|Location:||Poplar Forest, Bedford County, VA, United States|
|Occupation Dates:||Last quarter 18th/first quarter 19th century. Phasing and mean ceramic dates can be found on the Chronology page.|
|Excavator(s):||Dr. Barbara J. Heath.|
Since 1989, archaeologists employed by the Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest have explored the landscape of Jefferson’s plantation retreat in eastern Bedford County, Virginia. The North Hill site is associated with a complex that consisted of an overseer’s house, barn and quarters known historically as the “Old Plantation.” This settlement, most likely established in the third quarter of the 18th century, was abandoned following Jefferson’s redesign of the plantation landscape in the 1810s. The North Hill site sits on a raised terrace near the historic center of the property. No documents make direct reference to it. Archaeologists named the site for its location north of the Quarter Site and Old Plantation.
Staff archaeologists surveyed the eastern property boundary in 1993 in preparation for the planting of a tree screen to block the view of modern development (Heath 1993). The discovery of significant sites in this area, including the North Hill site, altered the planting plan, and it has not been implemented. Surface-collected artifacts from an adjacent property owner’s garden confirmed the location of a late 18th- or early 19th-century site on the terrace. Staff and volunteers dug additional test units across the site in the spring of 1994, and a combination of staff, field school participants and volunteers conducted excavations between 1995 and 1998. Barbara J. Heath directed the project with the assistance of field supervisor Michael A. Strutt and laboratory supervisors Alasdair Brooks and Heather Olson.
The remains of a short-term domestic site occupied by an enslaved household between c. 1770 and 1785 were discovered at the North Hill. A subfloor pit (Feature 6), two small exterior pits (Features 7 and 8), three short trenches of unknown function (Features 3, 4, 5), the bottom layers of fill in an erosion gully (Feature 25), and thousands of domestic artifacts recovered from plowzone deposits relate to this period of occupation. Two narrow trenches (Features 1 and 2), the top layers of fill in the erosion gully (Feature 24), and artifacts recovered from plowzone deposits in the southeastern units of the block excavation suggest the location of an early 19th-century site just outside of the project area. Subsequent agricultural use of the terrace resulted in a shallow, eroded plowzone overlying truncated features.
The Reverend William Stith patented Poplar Forest in 1745. His daughter, Elizabeth Pasteur, inherited the property in 1755 and sold it to her cousin Peter Randolph in 1762. Randolph sold Poplar Forest to business associate John Wayles in 1764 (Chambers 1993:2-4). No evidence has yet come to light to indicate the presence of a farm operation prior to Wayles’s ownership; however by 1769 Poplar Forest was an active plantation with a resident enslaved workforce producing tobacco for sale. When Wayles died in 1773, his daughter Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson and her husband Thomas inherited the nearly 5,000 acre property.
No maps contemporaneous with Wayles’s ownership are known to exist. However, two later 18th-century plats provide clues about the early plantation landscape. An undated map believed to have been drafted circa 1781 (N-255, Wenger 1997) shows an overseer’s house and barn located on a hilltop southeast of the North Hill site in an area known by Jefferson as the Old Plantation. The settlement is also depicted in a 1790 map of the property draw by Jefferson (Boyd 1961:190), along with a separate quarter farm in the northwest corner of the Poplar Forest tract known as Wingos.
Jefferson’s January 1774 slave roll lists a family consisting of Guinea Will, his wife Bess, and children Hall, Dilcey and Suckey living at Poplar Forest along with a blacksmith called “Billy boy.” Five other young men and women were enslaved at the Wingos quarter. Later that year, Jefferson transferred another family and two individual slaves to Poplar Forest, presumably settling them in the vicinity of the Old Plantation. By 1783, eight households consisting of 35 individuals lived and worked on the property as a whole (Betts 1987:7, 16, 24). It is unclear how many of these people lived in the vicinity of the Old Plantation. Archaeological evidence suggests that a single household occupied the North Hill.
Court records and county tax rolls provide additional information about the makeup of the enslaved community during the early 1780s. No records make direct reference to the site now known as the North Hill.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
The North Hill site lies on the western edge of a terrace sited above a deep ravine and historic spring. The majority of the site was covered with grass prior to excavation. The eastern line of excavation units had been severely disturbed by roto-tilling during the 1980s and early 1990s as neighbors encroached on the site with their vegetable garden. The entire site was plowed in the 19th century which resulted in significant erosion. In some areas, excavations revealed veins of bedrock within 6 inches of the surface. It is probable that shallow features were lost to plowing and erosion.
In 1993, archaeologists tested the eastern edge of the site along the route of a proposed tree screen with three rows of auger holes spaced 25 feet apart east-west and at staggered 25 foot intervals north-south. Each auger hole was scraped to identify soil layers and look for features and artifacts. Soil removed by the auger was trowel sorted to locate artifacts. Auger holes containing artifacts or features were expanded with shovels into 2 foot square test units to provide additional data.
In 1994, archaeologists conducted a standard Phase 1 survey across the terrace, excavating a total of seventeen 2 foot square test units at 25 foot intervals. Based on the results of the survey, 50 10 foot square excavation units, 3 5 foot-by-10 foot and 1 partial 10 foot square were excavated. Data from the 2 foot test units was merged into the larger 10 foot squares where appropriate. When finished, block excavations at the site measured 80 feet-by-110 feet at their greatest extent.
Each 10 foot square unit was further subdivided into 5 foot square quadrants once topsoil was removed to increase spatial control over recovered artifacts. Quadrants were given a number designation, with quadrant 1 in the northwest, quadrant 2 in the northeast, quadrant 3 in the southwest, and quadrant 4 in the southwest.
Plowzone sealed a number of features. These included a 4.7 foot square subfloor pit (F06) believed to be associated with a dwelling, two small pits located outside of the projected line of the dwelling (F07 and F08), a backfilled erosion gully (F24), three short trenches of unknown function (F03,F04, and F05), and two intersecting, narrow trenches (F01 and F02) that formed part of an early 19th-century fence line associated with a site outside the project area.
All topsoil and plowzone soil was removed by shovel. Features were hand-trowelled. All soil from the site was dry screened through ¼ inch mesh except for feature samples selected for flotation.
Phytolith, pollen and soil chemical samples were collected. Samples from feature fill in the subfloor pit, exterior pits, trenches and erosion gully were collected for flotation. In all, approximately 25%-50% of soil from these contexts was collected in the field, from which a 1 liter sample for chemical and microbotanical analysis was saved, and the remainder was floated using a Shell Mound Archaeological Project (SMAP)-type flotation machine. Soil chemical samples were collected systematically from plowzone and subsoil from one quadrant of each 10 foot square across the site.
Summary of research and analysis
Archaeological evidence from the North Hill site, although sparse in comparison to that recovered from the nearby Quarter site, suggests that a single cabin stood in the center of the ridge from c. 1770 to 1785. The argument for the existence of such a building is based primarily on the presence of a stratified subfloor pit (F06) containing numerous domestic artifacts dating from this period. Supporting evidence, though more speculative, includes the presence of two rodent burrows that perhaps indicate the placement of a gable-end wall line along the east side of the structure, and artifact distribution data that indicate concentrations of wrought nails and burned artifacts in the hypothesized area of the structure. Additional distribution data indicate that the area between the subfloor pit and the rodent burrows contained few artifacts, a pattern that is consistent with data from the interior of Structure 1 excavated at the Quarter Site. Clay daub in the upper layers of pit fill, combined with thousands of hand-wrought nails, suggests that the cabin that contained the pit was log with clapboard siding and/or a shingle roof. The absence of additional subfloor pits suggests that the dwelling was occupied by a single individual or a family.
Evidence suggests that deeper layers of pit fill represent debris deposited by the occupants of the cabin, while upper layers relate to the destruction of the building, perhaps in a fire. An analysis of the distribution of artifacts relating to the building itself (daub, brick/daub and nails) shows a significantly higher concentration of each of these materials in the upper layers of the feature. Other domestic artifacts, animal bone and eggshell appear to concentrate in the occupation layers, while botanical remains were recovered throughout the feature.
A TPQ of 1775 has been assigned to the subfloor pit based on the presence of light colored creamware in its deepest layers (Miller et al. 2000:12). Ann Smart Martin has argued that although creamware was available to the wealthiest consumers in Virginia shortly after production began in 1762, most of the middling and poorer households did not acquire it until after the American Revolution (Martin 1994:178). A lack of pearlware, introduced in 1779-1780 and in common usage by mid-decade, suggests that the cabin was destroyed and the pit filled before 1785.
An erosion gully (F24) filled with domestic trash lay 35 feet southwest of the pit. Ceramics found within the lower layers of the erosion gully and the subfloor pit include tin enameled earthenware, English combed slipware, Westerwald stoneware, a variety of lead-glazed earthenwares and creamware. Several ceramics crossmends between the two contexts underscore their contemporaeity.
Two linear trenches (F01 and F02) averaging 0.4-0.5 feet in width converged and cut the eastern edge of the gully. The east-west trench ran approximately 29 feet before it was obliterated by plowing. Excavators traced the north-south trench for a distance of 46 feet when time limits precluded further testing. The two trenches contained the remains of small post molds at their bases, suggesting that they represent the remains of a fence constructed with narrow posts set into the ground. The fence post-dates the occupation of this site, and is believed to be associated with a hypothesized early 19th-century site located southeast of the North Hill. The upper level of gully fill appears to be contemporaneous with this hypothesized later structure, while the deeper layers appear to have been filled at the same time the subfloor pit was filled.
Faunal evidence at the North Hill revealed that the primary meat diet of site occupants was pork and beef, although wild mammals such as opossum, rabbit, woodchuck, squirrel and raccoon were also present. Chicken bones and eggshell indicate the consumption of poultry and eggs. A single bone from a fresh-water fish (bass or sunfish) was also recovered (Andrews 1999).
Botanical remains collected at the site underscore what was grown in the early plantation period, and shed light on the diet of inhabitants. The recovery of native domesticated grains and legumes, imported European and African cereal grains, and domesticated fruits offers strong evidence of subsistence farming during this period at Poplar Forest. The nearly equal proportions of native grains and legumes (principally maize) and imported domesticates indicates that whoever lived here had a relatively rich and varied diet (Raymer 2003).
Just over one quarter of the plant food remains represent naturally occurring fruits, nuts and edible and/or medicinal herbs–species that fell outside of the plantation provisioning system. All of these plants grow either in open fields, including agricultural fields, or edge zones which were created by the clearing of local forest cover. The frequency of native wild grains in the seed assemblage suggests that slaves might have been encouraging their growth in the area surrounding their house.
Pollen analysis supports the macrobotanical evidence. European cereal pollens were abundant in the fill of the subfloor pit and present in the fill of the gully as well. Concentrations of pollen from blackberry or raspberry and chenopodium supports the notion that these plants, though wild, may have been deliberately cultivated or encouraged to grow near the cabin (Jones 2002).
Botanical evidence can also be used to shift perspective from the specifics of the site to the broader plantation landscape of which it was a part during the 1770s and 1780s. Charcoal from the earliest sealed deposits suggests that original hardwood forest remained in close proximity to the cabin, and that residents had convenient access to it (Raymer 2003).
The North Hill site has provided important comparative information about the material conditions of slavery at Poplar Forest, the use of space within quarters by enslaved households and the exploitation of plantation resources by enslaved residents over time.
Barbara J. Heath
Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest
Things you need to know about the North Hill site before you use the data:
- All sediment excavated from the entire site was at least screened through 1/4 inch hardware cloth. Waterscreen and flotation samples were also taken from select contexts.
- Measurements are in feet and tenths of feet.
The original excavators of the North Hill site did not assign numbers to individual features. DAACS staff has assigned feature numbers using the original excavation records. Feature Numbers assigned by DAACS have a F-prefix, which precedes the number (i.e. F01 equals Feature 1).
Excavated contexts that belong to the same depositional basin (e.g. a posthole and postmold or the layers in a single pit) have been assigned a single feature number. In addition, single contexts have been given feature numbers when the original field records indicate that the excavators recognized a context’s spatial distinctiveness from surrounding contexts.
Feature groups are sets of features whose spatial arrangements indicate they were part of a single structure (e.g. structural postholes, subfloor pits, and hearth) or landscape element (e.g. postholes that comprise a fenceline). Feature Groups assigned by DAACS have a FG-prefix, which precedes the number (i.e. FG01 equals Feature Group 1).
|F01||Trench, fence||1739K, 1742L, 1803B, 1743E, 1807B|
|F02||Trench, fence||1742J, 1804B, 1738G2, 1738G4, 1740D|
|F24||Gully||1800B2, 1745C3, 1739B1, 1739B2, 1739B3, 1739B4, 1800B1, 1742B1, 1742B2, 1742B3, 1742B4, 1745C2, 1738B3, 1738B1, 1738B2, 1738B4, 1739B, 1741B2, 1741B3, 1741B4, 1745C4, 1800B3, 1800B4, 1800C1, 1800C2, 1801B1, 1801B2, 1801B3, 1801B4, 1801C1, 1801C2, 1801C3, 1801C4, 1801C, 1801D1, 1801D2, 1801D4|
|F32||Gully||1745F1, 1745F2, 1745F3, 1745F4, 1739F3, 1739G1, 1739G2, 1739E, 1739F2, 1739F4, 1743C1, 1739H, 1739Q, 1742F1, 1742F2, 1801G2, 1801F4, 1801G3, 1801G4, 1801H3, 1801K1, 1742F4, 1745G4, 1801G1, 1742H1, 1742H3, 1742W, 1742H4, 1738C2, 1738F2, 1738F4, 1739F1, 1739G3, 1739G4, 1738L1, 1738C4, 1742F3, 1800F1, 1801F3, 1742G1, 1741C3, 1741C4, 1741D, 1741F3, 1741G3, 1741C2, 1742G2, 1801F2, 1742G3, 1742G4, 1800F2, 1800F3, 1800G1, 1800G2, 1801F1|
|F06||Pit, subfloor(< 28 sq.ft)||1546A1, 1546A2, 1546A3, 1546A4, 1546B1, 1546B2, 1546B3, 1546B4, 1546C1, 1546C2, 1546C3, 1546C4, 1546D1, 1546D2, 1546D3, 1546D4, 1546E1, 1546E2, 1546E3, 1546E4, 1546F1, 1546F2, 1546F3, 1546F4, 1546G2, 1546G4, 1546AC, 1546DG, 1481D, 1546, 1546A|
|F07||Pit, unidentified||1476B1, 1476B2, 1476B3, 1476B4, 1476C1, 1476C2, 1476C3, 1476C4, 1476D1, 1476D2, 1476D3, 1476D4|
|F08||Pit, unidentified||1700B, 1700C|
|F28||Unidentified||1739N, 1739R, 1743H|
DAACS Seriation Method
DAACS staff developed a frequency-seriation based chronology for the Building o site (see Neiman, Galle, and Wheeler 2003 for technical details). DAACS seriated ceramic assemblages, with more than 5 sherds, from individual excavated contexts and from stratigraphic groups — groups of contexts that field records indicate were part of a single stratigraphic layer or deposit. DAACS assigned such contexts to the same stratigraphic group. Stratigraphic groups have a SG-prefix, which precedes the group number (e.g. SG01 equals Stratigraphic Group 1). Not all contexts have stratigraphic group assignments.
DAACS chose to base its seriation chronology for the North Hill Site on ceramic assemblages aggregated at the level of stratigraphic groups and unassigned contexts, and not at the level of features. Only four features (F06, F16, F24, F25) contained more than five ceramic shreds. Frequencies of MCD-types in these four assemblages betrayed no convincing temporal structure.
DAACS computed the frequency of MCD-types in stratigraphic groups and unassigned contexts. The seriation chronology is derived from a correspondence analysis of these frequencies. Seriated assemblages were assigned to phases. Phases are groups of assemblages that have similar correspondence-analysis scores and are therefore inferred to be broadly contemporary. Phases assigned by DAACS have a P-prefix that precedes the phase number (e.g. P01 equals Phase 1).
The stratigraphic relationships among stratigraphic groups and unassigned contexts are summarized in the Harris Matrix for the site. Phase assignments from the seriation are shown on the Harris Matrix in color, facilitating comparison of the seriation chronology and the stratigraphic chronology of the site.
North Hill Site Phases
Based on the correspondence analysis, DAACS assigned the ceramic assemblages to one of three phases. Mean ceramic dates for the phases are given in the table below. The table also includes two estimates of the TPQ for each phase. The first TPQ estimate is the usual one – the maximum beginning manufacturing date among all the MCD-types in the assemblage. The second estimate — TPQp90 — is the 90th percentile of the beginning manufacturing dates among all the shreds in the assemblage, based on their MCD-types. This TPQ estimate is more robust against excavation errors and taphonomic processes that might have introduces a few anomalously late sherds in an assemblage.
In contrast to the Poplar Forest Quarter Site, the temporal patterning among assemblages from stratigraphic groups and contexts is strong and temporal distinctions among all three phases seem significant. In addition the Harris matrix reveals a strong correlation between the seriation order of the assemblages and the stratigraphic order of the deposits from which they were derived.
A Seriation Chronology for Poplar Forest North Hill Site
Click on the following link to access a seriation chronology for the North Hill Site. We use the indefinite article to signify that it is not the only chronology possible, nor even the best one possible.
North Hill Harris Matrix
The Harris Matrix summarizes stratigraphic relationships among excavated contexts and groups of contexts that DAACS staff has identified as part of the same stratigraphic group. Stratigraphic groups and contexts are represented as boxes, while lines connecting them represent temporal relationships implied by the site’s stratification, as recorded by the site’s excavators (Harris 1979).
Stratigraphic groups, which represent multiple contexts, are identified on the diagram by their numeric designations (e.g. SG10) followed by the original excavator’s descriptions of them (e.g. “occupation zone”). Contexts that could not be assigned to stratigraphic groups are identified by their individual context numbers (e.g. 622A).
Boxes with color fill represent contexts and stratigraphic groups with ceramic assemblages large enough to be included in the DAACS seriation of the site (see Chronology). Their seriation-based phase assignments are denoted by different colors to facilitate evaluation of the agreement between the stratigraphic and seriation chronologies. Grey boxes represent contexts that were not included in the seriation because of small ceramic samples.
See the Poplar Forest North Hill Chronology for stratigraphic and phase information.
This Harris Matrix is based on data on stratigraphic relationships recorded among contexts in the DAACS database. It was drawn with the ArchEd application. See http://www.ads.tuwien.ac.at/arched/index.html.
For a printable version, download the Harris Matrix [882KB PDF].
Composite excavator’s plan, compiled by DAACS from original field drawings, with excavation units and features labeled.
Composite excavator’s plan, compiled by DAACS from original field drawings, with only features labeled.
Composite excavator’s plan, compiled by DAACS from original field drawings, with only excavation units labeled.
CAD site plan in .dgn format.
Andrews, Susan Trevarthen
1999 Faunal Analysis of North Hill Features, Poplar Forest. Manuscript on file, The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Forest, Virginia.
Betts, Edwin Morris
1987  Thomas Jefferson University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.
1961 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 16, November 1789-July 1790. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Chambers, S. Allen, Jr.
1993 Poplar Forest and Thomas Jefferson. The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Forest, Virginia.
Harris, Edward C.
1979 Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy. Academic Press, London, England.
Heath, Barbara J.
1993 Report on the Archaeological Testing for the Proposed Tree Screen, March-April. Manuscript on file, The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Forest, Virginia.
Heath, Barbara J.
1999a Hidden Lives: The Archaeology of Slave Life at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Heath, Barbara J.
n.d. A Report on Excavations of the Poplar Forest Quarter, North Hill and Wingos Quarters. Draft manuscript on file, The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Forest, Virginia.
Jones, John G.
2002 Analysis of Pollen from Poplar Forest. Manuscript on file, The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Forest, Virginia.
Martin, Ann Smart
1994 “Fashionable Sugar Dishes, Latest Fashion Ware”: The Creamware Revolution in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake., Historical Archaeology of the Chesapeake In Historical Archaeology of the Chesapeake, edited by Paul A. Shackel and Barbara J. Little, pp. 169-188. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
Miller, George , Patricia Samford , Andrew Madsen , and Ellen Shlasko
2000 Telling Time for Archaeologists., Northeast Historical Archaeology In Northeast Historical Archaeology, Volume 29, pp. 1-22.
Neiman, Fraser D., Jillian E. Galle , and Derek Wheeler
2003 Chronological Inference and DAACS. Unpublished paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Providence, Rhode Island. On file at the Department of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia.
2003 Archaeobotanical Analysis from Data Recovery Excavations at the North Hill and Quarter Sites, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest: A Study of Enslaved African-American Subsistence Patterns. New South Associates Technical Report #781. New South Associates, Stone Mountain, GA.
1997 Jefferson’s Designs for Remodeling the Governor’s Palace., Winterthur Portfolio In Winterthur Portfolio 32(4): 223-242.