The Jeffersons at Shadwell

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Overview

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 ...

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The Jeffersons at Shadwell

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Lauren Winner

“Kern’s re-creation of the daily routines at Shadwell is both painstaking and path-breaking. All future students of Jefferson will turn to this as the standard account of his childhood world.”—Lauren Winner, Duke University

Jon Meacham

"In this ground-breaking and original work, Susan Kern marvelously re-creates the lost world that gave us one of the most important Americans who ever lived. Kern's research is impeccable, her writing fluid, and no one will ever again be able to consider Jefferson without taking this terrific book into account. A great achievement."--Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston
William and Mary Quarterly - Barbara B. Oberg

“[A] fine book . . . a learned and skillfully crafted portrayal of Shadwell . . . a fascinating story . . . a wonderfully rich narrative of eighteenth-century life .”—Barbara B. Oberg, William and Mary Quarterly
Virginia Historical Society - 2011 Richard Slatten Award for Excellence in Virginian Biography

Winner of the 2011 Richard Slatten Award for Excellence in Virginian Biography, sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society
Vernacular Architecture Forum - 2011 Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize

Winner of the 2011 Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize given by the Vernacular Architecture Forum
Publishers Weekly
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was born and raised in Shadwell, the Virginia plantation home of his father, his mother, their eight children, and more than 60 slaves. When it burned in 1770, Jefferson moved to nearby buildings that soon became Monticello. Shadwell vanished from history until archeologists began digging up the site in 1943. A former archeologist for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Kern combines their findings with existing documents, letters, wills, and business records to deliver a scholarly portrait of life in the pre-revolutionary South that overturns some popular perceptions and historians' views, most particularly that Jefferson's father was a hardy frontiersman rather than a member of the gentry. According to Kern, Shadwell was equipped with all the material and cultural trappings of elite Virginia society. Kern leaves no stone unturned, and primarily academics will appreciate her lengthy enumeration of archeological remains, inventories, itineraries, and demographic statistics, but she provides an intensely fact-based account of the young Jefferson's "well-ordered, well-connected world," from the layout of his childhood dwelling and its contents to the lives, possessions, and social position of his parents, neighbors, hired hands, and slaves. Illus., map. (Sept.)
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
“Well-researched and engagingly written . . . a work of impressive yet accessible scholarship.”—Matthew R. Laird, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
— Matthew R. Laird
Timothy J. Shannon

“Kern has intimate knowledge not only of the archaeology of Shadwell but also of the family history of the Jeffersons. This book provides us with an in-depth look at the material culture, social milieu, and domestic lives of the free whites and enslaved blacks who lived at Thomas Jefferson’s childhood home.”—Timothy J. Shannon, Gettysburg College

Rhys Isaac

“A quiet revolution in our understanding both of Thomas Jefferson’s childhood and of late colonial Virginia! The material culture of Shadwell is delicately reconstructed from archeology and the documentation of Peter Jefferson’s deceased estate. A must-read for all interested not just in the Founder but also in the history of family and household in America.”—Rhys Isaac, author of The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790

Woody Holton

"Is the field of Jefferson studies played out? Could be, but just below that depleted topsoil, archeologist Susan Kern has hit pay dirt. From the pipes and pottery fashioned by the sixty-odd slaves who labored at Jefferson's birthplace to the metal ornaments left behind by his father's Cherokee visitors, Kern's artifacts paint a portrait of colonial Virginia that is more intimate, complex, and exciting than could ever have been drawn solely from the testimony of the literate."—Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams
PhiloBiblos - Jeremy Dibbell

"This well-researched, well-written, and wide-ranging book is microhistory at its best. . . . Kern's clean prose offers valuable insight and vital contextual detail to our understanding of the Jefferson family."—Jeremy Dibbell, PhiloBiblos
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography - Matthew R. Laird
“Well-researched and engagingly written . . . a work of impressive yet accessible scholarship.”—Matthew R. Laird, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
American Historical Review - Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler

"Kern's book both supports and extends what is known about slavery and the daily lives of Africn-Americans in mid-eighteenth century Virginia. . . . In highlighting the important roles that slaves and women played in Jefferson's upbringing but not his slef-fashioningm, the author's conclusions and her use of evidence are likely to attract both praise and criticism for years to come."—Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler, American Historical Review
Virginia Scharff

"This elegant, vivid book shows us what a gifted historian and archaeologist can do with the state-of-the-art tools of her trades. Susan Kern has revealed a Shadwell we thought we'd never know."—Virginia Scharff, author of The Women Jefferson Loved
PhiloBiblos

"This well-researched, well-written, and wide-ranging book is microhistory at its best. . . . Kern's clean prose offers valuable insight and vital contextual detail to our understanding of the Jefferson family."—Jeremy Dibbell, PhiloBiblos

— Jeremy Dibbell

American Historical Review

"Kern's book both supports and extends what is known about slavery and the daily lives of Africn-Americans in mid-eighteenth century Virginia. . . . In highlighting the important roles that slaves and women played in Jefferson's upbringing but not his slef-fashioningm, the author's conclusions and her use of evidence are likely to attract both praise and criticism for years to come."—Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler, American Historical Review

— Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler

William and Mary Quarterly

“[A] fine book . . . a learned and skillfully crafted portrayal of Shadwell . . . a fascinating story . . . a wonderfully rich narrative of eighteenth-century life .”—Barbara B. Oberg, William and Mary Quarterly

— Barbara B. Oberg

Virginia Historical Society

Winner of the 2011 Richard Slatten Award for Excellence in Virginian Biography, sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society

— 2011 Richard Slatten Award for Excellence in Virginian Biography

Vernacular Architecture Forum

Winner of the 2011 Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize given by the Vernacular Architecture Forum

— 2011 Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize

Library Journal
Archaeologist Kern (history, visiting, Coll. of William and Mary) has done a welcome service here to the disciplines of archaeology and American history in her study of Thomas Jefferson's Virginia childhood home, which burned down in 1770. Kern's approach, sifting through not only the artifacts to be uncovered at the Shadwell site, but also the contextual historical record, is tremendously illuminating. She begins at the level of the household at Shadwell, with material culture comparisons between the home life of the Jeffersons and the plantation's over 60 enslaved African Americans. Period historical documents provide greater detail on the social importance of Shadwell, the Jefferson family, and their plantation business. In essence the documents become part of Kern's larger artifact assemblage. VERDICT This book should be welcomed not only by historical archaeologists of America's Colonial period, but other archaeologists as well, who will be well served by Kern's approach to creating a vivid account of life at Jefferson's boyhood home. The ease with which the text is written also provides nonspecialists with rich access to this part of history, much as Ivor Noël Hume's Martin's Hundred did for another Virginia site. Highly recommended.—John E. Dockall, staff archeologist, Prewitt and Assocs., Inc., Austin, TX
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300187434
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/13/2012
  • Series: The Lamar Series in Western History
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 805,190
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Susan Kern is currently visiting assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary. She lives in Virginia.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2012

    Amazing

    I know the person who wrote this book and I think this book is very good!

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