Digging test unitsSee the artifacts on the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery

Previous excavations at Poplar Forest have uncovered the remains of two quarters dating from the late 18th through the first decade of the 19th centuries.

Excavations at Wingo's are part of a long-term study that aims to:

  • Understand the diverse experiences and histories of the communities of enslaved people that Thomas Jefferson inherited and moved to his plantations in Albemarle and Bedford Counties.
  • Study material culture, family formation and kinship networks, and economic activities as they relate to enslavement in Virginia.
  • Interpret slavery as an important part of the Jefferson story.
  • Contribute to a growing comparative archaeological database on New World slavery, online at

buttonFieldwork began at the site in 2000, when Poplar Forest staff conducted a few days of testing to look for evidence of the plantation quarter. By digging small holes at regular intervals, we were able to locate a concentration of handmade (wrought) nails, along with domestic artifacts dating to the late 18th century, on the side of a ridge in the area where an historic map indicated that Wingo's was located. From 2007 to the 2011, historical archaeologists and students from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, conducted additional testing, and larger-scale block excavations, at the site.

In 2009, we uncovered two large subfloor pits (Features 281C-L and 285C-L) that we believe were originally located inside of a log house that measured at least 10.5 ft x 18 ft. When people lived in the house, they swept or dropped ash, soil and some small artifacts and food remains into the pits, creating thin layers at the bottom of each. Following the destruction of the house, people pushed the remains of a log, clay, and stone chimney into one pit to fill it up, and filled the other with soil from the surrounding yard. Based on the artifacts found within the pits, both were filled in the 1770s or early 1780s, with subfloor pit feature ER285 probably filled first.

South of the pits, excavators found a series of small, charcoal-filled "soil stains" that we believe represent the remains of some type of fencing. The holes are spaced about 12 feet apart, and form a rectangular area running down-slope from the house. Although the fence is long gone, and the site was subsequently plowed and used as an agricultural field, concentrations of artifacts and specific chemicals in the soil support the idea that an enclosure was located near the house, and that residents deposited trash around its periphery.

Excavations in 2011 attempted to locate additional slave cabins in the area, to better define the size of the house associated with the pits that were found in 2009, and to further explore the yard associated with that house. While we didn't locate any additional structures, we were better able to define the yard area associated with the previously-discovered cabin.

Excavations of other slave quarters at Poplar Forest and elsewhere have indicated that enslaved men and women created small garden spaces, raised poultry, performed a variety of domestic work like cooking and washing in the yards around their houses, and also used these spaces to socialize. Understanding the objects that people owned, the foods they ate, the ways they interacted with the local environment, and the ways that they organized their domestic spaces, will help us to understand how they interacted with the material world to help create a new community for themselves in Bedford County.

Wingos - a beautiful place to workWingo's was named for John Wingo, an overseer who was employed to supervise labor on a 1000-acre tract of land in the northwest corner of the larger Poplar Forest plantation in the 1770s. Poplar Forest, in Bedford County, was owned by Thomas Jefferson when Wingo's was first settled in 1773.

Wingo's became home to a group of enslaved Africans and African Americans that formed the beginnings of a multi-generational community on the plantation. Slaves raised tobacco for sale and subsistence crops for plantation use, but also worked to support themselves and their families. Many of the members of this fledgling community were people who were moved to Wingo's in the summer of 1773 from the Indian Camp plantation in Cumberland (now Powhatan) County, about 85 miles to the east. The site sits at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is approximately 30 miles east of Roanoke, Virginia. It is currently a privately-owned cattle farm.
Thomas Jefferson inherited Poplar Forest from his father-in-law, John Wayles, who is believed to have introduced enslaved workers to the larger property in the 1760s. Following Wayles' death in the spring of 1773, Jefferson and his brothers-in-law Henry Skipwith and Francis Eppes likely set up Wingo's with the purpose of using the profits from the sale of the tobacco crop to pay their father-in-law's significant debts. In 1790, Jefferson gave the Wingo's tract and the people that were living there, as well as a family living at another Poplar Forest quarter, to his daughter and son-in-law. They passed the land, and probably the people, on to their daughter when she married, and she and her husband later sold the land out of the family.