Jefferson's Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginia Plantation

Jefferson's Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginia Plantation

Jefferson's Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginia Plantation

Jefferson's Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginia Plantation


One hundred years in the life of a founding father's 5,000 acre "retreat"

"Poplar Forest embodies the culmination of Jefferson's vision of the American agricultural ideal. This highly readable volume introduces us to the people, objects, and landscapes of Poplar Forest in the tumultuous period between the Revolution and the Civil War. Jefferson's Poplar Forest presents a remarkably multidimensional portrait of the estate as a personal retreat, a designed landscape, a plantation, and a home and workplace for enslaved African American families."--Lu Ann De Cunzo, University of Delaware

"With their productive commitments to long-term and interdisciplinary research, the contributors draw upon the traditional themes of slavery and plantation landscapes but imbue those with new energy through incorporating the issues of ecology, identity, agency, and consumerism." --Douglas Sanford, University of Mary Washington

Thomas Jefferson once called his plantation Poplar Forest, "the most valuable of my possessions." For Jefferson, Poplar Forest was a private retreat for him to escape the hoards of visitors and everyday pressures of his iconic estate, Monticello.

Jefferson's Poplar Forest uses the knowledge gained from long-term and interdisciplinary research to explore the experiences of a wide range of people who lived and worked there between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Multiple archaeological digs reveal details about the lives of Jefferson, subsequent owners and their families, and the slaves (and descendants) who labored and toiled at the site. From the plantation house to the weeds in the garden, Barbara Heath, Jack Gary, and numerous contributors examine the landscapes of the property, investigating the relationships between the people, objects, and places of Poplar Forest.

As the first book-length study of the archaeology of a president's estate, Jefferson's Poplar Forest offers a compelling and uniquely specific look into the lives of those who called Poplar Forest home.

Contributors: Jessica Bowes


Historical archaeology and the study of plantations have developed together over the past century. Early research designed to facilitate the restoration of great houses and gardens has given way to more explicitly anthropological considerations of the forms and meanings of plantation landscapes and communities. Today archaeologists continue to study mansions and pleasure grounds but increasingly probe the associated vernacular landscapes of quarters, fields, and woodlots, seeking evidence of the individuals and communities of people who populated, developed, and exploited them. Authors of this volume engage with a single plantation, Poplar Forest, over a century of environmental, economic, demographic, and social change that began on the eve of the American Revolution and ended with the Civil War. the historical circumstances of this place, like every historical place, were unique. However, the significant changes observed at Poplar Forest, including environmental degradation, the implementation of increasingly scientific agricultural practices, shifting strategies of provisioning and resource exploitation, the development of multigenerational communities of enslaved people, and plantation owners’ and slaves’ growing engagement in the consumer economy, have much to contribute to broader dialogues about plantation life across the American South during this period.

We thank the contributors to this volume for their participation, patience, and, most of all, their passion for their work. Each of us has drawn on twentyfive years of archaeology at Poplar Forest. We owe a debt of gratitude to the staff, field school participants, interns, volunteers, and consultants whose work has provided the framework from which we have constructed our research and built our interpretations. We are particularly grateful for the work of Keith Adams, Susan Trevarthen Andrews, Alasdair Brooks, William Kelso, Randy Lichtenberger, Heather Olson, Drake Patten, Elizabeth Paull, and Michael Strutt, whose efforts shaped the course of research over many years. Gail Pond tirelessly collected and shared a wealth of historical research, while Hannah Canel, Steven Deyerle, Ron Giese, Ruth Glass, Donald and Dorothy Cushman, Kathy . . .

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