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Searching for the Overseer’s House

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As our blog followers know we find Poplar Forest an interesting, thought provoking and unique treasure in the Lynchburg, VA area.  This month we are highlighting some current archaeological work being pursued at Poplar Forest.

During the summer of 2017 the first archaeological steps to locate the overseer’s house were begun. Located on a lot adjacent to Poplar Forest students from the annual Field School in Historic Archaeology and Landscapes conducted a six-week study of a plot of land.  Excavating a total of 26 shovel test pits and 7 five-foot excavation units many “treasures” dating to the late 18th-early 19th century were found.

Artifacts included handwrought and machine cut nails, window glass, melted glass, fragments of ceramic vessels, an iron buckle and a coat sleeve button.  A large quantity of slag, the waste product from blacksmithing, was also found.  It is now assumed that the area studied is only the edge of the site and that it probably extends onto other properties located just outside of the land currently owned by Poplar Forest.

Why is the location of this house important?  The structure was likely one of the earliest to be built on the plantation, possibly as early as the 1760’s.  This structure would have been a center of activity until Jefferson built the octagonal retreat house in 1806.  Determining the whereabouts of the overseer’s house will assist in determining how the plantation was originally laid out in the years prior to the construction of Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s retreat house.

It is thought that Thomas Jefferson wrote the majority of his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, in the overseer’s house while he was convalescing after a fall from his horse.  The book is a statement of Jefferson’s principles and is a reflection of his wide-ranging tasks and talents.  It deals with culture, comments about social phenomena and his political and social philosophies.

As always, a trip to Polar Forest will teach you something new or expose you to a new idea or thought presented by Thomas Jefferson.