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The Jeffersons at Shadwell

The Jeffersons at Shadwell

Susan Kern
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Jeffersons at Shadwell
    Book Description:

    Merging archaeology, material culture, and social history, historian Susan Kern reveals the fascinating story of Shadwell, the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson and home to his parents, Jane and Peter Jefferson, their eight children, and over sixty slaves. Located in present-day Albemarle County, Virginia, Shadwell was at the time considered "the frontier." However, Kern demonstrates that Shadwell was no crude log cabin; it was, in fact, a well-appointed gentry house full of fashionable goods, located at the center of a substantial plantation.

    Kern's scholarship offers new views of the family's role in settling Virginia as well as new perspectives on Thomas Jefferson himself. By examining a variety of sources, including account books, diaries, and letters, Kern re-creates in rich detail the daily lives of the Jeffersons at Shadwell-from Jane Jefferson's cultivation of a learned and cultured household to Peter Jefferson's extensive business network and oversight of a thriving plantation.

    Shadwell was Thomas Jefferson's patrimony, but Kern asserts that his real legacy there came from his parents, who cultivated the strong social connections that would later open doors for their children. At Shadwell, Jefferson learned the importance of fostering relationships with slaves, laborers, and powerful office holders, as well as the hierarchical structure of large plantations, which he later applied at Monticello. The story of Shadwell affects how we interpret much of what we know about Thomas Jefferson today, and Kern's fascinating book is sure to become the standard work on Jefferson's early years.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15570-9
    Subjects: History, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. The Family of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph Jefferson
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. The Enslaved African Americans of Shadwell
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. The Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    On his retirement from the presidency, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed “inexpressible pleasure” at “returning to the scenes of my birth and early life, to the society of those with whom I was raised, and who have been ever dear to me.” In this address to his fellow “citizens and neighbors,” he called on the place, people, and manners that defined his native Albemarle County.¹ Jefferson invoked place often: a favorite oak tree, his view of the Maison Carrée, his own dear Monticello, which we today hold up as Jefferson personified. Even though Jefferson himself acknowledged over and over the importance of...

  8. 1 The House: The Material World of the Jeffersons at Shadwell
    (pp. 14-40)

    Scholars who study Thomas Jefferson have had a difficult time defining his origins in the context of late colonial Virginia culture. On no topic is Jefferson scholarship more mired in previous generations of interpretation than that of Shadwell, his birthplace, in what is now Albemarle County. The popular mythology of Thomas Jefferson contends that Peter Jefferson was a backwoodsman, a native of the frontier, and that Jane Randolph Jefferson brought her gentry standards to the household, though her influence was not strong. The Jeffersons were a successful planter family, but, the story goes, the young Thomas left his Shadwell and...

  9. 2 The Household: Making Women’s Work Apparent
    (pp. 41-72)

    On August 17, 1757, Jane Jefferson became a widow. She was thirty-seven years old and the mother of eight children, ranging in age from seventeen to almost-two-year-old twins. Two more children, boys who died in infancy, would have been nine and seven that year. She may have begun preparations for widowhood in advance of her husband’s death. In mid-July, about a month before his death, Peter wrote his will, and Dr. Thomas Walker visited the ailing patriarch fourteen times that summer. When Peter died, Jane’s immediate job was to make funeral arrangements for her husband and to participate in the...

  10. 3 The Home Quarter: Material Culture and Status
    (pp. 73-115)

    In the summer of 1757, Sall watched someone she had known all her life die. Her feelings must have been mixed. Peter Jefferson, the man who died, owned her, her children, and likely her husband. The man wrote a will in which he legally transferred ownership of her black children to his white children. Her children would move to other plantations as their new owners reached majority. Ironically, within the plantation system that she knew, she and her children were being honored for their reliable work in learning and carry ing on the cultural practices of their owners. As personal...

  11. 4 The Field Quarters: Slave Life and Field Work
    (pp. 116-145)

    In 1757 Phillis, an enslaved black woman who was probably in her midforties, passed from one owner to another for at least the third time in her life. Peter Jefferson, her second owner, died in August that year, and Phillis may or may not have known that she was now part of an estate that would eventually be divided. Phillis was not one of the eight slaves chosen by Peter Jefferson in his will to attend one of his children. Instead she was among the anonymous slaves “not herein otherwise disposed of.”¹ She may have known that, until the master’s...

  12. 5 Plantation Business: Peter Jefferson at Home
    (pp. 146-169)

    When Peter Jefferson died, by his own request, his family buried him at Shadwell. Samuel Cobbs, a local carpenter, built a coffin for Jefferson, for which he was paid 10s. 6d. Cobbs worked on Jefferson’s mill at Shadwell in previous years and also witnessed Jefferson’s will when it was registered in the county will book. James Maury received £2 for speaking at Jefferson’s funeral. The Reverend Maury was parson of Fredericksville Parish and became the tutor of young Thomas Jefferson (and, in 1763, the champion of “The Parson’s Cause”). Captain Charles Lewis procured sugar for the funeral at the expense...

  13. 6 The Colony’s Business: Peter Jefferson’s Vantage
    (pp. 170-202)

    In 1757 Albemarle County lost one of its prominent citizens. Peter Jefferson held almost every title and elected office available in the county and the colony. From staking out an early settlement to sitting on the founding court to bringing the first members of prominent white and black families to the region, Peter Jefferson affected this world. Jefferson was part of the elite culture that already dominated Virginia in so many ways, and his contributions to both that culture and the colony continued from his location in the Piedmont. He prepared for his role as a public official growing up...

  14. 7 The Intangible Legacies: Creating and Keeping Family History
    (pp. 203-247)

    Peter and Jane Jefferson gave their children more than a comfortable home and financial legacies. They created and maintained professional, social, and family relationships that continued to provide a network of support for their heirs. They established, through documents, stories, and naming patterns, connections to generations past that would preserve intangible parts of their legacies for generations yet to come. Each generation of a family writes another chapter of the family history, whether its members choose to preserve and perpetuate the values and traditions of their ancestry or to reject traditions and fashion themselves anew. The Jeffersons clearly chose the...

  15. 8 Thomas Jefferson’s Shadwell Stories: Family and Slavery
    (pp. 248-260)

    Thomas Jefferson’s early years have been called the lacuna of Jefferson studies.¹ This book is about all the people at Shadwell, yet Thomas Jefferson is its start and endpoint (fig. 8.1). Shadwell both alters and reinforces what historians have written about Thomas Jefferson, his character, and who he became as a result of the formal and informal education he received during his early years. Material evidence and close rereading of documents demand reassessment of many of the myths surrounding the early Jeffersons. Some myths can be retired directly based on new information while other foundation myths remain useful because they...

  16. Appendix: Tables
    (pp. 261-282)
  17. Abbreviations and Archival Sources
    (pp. 283-288)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 289-344)
  19. Index
    (pp. 345-362)