ALAN ALDA We're having a typical meal that slaves here
in Virginia might have eaten around 1770. And this is
the kind of house they occupied. We know this because
archeology about the lives of American slaves has, just
in the last few decades, been recognized as an important
area of study. On this edition of Scientific American
Frontiers, we're delving into the secrets of our country's
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We'll find out how the other
half lived at Williamsburg.
GENE MITCHELL That's why they're doing the extra things
that they need to do to survive.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We'll see the inner workings
of Thomas Jefferson's plantation at Monticello.
FRASER NEIMAN In goes the food, but the slave server
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And we'll explore the Jamestown
fort where so much of this history began.
ALAN ALDA I'm Alan Alda. Join me now on a journey Unearthing
ALAN ALDA This is Monticello, the beautiful house that
Thomas Jefferson designed and built over the course
of about 40 years, starting in 1770. Jefferson was a
man of seemingly limitless abilities, matched only by
his endless interests. He was an architect, a musician,
a scientist, a horticulturist, an agronomist, a wine
connoisseur, a diplomat, a tremendous book collector
-- his library formed the basis for the Library of Congress.
Of course it was his hand that drafted the Declaration
of Independence, his vision of America that prompted
the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition
to explore the West. President Kennedy put it pretty
well when he told a gathering of Nobel Prize winners
that they were the greatest assemblage of talent in
the White House since Jefferson had dined there alone.
Jefferson loved Monticello. He returned to this Appalachian
mountaintop -- Monticello is Italian for "little mountain"
-- in search of relief from the burdens of office and
the vicissitudes of politics. He said, "I am as happy
no where else and in no other society and all my wishes
end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello."
His days ended here in 1826, when he was 83. But Monticello,
and Jefferson, represent a paradox. This place was not
just a fine country house, it was the center of a large
estate -- a 5,000 acre plantation, with 4 farms and
many support activities. Here on Mulberry Row there
was a carpenter's shop, a blacksmith, stables, storehouses
-- and most of the workers were slaves. There were slaves
in the kitchen, slaves in the house, slaves in the fields,
slaves in the nail factory -- slave children in the
nail factory. The man who wrote that all men are created
equal was a slave owner all his life, with about 120
slaves here at Monticello, half of them children. Jefferson
was in fact against slavery in principle -- he called
it an "abominable crime" -- but sadly he couldn't live
up to that conviction in practice. That uneasy relationship
-- between what you know and what you do -- could be
applied to American archeology until remarkably recently.
Only in the last 20 or 30 years have scientists recognized
the lives of slaves as a subject worth investigating,
worth basing an archaeological dig around. Now there's
a wealth of information coming out -- how slaves lived,
where they lived, what they ate, even their social lives.
That's what our second story in this program is about,
concentrating on the extensive digs that have taken
place here at Monticello, and 120 miles east of here
at Williamsburg -- projects that have truly been unearthing
important American secrets. But first, we're heading
to where it all began -- Jamestown, the first permanent
English settlement in America, and the colony that brought
both representative government and slavery to this continent.
Archeologists have found what they thought was lost
forever -- the site of the original fort on Jamestown
WHAT HAPPENED AT JAMESTOWN?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I'm travelling with an archeologist
and a climate expert, and we're about to cross the James
River in Virginia. We're heading for one of the last
untouched baldcypress swamps in America, with trees
that can be 1,000 yeas old. The swamp may contain the
key to understanding the terrible death rate suffered
in the English colony set up on Jamestown Island in
1607. From our ferry we could see the island, which
for the colonists was apparently very badly situated.
DENNIS BLANTON One of the English writes, "We took
most of our drink from the river, which was very brackish
and makes us sick."
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) There could be a simple explanation
for the bad river water.
DAVID STAHLE In drought years with very poor flow the
brackish and salty waters intrude well upstream of Jamestown.
ALAN ALDA When the Indians visited them that one time
and said, "You better start praying to your gods for
rain," did they start to put two and two together then?
Did they say, "Why, why should we pray for rain? Is
DENNIS BLANTON I think they were flattered by that
comment more than anything. Because, in fact, what this
Indian chief said -- and he lived just upstream from
here -- was, "In the same way that your guns and your
ships are better than our bows and arrows and our dugouts,
your god may be more powerful than ours. So please pray
to him for rain, because our god is not sending any."
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jamestown Island is just 1600
acres, jutting out into the river. It's about 40 miles
from the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay. The ancient
cypress swamp is here, and we'll get back to that later
in the story. But first we'll head to the Island. In
1994 there was a major breakthrough when the colony's
original fort was unearthed.
BILL KELSO My interest in this particular piece of
land here was that church site. And what you see there
is a reconstructed church, but in front of it is a church
tower from the seventeenth century.
ALAN ALDA Did you think that the fort would be near
BILL KELSO Yeah. The first description was that the
church is in the fort, then it's at the center of the
fort. These are from historical documents. VOICE "A
low level of ground about half an acre is cast almost
into the form of a triangle, and so palisadoed. The
south side next the river contains one hundred and forty
yards, the west and east sides one hundred only. In
the middest is a marketplace, a storehouse, and a corps
du guard, as likewise a pretty chapel."
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It had always been thought that
the fort had eroded into the river, but Bill Kelso reasoned
that if the existing church - right behind him here
- is on the site of the original chapel, then the fort
should still exist.
BILL KELSO Okay, this way a little more. Am I excited?
You better believe it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A private group, the Association
for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, acquired
the site in the nineteenth century to preserve the church.
They agreed to let Kelso dig.
BILL KELSO Here's a musket ball, and a piece of pottery.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kelso's first shovelfuls contained
Colonial artifacts, and over the next 3 years the shadowy
outlines of post-holes and walls were revealed. The
fort, abandoned and forgotten by about 1625, had been
BILL KELSO We found holes that were dug in the ground
where there were supports, but they were very small
supports, and we think it was this crude at first.
ALAN ALDA What would this have been?
BILL KELSO Probably a barracks. Because here you have
a military outpost.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kelso's team tried reconstructing
the fort's palisade. The colonists built their fort
over just a few weeks - without the modern conveniences
- when they were attacked by Indians soon after arriving.
ALAN ALDA You don't have any other supports? You just
have this stuff going straight in 18 inches?
BILL KELSO That's it. When you put each one of these
posts side by side they support each other. And then
we also found that we had dirt left over which would
have been a shot platform. This would have acted to
support one of those huge….
ALAN ALDA Oh, I see, so you have a little backing here
with the dirt.
BILL KELSO You could be standing here. And, also this
obviously is a problem, if you're worried about arrows…
ALAN ALDA Yes, so what about that? You could get arrows
shot through there.
BILL KELSO We figured that they probably put saplings
in there, just pounded them in at this point. But up
here they'd leave it open because...
ALAN ALDA They can shoot out.
BILL KELSO ...shoot out.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As I was looking around the site,
I thought there was something about Bill Kelso's story
that didn't quite fit.
ALAN ALDA This fence, it doesn't seem to encompass
the church. It seems to go at an angle that won't include
BILL KELSO Aha. Right. We were wrong. The church wasn't
in, this church, at least, was not in the center of
the fort. But it's...you know, so what?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It was pure luck that the present
church had been close enough to lead Kelso to the fort.
Even with just an eighth of the fort area excavated
so far, they've been able to build a picture of Jamestown's
BLY STRAUBE We have evidence of what was known as the
starving time. That was the winter of 1609, 1610, and
most of the men literally starved to death.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) These deliberate cut marks in
horse bones are just the beginning of an appalling story.
BLY STRAUBE They had six mares and two horses before
that starving time.
ALAN ALDA They must have been pretty hungry to eat
their horses, I mean you're eating an important part
of your life.
BLY STRAUBE Exactly. Their transportation.
ALAN ALDA It's like eating your Oldsmobile or something.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Even though they ate everything
in sight, only 50 people out of 500 survived the winter.
It's why the Jamestown colonists have often been dismissed
as lazy and incompetent. They were clearly desperate:
VOICE "Nothing was spared to maintain life and to do
those things which seem incredible as to dig up corpse
out of graves and eat them, and some have licked up
the blood which hath fallen from their weak fellows."
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But far from being lazy or incompetent,
it now seems the colonists were well prepared and industrious.
BLY STRAUBE It's really unfair to portray the gentlemen
who came here as a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing guys
who didn't want to get their hands dirty or blistered,
because we have found a lot of evidence of things that
they were busy doing, such as making window glass to
send back to London.
ALAN ALDA Really?
BLY STRAUBE They thought they'd make a profit.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The colony was a straightforward
commercial venture. The main objective was gold -- this
is a metal-refining still. They made their own pipes,
and raising tobacco was another objective. Their plan
for subsistence was simple and realistic - trade for
corn, using jewelry made from sheet copper that they
brought with them. They knew the local Powhatan Indians
prized copper highly. Initially this strategy worked,
but something went wrong. Indians stopped trading. Some
attacked the fort. There were constant skirmishes. The
fort site is filled with the leftovers of fighting.
A couple of items showed up just in the short time we
DAN GAMBLE This is a piece of chipped stone that's
been flaked. But it's very distinctive in that these
are really straight cuts. If this was natural, this
would be more rounded. Probably American Indians did
it. Probably to get a piece of stone for a projectile
point. This is probably…well, this is. This is a piece
of flint that the, or English flint, that the colonists
would chip off bits and pieces to use for their weapons.
This is not natural to the area, but this is a good
find. This is a good find.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The excavations also uncovered
a mysterious casualty, whose remains are being analyzed
at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History by Doug
Owsley and Ashley McCowan, forensic anthropologists.
From radio-carbon dating it's believed this could be
one of the first colonists. They called it JR102C.
ALAN ALDA You have no idea what his name was?
DOUG OWSLEY No, I wish we did. You think he would jump
out in terms of the historic record, but the record
for this time period is such a black hole.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's what they can tell from
JR's bones. The pelvis says he's male. The skull dimensions
and the straight tooth edges say he's European. The
growth line in the leg bone says he's young, and the
healthy teeth say he had good nutrition when growing
up, so he was probably a gentleman. Then there's one
DOUG OWSLEY His right leg, his shinbone, is completely
fragmented. And in place was this round ball. This is
a lead ball right here.
ALAN ALDA So he got shot, huh?
DOUG OWSLEY He got shot. And it was essentially like
a combat shotgun type of load, because when you look
at the x-rays of it, not only was there this large round
ball, but there were a number of small, buckshot-type
pellets, and also lead fragments. It practically blew
his lower leg off.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The Indians didn't have guns
in the early days at Jamestown. So what happened? The
project set up ballistics tests using a reproduction
of the type of musket the colonists used.
ALAN ALDA The big ball landed there, right?
FRED SCHOLPP Yeah, there is your main shot. It was
aimed at right about here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) They're using a shot-load matched
to the X-ray of the young man's leg bone. There's one
large ball with about 25 fragments. Here's a shot from
FRED SCHOLPP So we've got really a massive spread here.
ALAN ALDA If this is typical of the kind of spread
you get, at that distance, then JR had to have been
shot much closer.
BILL KELSO At closer range, absolutely.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Next, a point blank shot.
ALAN ALDA That looked an awful lot like you were too
close to come up with a pattern that JR had.
FRED SCHOLPP Let's see what we got here. We got unpleasantry.
ALAN ALDA Wasn't his spread out more?
FRED SCHOLPP Yeah.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Next shot, at a range of 5 yards.
And that's just about right. So JR couldn't have shot
himself by accident, but maybe someone else shot him
by accident. Fred Scholpp, the firearms expert, thinks
he knows how it could have happened. It was standard
fighting procedure for soldiers to fire from the front
rank, and then retire to reload. Someone in the rear
rank could have made a mistake, while reloading.
FRED SCHOLPP Present your piece, give fire, retire.
MAN Don't point that thing at me.
ALAN ALDA This is sort of from the front.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But JR was shot from the side.
The angles just don't work out with Fred's theory.
FRED SCHOLPP ...that plane. I don't know.
ALAN ALDA Well, now what? Where are you with the theory
now? What do you think?
BILL KELSO That's his theory.
ALAN ALDA That's not your theory?
BILL KELSO My theory is that it was on purpose and
that, you know...one less mouth to feed.
ALAN ALDA Right.
BILL KELSO In times of stress, people are starving
to death, you resort to some pretty animalistic behavior.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We made it to the swamp, 20 miles
ALAN ALDA OK, I'm gonna watch. If you disappear, I'm
not taking your path.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) These magnificent baldcypress
trees contain the simplest explanation for all the colony's
problems. It just takes a little work for David Stahle
to find it.
ALAN ALDA You know, I'm sure glad that you're here
today, otherwise they'd have me doing this.
DAVID STAHLE We're not gonna get much, fellas, not
outta this one.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're looking for an old tree,
but one that still has a solid center. David Stahle
is part of a network of scientists who study cores drilled
from ancient trees, in order to reconstruct the history
of climate. The Jamestown colonists said their water
was bad. The Indians said there was no corn to trade.
Maybe the colonists were incompetent, or the Indians
were playing politics. But no, says David Stahle, there
really was a drought. The annual growth rings in these
cypresses record what the climate was doing in this
region for the last thousand years.
DAVID STAHLE It's in two pieces, but…there you go,
you can see you get about ten, twelve inches there of
ALAN ALDA But it looks like you get about twenty to
DAVID STAHLE I would say, that outer inch has probably
got more like a hundred.
ALAN ALDA Really?
DAVID STAHLE Yeah. I would be surprised if it didn't.
ALAN ALDA Yeah, I may need a new prescription, too.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Actually you need a microscope.
Each pair of dark and light bands represents one year
of growth. In 1607, as the colonists arrived, the region
began its driest 7-year period in 700 years. And 20
years earlier, the worst drought in 800 years simply
wiped out an English colony set up at Roanoke Island
in North Carolina.
ALAN ALDA You mean to say that they came over twice,
and hit the worst droughts in hundreds of years, two
times in a row?
DAVID STAHLE Monumental bad luck. I mean, phenomenal
bad luck. Yeah, both, the two first English adventures
in the new world, were both beset by drought.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But the second adventure - Jamestown
- succeeded. By 1612 the drought was over, and the colony
began to thrive. America's first representative assembly
met at Jamestown in 1619. Around that time the first
Africans were brought in to work in the tobacco plantations,
probably as indentured servants. In the rest of the
program, we're going to look at the consequences of
that fateful development.
BOUGHT AND SOLD IN WILLIAMSBURG
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's about 1770, 150 years after
the first Africans came to Jamestown, and we're a few
miles away at Williamsburg - capital of the Virginia
Colony. This is tobacco, foundation of the colony's
wealth. The field workers were slaves. By this time
there were a quarter of a million African slaves in
all 13 colonies, but they were concentrated in the Chesapeake
region. These fields were part of Carter's Grove, a
typical Virginia plantation, with 1400 acres and a fine
mansion. A quarter of a mile from the mansion is a cluster
of buildings built only 12 years ago - a historically
accurate reconstruction of the Carter's Grove slave
quarter. The estate had about 40 slaves. Up to 9 lived
in this one room.
ALAN ALDA Oh, that's not much room at all, is it?
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM Not a lot of room. What we do
have is the enslaved people would be sleeping on the
ALAN ALDA It's a mattress made of corn husks?
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM Corn husks. And the blanket would
be part of the plantation supplies, because the planters
would be supplying some of the needed goods along with
foodstuffs for the slaves.
ALAN ALDA How much time did they have for living? I
mean, how many hours a day were they required to work?
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM The usual thing is they would
be working from sunup to sundown. In the night-time
and on the weekends, especially on Sunday, they would
be doing their own gardening. So they were part of...
trying to improve their lives everyday. They did make
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The reconstruction is based on
excavations that Bill Kelso - who later found the Jamestown
fort - did here in the 1970s. It was the first ever
excavation of American slave dwellings, and the start
of a new understanding of slave life. It's probably
inevitable that modern reconstructions like this seem
picturesque. They're surely cleaner and nicer than reality.
We're going to be looking at the lives of slaves as
seen through archeology. But lest we forget, the background
to those lives was harsh in the extreme. The institution
of slavery depended on violence and coercion.
GENE MITCHELL ...here Henrietta.
ALAN ALDA People don't willingly remain slaves. What
were the conditions under which they were able to be
kept in one place working, available for the work and
not escaping, for instance?
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM Well, there were the slaves laws
that really enforced the sort of brutal punishment to
runaways or gave the slave owners absolute authority.
VOICES Whereas the obstinacy of Negroes cannot by other
than violent means be supprest, be it enacted that if
any slave resist his master and by the extremity of
the correction should chance to die, his death shall
not be accounted felony, but the master be acquit. Be
it enacted that if any Negro or other slave shall presume
or lift up his hand in opposition against any Christian,
he shall have and receive thirty lashes on his bare
back well laid on. Be it enacted that if any slave that
hath run away shall be apprehended it shall be lawful
for the county court to order such punishment, either
by dismembring, or any other way as they shall think
fit, for the reclaiming any such incorrigible slave
and terrifying others from the like practices.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're at a recently discovered
site near Carter's Grove. The network of laws that kept
slaves entrapped took half a century to develop. Marley
Brown, Colonial Williamsburg's Director of Archeology,
thinks he's found a site which has some of the first
evidence of slavery. Around 1680, a century before Carter's
Grove, Thomas Atkinson acquired a small 64-acre plantation,
and built a modest house. Soon after, he built another
house for around 6 plantation workers. And then he built
a fence between the houses. At the time, most workers
were indentured servants from Britain, but Marley Brown
believes the fence represents a deliberate separation
of African slaves from the planter's house.
ALAN ALDA Can you tell from documents or from any other
source what the thinking was behind that fence?
MARLEY BROWN Well, it's interesting. When you look at the legislation,
it's slow to develop. But by 1660, early 1660s, you
begin to see the first ordinances that are being passed
to regulate the behavior of these imported African workers.
And by the turn of the 18th century, 1705, you get the
first colony-wide legislation that affects all slaves.
So we see here this transition, but we see it in the
ground, as it were, from the archaeological perspective.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In the workers' house, they found
what's become a classic sign of slave living. It's called
a sub-floor pit - a kind of storage area discovered
in slave housing excavations all over Virginia. Inside
this one there were unmistakable signs of African occupants
- beads of a type and color favored by West Africans,
and pipes made of local clay, but with West African
decorations. The planter's house also had a sub-floor
pit. The English custom was to construct root cellars
this way, but Africans had no such tradition. A century
later, the slaves at Carter's Grove were still building
root cellars under their floors -- perhaps to acquire
some at least semi-private space to store food or valuables.
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM Now, some of these get very deep.
We have root cellars that were actually over three feet
deep, some as large as nine feet square.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Sub-floor pits have had a major
impact on slave archeology. While in use they accumulated
large quantities of household bits and pieces, which
paint an objective portrait of slave life.
ALAN ALDA Do we have almost entirely a written record
of what happened from the point of view of the white
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM Yes, it's very much in favor of
the white population doing all the writing. So when
you look at the objects that is directly connected with
slave life, they give you a different picture because
by then you start to get some very unexpected finds.
ALAN ALDA Like what?
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM For example, we have gun flint,
and we also find gun parts on sites. And guns were pretty
much illegal. By law, they were things that were not
allowed, but in practice, slaves were given guns. They
were actually helping to hunt for the main house as
well as for themselves.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Some slaves led a recognizable
family life, although the threat of separation through
sale was ever-present. Some slaves bought possessions.
Field slaves in particular could make money from hunting,
fishing and growing vegetables. They took medicines
- probably traditional remedies - and they had a powerful
life of religion and ritual. Ritual objects are found
throughout slave site excavations. Above all the impression
is of poor people struggling to make the best of their
harsh and oppressive circumstances. Lydia is a house
slave. House slaves were regarded as more valuable than
field workers, and were punished less. But they had
endless hours, and - living on the job - they were usually
separated from their families, often from childhood.
We're on the main street of Colonial Williamsburg, at
the house of the lawyer, George Wythe. After 45 years
of exhibiting upper class life, in 1979 Colonial Williamsburg
decided it was time to start interpreting the other
half. So I'm heading back to 1774.
ALAN ALDA Hello.
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) Oh! Good day to
you sir! Now did the Mistress Wythe give you permission
to come here to this kitchen and disturb me while I
was trying to get her dinner ready?
ALAN ALDA I just wandered in. I wondered if I could
ask you a few questions.
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) You have curiosities
for me sir?
ALAN ALDA How long have you been working here?
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) Well, ever since
Master George and Mistress Elizabeth was first married,
and that was back in '55.
ALAN ALDA '55. That was...
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) Master George brought
me here from his plantation, out there yonder, in Elizabeth
City County. Chesterville, 'tis called.
ALAN ALDA Who does all the cleaning up? Cleaning pots
and things like that?
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) Well, there be about
ten and five of us Negroes here on this property. I'm
the cook. I do the cooking, I go to market with Mistress
Wythe. Now the dishes in the house that she uses upon
the table? They don't come out here. Mistress Elizabeth
has someone in the house to clean them up. But here,
well, I see to it that the young-uns learn how to clean
up them pots after all. Keep them young-uns busy. Keep
them out of trouble. You know, idle minds be the devil's
workshop, and the idle hands is, too. I needs to...
ALAN ALDA Oh, I'm sorry, you have to get to your fish.
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) ...see to my fish,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Well the truth is Lydia would
probably have got into terrible trouble for talking
so freely to a white man.
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) It's not coming
along too good. I needs to put some more coals to this.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And few white men would have
had much interest in Lydia's life.
ALAN ALDA How about your family? Do you have a family
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) Master George brought
me here and left behind my momma, my sister, my brother,
and a fella by the name of Tom, that...I believe he
was gonna ask me to jump the broom with him, but Master
George brought me here before that did happen so I ain't
never jumped the broom.
ALAN ALDA Now do you... Let me ask you… Do you ever
break out of character? Can I talk to you out of character
for a minute?
HARRIOTT LOMAX (AS LYDIA BROADNAX) I don't understand
what you'd be speaking of, sir.
ALAN ALDA Okay…
ALAN ALDA Why don't we sit under the tree for a minute?.
HARRIOTT LOMAX Of course.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Slave life is a worthy subject
for interpretation, in the same way that slave archeology
is now a legitimate subject.
ALAN ALDA You know, you're terrific. How long have
you been working on this character?
HARRIOTT LOMAX Um, the character that you just saw,
about six years.
ALAN ALDA And have you done other characters, too?
HARRIOTT LOMAX Presently I am the cook for the Randolph
property, her name is Betty. And Lydia and Betty don't
ALAN ALDA So you get to talk about yourself, right?
HARRIOTT LOMAX Of course I do.
ALAN ALDA I think it must be interesting and maybe
even troubling to people who are African-American now,
to know that somebody spends her day, every day, re-enacting
the life of a slave.
HARRIOTT LOMAX I feel like I am the voice of those...
our ancestors who could not speak for themselves at
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) They try to get every detail
right. We know from excavation that the master always
got the big fish, for example. But getting things right,
and not ignoring the record, has not been uncontroversial.
HARRIOTT LOMAX About seven or eight years ago we held
an estate auction here. It was supposed to be one of
our community events. And the news of that event was
leaked to the media and it was broadcast as a slave
auction. And we had wall-to-wall people down in front
of the Wetherburn's Tavern, where that auction actually
ALAN ALDA Protesting?
HARRIOTT LOMAX Yes.
PROTESTER This is an outrage. This is an outrage.
OFFICIAL We are trying to educate people here.
PROTESTER We think that you cannot portray our history
in 21 minutes in front of a carnival atmosphere.
BIDDER 42 pounds sir.
AUCTIONEER 42 pounds?
BIDDER For a laundress?
HARRIOTT LOMAX You saw a free Negro purchasing his
wife, who was a slave. Then you saw a skilled Negro
who was a carpenter being sold off, along with his tools.
AUCTIONEER I remind you of the great value of this
slave -- come , come. BIDDER Sixty-five.
LYDIA'S PORTRAYER And then you saw a young man very
elegantly dressed being sold off.
AUCTIONEER Delivery will be included.
BIDDER Sixty-two pounds.
AUCTIONEER Sixty-two pounds to Mr. Taylo.
HARRIOTT LOMAX And then the last person that was brought
up to be sold off was that elegantly dressed man's pregnant
wife. And you saw them being sold to two different masters.
AUCTIONEER Very well gentlemen, Mr. Nelson wins the
bid at fifty pounds. Mr. Sergeant, is there any other
articles to be auctioned?
HARRIOTT LOMAX And it was quite moving because some
of those that came here in protest kind of stepped back
-- I learned something today.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Some of the most revealing results
of the new slave archeology have shown us what slaves
ate. The standard weekly ration for each adult was one
peck of corn meal - that's 8 quarts - with a pound of
salt beef or pork, and maybe a little molasses or salt
fish. That's a little over 2,000 calories a day, not
enough for hard manual labor. How did slaves survive?
Archeologists now routinely run the dirt they dig up
through a flotation tank. It's a way of separating out
the tiniest pieces of seed and bone. Then there's a
tedious and time-consuming process of identification.
With fish, for example, they can tell the species, the
size, and the frequency they were eaten. Sub-floor pits
have turned out to be a terrific source of food remains
like this. We always knew that slaves in the Chesapeake
went fishing. Records show they sold fish to slave-owners,
or at market. But it's turned out fish were a really
important part of slave diet. Here's a comparison between
the average slave master's diet on the left, and the
slave's diet on the right. More than 90 percent of the
master's diet was domestic animals, with a few wild
animals - but only the best. Much less of the slave
diet was domestic animals - with small pieces and bad
cuts, too - but it included a large amount of fish and
wild animals of all kinds. The conclusion is that slaves
were hunting, fishing, gardening - doing everything
they could to supplement the ration. This hominy is
based on corn meal, but anything could be added.
GENE MITCHELL It's made out of beans -- any type of
bean, kidney bean, black-eyed peas, whatever. And, ah,
fat back, as well as ground corn.
ALAN ALDA Now, would this have been eaten every day?
YWONE EDWARDS-INGRAM Very much so. This would be part
of their daily ration, in terms of-- a meal that you
can cook slowly. You could start it in the morning,
leave it, be cooking slowly while you were out in the
ALAN ALDA Is what I have on my plate a portion that
I would get at a meal?
GENE MITCHELL What I cooked today would feed about
ALAN ALDA So, you wouldn't get much more than this
on your plate.
GENE MITCHELL Probably. Probably not. Maybe a little
ALAN ALDA If you didn't have a fish that you'd caught,
you wouldn't get enough to sustain you through a hard
GENE MITCHELL True. That's why they're doing the extra
things that they need to do to survive.
ALAN ALDA Yeah.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're going to continue our exploration
of the archeology of slavery when we visit Thomas Jefferson's
THOS. JEFFERSON, SLAVE-MASTER
ALAN ALDA Is this plantation now the same size as when
Jefferson lived here?
FRASER NEIMAN Er, no currently…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I'm with Fraser Neiman, Director
of Archeology for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
FRASER NEIMAN ...five-thousand acre plantation.
ALAN ALDA Did he get that all at once or did he get
it in bits and pieces?
FRASER NEIMAN No, he got the majority of it at once
as an inheritance from his father, Peter Jefferson,
who initially set up shop about two miles east of here
at a place called Shadwell. And then he subsequently
did add to that over time.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
estate encompassed 5000 acres. To work the estate, he
owned about 120 slaves - men, women and children, living
around the house and at 4 farms up to 2 miles away.
FRASER NEIMAN This is a typical set up for an 18th
century Chesapeake plantation in which, at least, for
very wealthy tobacco planters and slave owners who typically
would own too many slaves to physically be able to house
them all in one spot.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jefferson was by all accounts
a better slave owner than most. He wasn't violent, and
he respected families. Slaves were simply his livelihood.
He said, "I love industry, and abhor severity." Jefferson
designed his house for slavery, but also to hide slavery.
Slaves were beneath this walkway here, and further out
along Mulberry Row, as it was known.
ALAN ALDA You can walk around the grounds where Jefferson
walked and where his guests walked and not see the slave
FRASER NEIMAN Right -- trying to limit the pathways
that slaves can take as they traverse the space between
the dependencies on the one hand, where they actually
work and live, and the house, on the other.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The lengths Jefferson went to
to separate whites and blacks is often taken as demonstrating
his racism. He built underground passageways for the
house servants, for example. Jefferson's racism was
paternalistic and typical of the age. Slaves were his
family, he said, you couldn't free them because it would
be "like abandoning children." We're going to look at
what recent archeology says about the lives of Jefferson's
slaves. But first, Fraser Neiman took me on a tour of
the house, from a slave's point of view. In this block
slaves lived and worked - in the dairy, kitchen and
FRASER NEIMAN You can see how it's cleverly arranged
so that meat would be... would hang in the room that
we're standing, and the room next door here. But it
would hang behind this stout locked door. And a slave
could keep the fire going to smoke the meat in this
little fireplace here without...
ALAN ALDA Without entering the room.
FRASER NEIMAN ...ever having access to the room where
the meat was stored.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The cook lived next door in an
exceptionally comfortable 10 by 14 room with a brick
floor. In later years the cook was a favorite of Jefferson's,
Edy Fossett, married to Joe Fossett, the blacksmith.
ALAN ALDA So there was the kitchen, then... Oh was
this the passage right here?
FRASER NEIMAN Yes, the passage is right here. And this
is the subterranean passage through which all food was
brought on its way to the dining room.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Along here is Jefferson's wine
cellar, where his attitude to slaves is still apparent.
FRASER NEIMAN One of its key features is a set of essentially
wine elevators in which somebody down here could place
bottles of wine in the carrier in the elevator.
ALAN ALDA So somebody could get the wine right from
this cellar right up to the dining room.
FRASER NEIMAN Exactly. Again, a way of getting the
beverage in without...
ALAN ALDA Without the person.
FRASER NEIMAN Without the person. Exactly.
ALAN ALDA There's something very eerie about that.
FRASER NEIMAN Yes, it's true.
ALAN ALDA It really seems to me to be a psychological
response to the tension of benefiting from something
he knew was deeply evil.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jefferson did benefit from his
slaves. They generated the wealth that built his mansion,
with its classical features that he carefully included
in the architecture. Nevertheless he died heavily in
debt and the house was sold, along with almost all the
ALAN ALDA So this is the main entrance? This is where
visitors would come... The first thing they'd see?
FRASER NEIMAN Exactly. Yeah, it's this classical pediment
with its columns, which are actually made of brick and
then parged to look like stone. And we've just entered
Monticello's main entrance hall.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) One visitor was struck by what
he called the "unpleasant contrast" between the slave
housing on Mulberry Row and Jefferson's "palace," as
he termed it.
FRASER NEIMAN This is the parlor. If we'd come to visit
Jefferson in the early 19th century we would have been
admitted to the hall out here in the front which is
a kind of receiving area. And, if one, I suppose, in
some sense, passed muster, you might be admitted to
this much more private living space. And you can see,
if you look around, there's the highly decorated cornice.
This, in a sense, is one of the most expensively decorated
rooms in the house.
ALAN ALDA Are these paintings that he accumulated in
FRASER NEIMAN He did, yes. His painting collection
was really designed to raise the caliber of aesthetic
taste in North America. And then, as we take a right,
we enter the dining room -- a key room at Monticello.
This is an area that's important to Jefferson, because
it's a place where he entertained and fed his guests.
But it's also important because it's where the world
of slavery that supports the lifestyle in the house
here intersects with the entertainment functions of
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's the top end of the wine
elevator coming up from the cellar, that we saw along
the underground passage.
ALAN ALDA Who would stand here, would Jefferson stand
FRASER NEIMAN Presumably, yeah, one of Jefferson's...
Jefferson, or one of his family members, or perhaps
a fellow named Burwell Colbert who was Jefferson's trusted
enslaved butler. So it's a way of minimizing, I suppose,
the contact, the social interaction between diners here
and the world of slavery below. The other key feature
of this room is this turning door. If we slide by it
here you can see how it works. Again, it's a way in
which food can be introduced into the dining room without
people. Food would be brought through the covered passageway,
from the kitchen, through the covered passageway, up
the stairs here, placed on this, and then -- we can
swing this -- and the food goes into the dining room,
but the slave server stays outside. And then if we head
down here, we can sort of trace in reverse the steps
that the food would have taken, down these steps into
the basement of the house. Walking into this little
room, we suspect that this fireplace may have served
as a place to help keep food warm on its trip. And as
we head out this door, we'll hang a right and here we
encounter the basement. Down the covered passage this
way lies the kitchen...
ALAN ALDA Oh, that's where we came--.
FRASER NEIMAN Where we came through earlier today.
And then as we continue on here, we end up at the wine
cellar which is right below the dining room.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) "The dinner was always choice,"
a visitor from Boston said, "And served in the French
style." But now let's head back out the underground
passage, to the slave quarters on Mulberry Row. The
first surprise is that there's almost nothing there.
Jefferson's slaves lived in small log cabins -- like
the ones reconstructed at Carter's Grove -- that have
long since disappeared. Mulberry Row was the focus of
Jefferson's constant search for productivity in his
FRASER NEIMAN The vegetable garden is really an interesting
feature at Monticello. The version that we're looking
at now was constructed between 1807 and 1809. You can
see that it's been excavated from a, in a cut, a massive
cut and fill operation, into the side of the mountain.
This took a gang of twenty slaves over two years of
labor to do. It was surrounded by this nine foot high
paling fence. A fence that's designed not only to keep
deer and rabbits out, but also, obviously, to keep people
out. If we continue on down Mulberry Row, we'll come
down to another of the domestic structures associated
with the house. This one actually we call building "o".
The name comes from a insurance plat, a map that Jefferson
drew up as part of an insurance policy that he took
out on the house in 1796.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The famous plan that Jefferson
drew for the Mutual Assurance Company of Richmond has
been the starting point for all Mulberry Row archeology.
There was some excavation in the 1950s, then 7 years
of intensive digging in the 80s. Jefferson's buildings
"d" and "j" were a blacksmith shop and nail factory.
They yielded foundations for anvils, and lots of iron
waste. The nailery, where a dozen slave boys age 10
to 16 worked, was one of Jefferson's many business ventures.
But then there were surprises. Building "l", which Jefferson
called a storehouse, yielded china, bottle glass and
animal bones. So it was a house at some point. In fact
slaves all over the region lived where they worked.
And they found many sub-floor pits, which Jefferson
had no cause to mention. Fraser believes he's identified
an intriguing pattern with the pits. Between about 1770
and 1800, slave houses got smaller, while fewer pits
were dug. Eventually there were no pits.
ALAN ALDA When you have a room that does not have a
sub-floor pit, why isn't it there?
FRASER NEIMAN Well, because it's... the rooms tend
to be small. And that suggests that what we're seeing
in these small-room structures without sub-floor pits,
is family-based living arrangements.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) If everyone in the house is family,
you don't need a private storage area. The artifacts
tell a parallel story. From excavations here and around
the region, it's emerging that at the same time houses
were getting smaller, slaves were becoming consumers.
They followed their own fashions in china, for example.
They bought their own decorative buttons. We know they
made money hunting and gardening, and we know slave
owners gave out gratuities. Perhaps the family living
represented by smaller houses was part of the same system
of rewards. To follow up this idea Fraser Neiman has
been extending Monticello archeology out into what was,
200 years ago, Jefferson's plantation. Now the forest's
growing back, but out here somewhere are the remnants
of four farms with their slave quarters.
ALAN ALDA Where are we? We seem like we're really far
from the main house.
FRASER NEIMAN We are. We are. We're at a part of Monticello
that visitors, at the moment, never get to. We're about
a half a mile from Monticello mansion. And we're at
the center of what we've discovered over the last couple
of years, the center of the settlement, slave settlement
for Monticello's home farm quarter. If you kind of look
around you here, you can see a scatter of test pits...
ALAN ALDA A test pit meaning you're looking to see
if there's any former building there....
FRASER NEIMAN Exactly. Right. And we're looking for
artifacts, remains of buildings, remains of places where
people have gone in and dug a hole to get clay, for
example, to plaster a chimney.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So far they've dug 11,000 test
pits, one every 40 feet, across 300 acres of Monticello's
home farm. Eventually they'll dig 10 times that number,
but already they've located 16 promising occupation
sites. At this site, so far they've found two houses
for field slaves, which they're just starting to excavate.
But when I began to think about how you actually do
archeology, I got more and more puzzled.
ALAN ALDA You dig around in the dirt. And when I dig
around in the dirt, I just get more dirt, the further
down I go. What do you get that's a sign? I mean, how
can you say there's a hole there?
FRASER NEIMAN Great question.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's the answer. First you
strip off the trees - these have all grown since the
farms were abandoned. Then you strip off the top layer
that's been mixed up by plowing. Now you're down to
FRASER NEIMAN We very carefully clean off the surface
of the subsoil. And we can see, then, areas of the undisturbed
subsoil, but we also see other stuff. For example, if
you look right here, you can see a sort of rectangular,
darker splotch. And that is a place where somebody two
hundred years ago excavated a rectangular hole in the
ground and then, when this site was abandoned, probably
in the 1790s, that hole was an obstruction and it was
therefore filled in with dirt. But the dirt that was
used to fill it in was not the undisturbed subsoil.
It was just gathered off the surface. So, as a result,
it looks, the fill in the hole, looks radically different
from the undisturbed subsoil surrounding it.
ALAN ALDA Have you found out what these holes were?
FRASER NEIMAN Well, these holes are really interesting
to us, and in fact we only discovered them last week,
or figured out what they were last week definitively.
And they are sub-floor pits. And it's particularly exciting
to us that there are three of them here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Three sub-floor pits is just
what Fraser would expect, because the building is large
and was built before small, single-family houses - with
no pits - appeared on Mulberry Row. Fraser thinks the
key to all these changes is tobacco. Since Jamestown
it had created wealth, and demanded slave labor. Tobacco
cultivation is labor-intensive. Slaves were organized
in gangs all doing the same task, under the eye of an
overseer. But in the 1790s the market collapsed. Jefferson,
along with many other slave owners, switched to wheat.
But wheat is much more complicated.
FRASER NEIMAN You've got to have crop rotations. You've
got to have manure to fertilize the fields, so that...
you've got to have plows, you've got to have draft animals
to pull the plows, which means now you've got to have
fodder crops as well. You've got to have skilled slaves
who can fix the plows and take care of the draft animals.
And all of a sudden the number of different work tasks
that have to be accomplished goes up. And it's no longer
possible to get them accomplished if all your slaves
are in the same place.
ALAN ALDA Doing the same thing.
FRASER NEIMAN Doing the same thing. They can't. They
can't all do the same thing at the same time.
ALAN ALDA They have to specialize a little bit.
FRASER NEIMAN Exactly. They have to be specialized
and they have to be scattered across the landscape.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The result, says Fraser, was
a profound change - less coercion, more trust, more
rewards, in the form both of single-family houses, and
money too. Slaves, he believes, quickly grasped the
opportunity to pry a better life from their masters,
and the masters were stuck with it.
FRASER NEIMAN It increases the cost of running a management
system that's based pretty much entirely on surveillance
and the use, or threats of, actual use or threats of
violence, to get people to work. And the, what I think
happens with these more diversified agricultural systems,
is that, slave owners begin to, or slaves force them
to include a few more positive rewards in the labor
ALAN ALDA And one of those rewards would be to be able
to live with your own family.
FRASER NEIMAN That's our current. at least my current,
favorite explanation for the changes in architecture
and the changes in settlement that we see at Monticello.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's likely that across the region,
slaves were figuring out many other ways to improve
their lot. I see that as a message of hope. Africans
were brought violently to America, thrown together in
random groups of strangers. Against all odds they developed
family and culture, began to win the dignity of private
life, and started on the long road to freedom.