Yard Excavations. Here we specifically focus on the Dry Well feature, which not only includes some of the more remarkable artifacts from this site, but is also the feature best understood after our reanalysis project. The Dry Well is the only feature that can be directly linked to Jefferson-era documents that indicate its construction occurred between 1770 and 1771. It was built close to the South Pavilion, one of the few other structures standing at the time and where Jefferson and his wife Martha first lived on the mountain. The documents are silent as to when the Dry Well was filled, yet analysis using ceramics data from the Dry Well assemblages indicate that it was likely filled by c.1780. As you can read about in the Historical Documents section on the DAACS Background page, the Dry Well was abandoned after Jefferson constructed his final dependency wings for the mansion in other locations.
Analysis indicates that the Dry Well was likely filled fairly quickly with sediment from diverse sources.1 There is no indication that this feature caved in or was filled through erosion processes. In addition, there is no evidence that it was partially filled and then left open for any period of time prior to its final filling. Had this been the case, evidence for erosion along the walls of the feature or deposits resulting in the accumulation of eroded soils would have been identifiable.
Furthermore, the different strata, or layers, of sediment in the Dry Well were visually distinct and comprised of a variety of sediments harking from different original sources. Some deposits consisted of kitchen refuse, identifiable not only by the large quantity of faunal and cooking-related artifacts within them, but by the rich organic loam and charcoal-rich matrix that surrounded them. Other deposits consisted of construction debris and sediments such as dense clay dug out from other parts of the mountain likely during the construction of the mansion’s cellars. However, many deposits were comprised of a mixture of refuse and sediments likely from other trash sources that were all gathered and mixed together to fill the extremely large Dry Well feature after it was abandoned. This secondary deposition often makes it difficult to ascertain what the original sources of the deposits were and therefore who were the original users of the objects found within those deposits.
The artifacts found within the Dry Well do provide us with an insightful glimpse into those who lived at Monticello during its earliest days. Since it was in use for a short period of time and filled rapidly, the Dry Well contains artifacts from a very narrow time span. Additionally, the size and depth of this feature ensured that it was not significantly disturbed after it was filled. Therefore many nearly intact objects were recovered. This gallery features several of these items.
Given the complexity of the entire West Kitchen Yard site, it is a challenge to unravel the history of the site. Here we present some of the most visually compelling artifacts, with the knowledge that tens-of-thousands more came from this site. We encourage visitors to this website to explore these data and do their own analysis using more detailed data provided throughout the archive. Read detailed site descriptions and interpretations here and explore all the archaeological data using the Query Module.
Artifact photographs in this gallery by Karen E. Price, George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
West Kitchen Yard Composite Site Map
- Lynsey Bates, Elizabeth Sawyer, and Donald Gaylord
After scanning and digitizing all end-of-excavation maps generated by the original excavators, Monticello staff created this digital composite site map for the West Kitchen Yard. It includes all of the test units excavated under the direction of Dr. William Kelso over the course of three field seasons from 1979 to 1981. Beginning in 1979, Kelso dug several large test trenches, aligned east-west and seen on this map underlying the later square test units that encountered several large features. In 1980, Kelso returned to the area and conducted a block excavation using the Wheeler Box method creating 8-by-8-foot units with 2-foot balks between them. The Dry Well (F01) and the ditch feature (F05) were exposed and excavated during the 1980-1981 excavations. In the same season, the MRS-1 (F11) stone foundation was completely exposed and at least four samples of the foundation were removed, one from each of the four walls. Numerous other small features and fill deposits were also excavated.
Original Southern Wing of Offices Plan Drawing: N-59
- Thomas Jefferson
- c. 1770
- The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
During the early construction and landscaping of the Monticello mountaintop, Thomas Jefferson drafted several plan drawings for the layout of his mansion and the accompanying dependencies, or essential service rooms. Included in these plans are references and depictions of a “dry well,” or deep cold food storage area resembling an ice house that did not use ice.
Conjectural drawings by Jefferson dating to the 1770s depict a “dry well” in the same location as the pit discovered by Dr. William Kelso in the West Kitchen Yard.1 A hand-drawn sketch from about 1770 shows an L-shaped wing, comprised of an above-ground covered passage extending to the south from the South Pavilion and leading to a row of connected dependencies stretching to the west.2 The rooms labeled on this plan include a laundry, dairy, smokehouse, storeroom, hen house, cook’s room, and Dry Well. A hardline drawing, likely completed shortly after the sketch, documents a similar plan.3 The Dry Well is the only part of this plan found to have been constructed in the location depicted. However, some of the other structures drawn on it may lie undetected to the west, outside the limits of Kelso’s excavations.
In an entry in his Memorandum Book from December 1770, Jefferson documented the construction process of the Dry Well, as discussed elsewhere in this gallery. The term “Dry Well” also appears on several other documents from the 1770s. A full summary and discussion of the historical documents pertaining to the Dry Well can be found on the West Kitchen Yard’s Background Page.
These architectural plans and primary sources represent the only historical record of the Dry Well feature. No references have yet been found pertaining to how, why, or when it was abandoned and filled. However, the documents pertaining to the construction of the Dry Well did provide archaeologists with enough information to link what was excavated with what appears in Jefferson’s early documents, thus confidently identifying the large pit feature as the early Dry Well.
1Kelso, William M. Archaeology at Monticello: Artifacts of Everyday Life in the Plantation Community. Monticello Monograph Series. Charlottesville, Virginia: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 1997. p.38.
2Jefferson, Thomas. Studies for plans for dependencies with brick estimates. N59. 1771. CSmH9365. The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
3Jefferson, Thomas. Monticello: dependencies (study plan). N32; K10. N.D. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA. Available: http://www.thomasjeffersonpapers.org
"In Digging my Dry Well"
- Thomas Jefferson
- December 1770
In an entry in his Memorandum Book from December 1770, Jefferson documented the construction process of the Dry Well: “in digging my dry well, at the depth of 14f. I observed one digger, one filler, one drawer at the windlass with a basket at each end of his rope very accurately gave one another full emploiment [sic] but note it was a yellow rotten stone with a great many hard stones as large as a man’s head and some larger, or else the digger would have had time to spare. They dug and drew out 8. cubical yds in a day.”1
This observation must have been recorded slightly prior to the completion of the well, as the excavated Dry Well measured 19 feet deep below the modern grade of the mountaintop. In the Memorandum Book entry Jefferson observes construction at 14 feet. The “yellow rotten stone” that Jefferson refers to is likely decomposing greenstone, which comprises the bedrock of Monticello Mountain. Large “rotten” greenstone and other large boulders were encountered during the Dry Well excavation, possibly from the original soil removed from the Dry Well or from similar bedrock-like soil encountered while constructing the mansion.
1Bear, James A. Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series: Jefferson’s Memorandum Books. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Dry Well Profile After Excavation
- Monticello Archaeology Staff
While excavating the Dry Well, excavators left a small portion of the feature intact and unexcavated. This photograph was taken at the end of the Dry Well excavations, viewing the unexcavated portion of the Well in profile. As one can see, the Dry Well was filled with layer upon layer of sediment. One can envision each of the thin layers visible in the profile as being deposited from different wheel barrows or shovels.
Analysis indicates that the Dry Well was likely filled with sediment from a variety of sources.1 For example, some deposits consisted of kitchen refuse while other deposits consisted of construction debris and sediments dug out from other parts of the mountain likely during the construction of the mansion’s cellars. However, many deposits were comprised of a mixture of refuse and sediments likely from other trash sources that were all gathered and mixed together to fill the extremely large Dry Well feature after it was abandoned. This secondary deposition often makes it difficult to ascertain what the original sources of the deposits were and therefore who were the original users of the objects found within those deposits.
1Clites, Elizabeth and Lynsey Bates. “In Digging My Dry Well”: Examining Early Life on Monticello Mountain. Unpublished paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2008. On file at the Department of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Feather-edge Creamware Tablewares and Basketry
- Press Molded
These creamware plates and serving vessels were unearthed from the Dry Well. The plates and small, ovular platters are decorated with the feather-edge pattern made famous by Josiah Wedgwood. Feather-edged creamware was produced in England and then exported to the Colonies around 1765. The fruit basket has a complex open basketwork and floral design while the tureen lid has a similar twisted handle with sprig-molded floral elements and an additional beaded band around the lip of the lid.
We believe these vessels were used by Jefferson and his wife, Martha Skelton Wayles, in their first home at Monticello, The South Pavilion that was constructedc.1769-1770. Similar to the creamware teawares featured later in this gallery, it appears that someone discarded these plates and serving vessels as a set, or at least many matching vessels were discarded all at once. Significant use-wear patterning on the plates and platters suggests that they were well-used prior to discard. This may be a result of changing fashions. By the late 1770s creamware was growing increasingly unfashionable and those able to do so replaced their creamware with the newest Wedgwood creation: pearlware. It is likely that these well-worn dishes were thrown into the Dry Well when the Jeffersons acquired more fashionable wares.
- Press Molded
- Vessel Height: 65 mm; Rim Diameter: 180 mm; Base diameter: 150 mm
This creamware serving vessel was likely used as a fruit basket. Constructed of intricately woven molded spokes to evoke the impression of basketry, this costly vessel was likely prominently displayed on dining or parlor tables and sideboards when in fashion. Handles on each side of the basket are also ribbed and twisted . Sprig-molded leaves and flowers mask where the handles attach to the body of the basket.
Creamware Tureen Lid
- Press Molded
- Lid Diameter: 220 mm
This creamware tureen lid has a double twisted handle with sprig-molded floral elements where it attaches to the main lid section. There is a delicate beaded band around the lid’s lip. The body of the tureen was not found during excavation.
Creamware Tea Bowls and Saucers
- Press Molded
- Teabowl Rim Diameters: 80mm; Teabowl Base Diameters: 39mm; Teabowl Height: 40mm
Similar to the creamware tablewares represented in this gallery, these creamware teabowls were discarded in the Dry Well at approximately the same time. These thinly-potted teabowls have a finely molded beaded band near the exterior rim and were press molded at one of the earthenware factories in England, possibly the Josiah Wedgwood factory. A saucer with a matching beaded band encircling the interior of the base, pictured here in the center of the top row, was also recovered during excavation.
Teabowls, differing from teacups in that they lack a handle, were popular during the Colonial period. English potters repeatedly attempted to replicate the appearance of the highly-desirable Chinese porcelain–both in paste and form, an teabowl forms are one such example.
White Salt Glaze Stoneware Chocolate Mugs
- Wheel Thrown
- Rim diameter: 80mm; Base diameter: 80mm; Vessel Height: 125mm
Found in the Dry Well, these two finely potted mugs are believed to be examples of chocolate mugs manufactured between c.1750-1760 in Staffordshire England.1 Fragments of a third mug, much more fragmentary and only partially reconstructed after excavation, were also found during the Dry Well excavations. Portions of these mugs were reconstructed in the 1980s using a plaster-like substance, which can be differentiated from the original white salt glaze sherds by its matte appearance.
As with the creamware tablewares, we believe these mugs were used during Jefferson’s occupation in the South Pavilion. As with the creamware table and teawares, it appears that these these white salt glaze mugs were discarded as a set, likely in favor of purchasing more fashionable porcelains and refined earthenwares from England and China.
1Edwards and Hampson. White Salt-glazed Stoneware of the British Isles. Antique Collectors Club Dist., 2005. pg. 169 Figure 132.
Chinese Porcelain Saucer with Moth and Botanical Overglaze Decoration
- Press Molded
- 18th century
- Height: 20mm; Rim diameter: 120mm; Base Diameter: 70mm
Found in the Dry Well, this Chinese export porcelain saucer includes an elaborate botanical band around the interior rim and an intricate depiction of three moths around a white flower on the center of the base. All of the decoration was executed in hand-painted over-glazed enamel, meaning that it was applied after the vessel was fired. While the red and white paints are easily visible, if one looks closely faint remnants of gilt decoration used on the botanical band can also be seen. The pattern name remains unknown.
- Free Blown and Acid Etched
- 18th Century
- Approximate total container height: 245 mm; Base diameter: 90 mm
This thinly-blown, leaded glass decanter held Madeira, a dessert wine that was popular among the elite. The decanter’s acid-etched decoration, including grape vines and a central cartouche labeling the contents as MADEIRA, is typical of high-style glass vessels manufactured in the 1750s or 1760s. Thomas Jefferson imported Madeira throughout his lifetime and served it at Monticello.1
This vessel was excavated from several Dry Well deposits and was thus likely discarded in the late 1770s. Other leaded glass drinking vessels, including numerous stemware fragments, were also found in the Dry Well feature and are featured elsewhere in this gallery. The neck mends to the rest of the body, but the area that attaches the two segments is too small to attach them together and thus is photographed with the two sections adjacent to one another.
1 “Wine.” The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Available: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/wine .
Partially-excavated wine bottles at the bottom of the Dry Well
- Winter 1981
- Monticello Archaeology Staff
During the winter of 1981, after excavating eighteen feet of sediment, Monticello archaeologists believed they were reaching the bottom of the Dry Well, or perhaps had even excavated beyond the original depth of the feature. They were recovering very few artifacts from the thick layer of re-deposited subsoil, which at Monticello consists of orange-colored clay and greenstone, when they revealed dark green glass poking through the clay. Further excavation revealed six intact wine bottles, sitting upright at the bottom of the Dry Well, many with their corks still intact. If this was not enough of a remarkable discovery, when the bottles were fully exposed the archaeologists saw that they were filled with liquid, sediment, and what they would soon discover, Jefferson-era preserved fruit. This photograph shows the bottles in situ, or in place, shortly after they were discovered.
The bottles were removed to the archaeology laboratory, where they were cleaned and photographed and then their contents were carefully removed. The bottles contained small cherries, grapes, and cranberries, many of which were still whole . Some of the fruits had deteriorated and only pits and skin remnants from the fruit remained. The fruit had been blanched and stored in these bottles, likely using methods similar to blanching and canning fruit today. This was a documented practice during the Colonial period1 and other bottles similar to these were found during excavations at Colonial Williamsburg in the 1960s.2 Further analysis indicated that the liquid inside was water, possibly ground water that had slowly seeped in over the centuries.
The bottles themselves are made from dark olive-green glass, sometimes called “black” glass due to the overall dark appearance of the bottle. They were manufactured in England and their size, shape, and style indicates that they were likely manufactured in the 1760s and 1770s. This correlates with the manufacturing date for many of the Dry Well artifacts.
These bottles, their contents, and their location in the Dry Well are significant because they are the only concrete evidence that the Dry Well was used as a cold storage feature prior to the construction of the Monticello cellars. While the other contents of the Dry Well were removed before it was filled in, these bottles were left in place, possibly forgotten or not considered valuable enough to remove.
1Brandau, Rosemary. Early Methods of Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. Food Programs, Crafts Department, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 1985.
2Hume, Ivor Noel. Colonial Williamsburg Archaeological Series No. 3: Archaeology and Wetherburn’s Tavern. Williamsburg: Colonial Wiliamsburg Inc., 1969.
Chinese Porcelain Imari Bowl
- Press Molded
- First through third quarters of the 18th century
- Rim diameter: 165mm; Base Diameter: 76mm; Height: 75mm
Chinese porcelain vessels, in all shapes, sizes, and decorations, were the most fashionable, and expensive, ceramics in 18th century. They were used, displayed and curated by households for longer periods than less-costly, and ultimately more style-senstive British refined earthenwares. They were also more scratch-resistant than their earthenware cousins due to the highly fired- feldspathic glazes. By the 19th century, Chinese export porcelain was less expensive to import, and purchase, resulting in the increased presence of Chinese porcelain, specifically Canton porcelain, in archaeological contexts dating to the 19th century.
This Chinese porcelain bowl, with Imari decoration, would have been exceptionally costly due to its decoration and the effort required to produce it. This bowl displays typical Imari decoration: blue underglaze landscape scene with red and gold overglazed enamel. The exterior landscape scene is comprised of multiple elements, including structures, a bridge, trees, mountains, and other botanical elements. The red and gold overglaze are used on the interior trellis band as well as to highlight botanical features of the landscape scene. The blue decoration was applied prior to the glazing and final firing of the vessel, whereas the enamels were applied over the glaze. The very top of the rim itself also has a simple orange-brown band applied prior to the glazing process. Finally, note that this object includes several replicated pieces added in the 1980s to give the vessel structural integrity and to fill in large gaps for display purposes. These pieces have a more matte appearance than the actual porcelain vessel.
Chinese Porcelain Imari Bowl: Close-up view of exterior scene
- Wheel Thrown
- First through third quarters of the18th century
- Rim Diameter: 165mm; Base Diameter: 76mm; Height: 75mm
This image provides a close look at the interior band decoration on the previously described Chinese Porcelain Imari bowl.
Delft Bowl Fragments
- Wheel Thrown
- 18th century
- England or Holland
These Delft bowl fragments are from a fairly large bowl, similar in size to the Chinese porcelain bowl featured in this gallery. The exterior is hand painted with a botanical motif near the rim and on the body. The flowers may have been created using a cut sponge, creating the splotchy appearance on the petals. Near the base there are unidentifiable decorative elements, possibly depicting a small scene. Underlying the decoration is a blue-tinted, tin enamel glaze that commonly appeared on Delft from this period. Attempting to duplicate the appearance of Chinese porcelain, the dark blue decoration on a pale blue glaze was a popular style in the Colonial period.
Most of the Delft excavated on Monticello Mountain was found, like this object, in the Dry Well. Delft was losing popularity by the time Jefferson began construction on the mountain in 1769 and was being replaced by Chinese porcelain and the newest and most popular ceramics exported from England, namely creamwares.
Cast Iron Pot Lid
- 18th century
- Length: 104 mm; Width: 30.8 mm; Height: 2.9 mm
This cast iron fragment is part of a lid to a cast iron cooking vessel. Found in the Dry Well, it is one example of the kitchen-related artifacts found within a deposit of kitchen refuse. Other kitchen-related artifacts included charred seeds and fruit pits, animal bone fragments, utilitarian food storage vessels, milk pans, and large iron cooking implements.
Kitchen refuse and cooking-related artifacts generate clues to the past culinary and dietary practices. Animal bones found at both the West Kitchen Yard site and along Mulberry Row, recent analysis has provided insights into the diet of those living at Monticello.1
1Sawyer, Elizabeth and Joanne Bowen. Meat Provisioning and Preference at Monticello Plantation. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology in Baltimore, Maryland, 2012. On file at the Department of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia. https://cdn.daacs.org/wp-content/uploads/SawyerBowen2012.pdf
Brick Cornice Stretcher Fragment
- 18th century
- Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia.
- Height: 100mm
During the West Kitchen Yard excavations, numerous brick fragments and complete bricks were unearthed. This is as one would expect, given the proximity of the feature to the South Pavilion and Monticello mansion. Found near the bottom of the Dry Well, the molded brick fragment featured here was originally part of a cornice stretcher brick. Combined with other molded or specialty bricks, cornice stretchers were used at Monticello primarily to create the tops of the chimneys. It is a good example of the specialty bricks used to construct the Monticello mansion.
This partial cornice stretcher brick was likely intended for use in the construction of the South Pavilion or possibly an early alteration to that structure. It was likely discarded either because it was not needed or because it broke prior to, or in the course of, building construction. Several of the other bricks encountered in the Dry Well excavations are the same forms as bricks only present at Monticello on the South Pavilion chimneys, firmly linking those bricks to the earliest stages of construction on the mountaintop. This provides us with another indicator that the Dry Well was likely filled during the late 1770s. Furthermore, the presence of some deposits that contain large quantities of construction debris supports the hypothesis that the Dry Well was filled with refuse that accumulated, or was generated, at various locations on the mountaintop and then re-deposited into the Dry Well itself at a later date (Clites and Bates 2008).
An Hua Chinese Porcelain Mustard Pots
- Press Molded
- 18th century
- Each jar is approximately 100mm tall and has a rim diameter of 65mm.
These sherds represent just a few of the numerous an hua mustard jar sherds found in the West Kitchen Yard area. Each vessel has faint molded artichoke-style decoration, a classic an hua design. An hua referes to the subtle decoration that was incised on the body of the vessel prior to firing; an hua decoration is often only noticed when light catches on the vessel.
Most of these mustard pot sherds have faint remnants of hand-painted, over-glazed decoration as well. While it is difficult to identify all the original colors used on these vessels, remnants of black, red, and white paint are present on several sherds. The sherds are found in various contexts and deposits from the entire West Kitchen yard site.
Leaded Glass Stemware
- Handblown and cut glass
- Second half 18th century.
- Length: 44mm; Width: 34.21 mm; Height: 34.99mm
A wide variety of glass vessel and forms, including wine bottles, pharmaceutical bottles, drinking glasses, tumblers, and stemwares, were found during excavations at the West Kitchen Yard. This small cordial or aperitif glass is an example of one of those stemwares found during excavation. Made of leaded glass and decorated with cut flutes and hand-formed bladed knops1, this stemware was likely manufactured in England and imported to the Colonies. Other decorated leaded glass fragments found in the Dry Well included enamel and air twist stemware stems, etched glass, and additional cut or ground decoration.
1Jones, Olive, et al. Parks Canada Glass Glossary. Studies in Archaeology, Architecture, and History. National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Environment Canada: Ottawa, 1985. 139, Figure 114.
Copper Alloy Shoe Buckle
- 18th century
- Length: 45 mm; Width: 46 mm; Height: 2.6 mm
Found in an upper level of the Dry Well, this fragment of a shoe buckle frame is cast in copper alloy. Conservation in the 1980s restored its original brass-colored appearance. On two parts of the frame, seen on the broken edges of this fragment, there are remnants of silver-colored solder that may indicate an attempt to repair the broken frame for continued use. Open work, intricate designs, and delicate appearances such as this were common on Colonial period shoe buckles, indicating the decorative as well as functional use of these accessories.