Archaeologists Excavate Jefferson Slave's Cabin
Oct. 21, 1996
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ The site of an old log cabin at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate is yielding clues about what life was like for Jefferson's slaves.
Archeologists have recovered pieces of ceramics and bottles, porcelain dinnerware and a slate pencil, suggesting the third president's slaves may have known how to write.
``Clearly (some Monticello slaves) were able to learn to read and write, and this may be ... evidence of that,'' said Fraser Neiman, Monticello's director of archaeology.
The excavation may also shed light on whether Jefferson treated slaves differently than did other plantation owners.
``I think it's important that Monticello paint a fuller and more accurate portrait of what life was really like here in the 18th century,'' Neiman said. ``We currently have an edited version.''
The cabin, located through the discovery of its brick fireplace, was the home of Elizabeth Hemings, who lived there for 10 years until her death in 1807 at age 72.
Hemings has a special place in Jefferson's history. Most historians believe she bore several children to Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles, while some say Hemings' daughter, Sally, became Jefferson's mistress after the death of his wife Martha.
The Hemings family claims Jefferson fathered four children by Sally, but no record of the liaison has been found.
The excavation is also one of the first to extend beyond Monticello's overlook where Jefferson lived to the slave cabins, historians said.
``We really have no comparable data because nothing beyond the mountaintop has been excavated,'' said Cinder Stanton, senior research historian at Monticello.
Researchers in January will conduct the first archaeological survey of 2,000 acres of Jefferson's land to locate roads, homes and buildings on the plantation.