Current Research Returning to Liberty Hall

Current Research at Liberty Hall, Lexington, and Rockbridge County

Professor Gaylord's current research entails a three-pronged approach to better understand the place of Liberty Hall in its broader social, economic, and geographic contexts. These three approaches involve: the continuation of a stratified random sample begun by Professor John McDaniel in the 1970s; a deeper dive into the history and archaeology of the daily lives of enslaved people who were held in bondage at Liberty Hall Plantation between 1803 and the American Civil War; and historical research on the broader rise of enslavement in the Great Valley of Virginia and the consequent transformation of society in Lexington and Rockbridge County. These are also exemplified by three recent conference presentations whose abstracts are detailed below.

Revisiting a Stratified Random Sample of the 18th-Century Liberty Hall Campus of Washington and Lee University
Many of us at institutions with long-standing archaeology programs benefit greatly from the collections we inherit. However, these also present certain challenges. One such example is a stratified random sample done by Professor John McDaniel and Washington and Lee Archaeology in the 1970s on its 18th-century Liberty Hall Campus. Exceptional in historical archaeology at a time when many archaeologists were still stripping the plowzone from sites, a stratified random sample provides the statistical benefits of randomness, while still ensuring systematic coverage of the test area that a simple random sample does not achieve. Spatial analysis of this collection with statistical methods unavailable at the time of its excavation has led us to realize that we needed a larger sample in order to meet new preservation needs and to answer new research questions. Recent excavations have supplemented the sample in our attempt to determine adequate quadrat size and spacing to accomplish our research.

Enslavement at Liberty Hall: Archaeology, History, and Silence at an 18th-Century College Campus and Ante-Bellum Slave Plantation in Virginia
Liberty Hall Academy, the forerunner of Washington and Lee University, operated outside of Lexington, Virginia from 1782 until 1803. When fire consumed the institution's academic building, the school relocated a half-mile closer to town. Following the move, Andrew Alexander an alumnus and trustee of the school operated his family plantation at the site. Alexander held between twelve and twenty-four African-Americans in bondage to provide labor for his agricultural and industrial endeavors. For over half a century, enslaved people lived and worked in the buildings erected by Liberty Hall Academy, yet generations of archaeological and historical research here make scant reference to slavery. Based on recent excavations and further archival research, this paper seeks to remember John Anderson, an enslaved blacksmith, and his peers whose labor formed the foundation of the workforce at this plantation, which these later owners called, ironically, Liberty Hall Farm.

The Rise of Slavery in the Valley of Virginia and its Enduring Presence on the Landscape of Lexington and Rockbridge County
Settled in the 1730s by Scotch-Irish immigrants who initially eschewed the institution of slavery, Rockbridge County, Virginia eventually became home to a society reliant on the enslavement of African Americans. After the American Revolution, an elite class of newly minted American citizens established its identity through economic, social, and symbolic associations with Chesapeake plantation society. Archibald Alexander (1708-1780), his son William (1738-1797), and his grandson Andrew (1768-1844) exemplified this transformation, with Andrew being the first to marry outside the local Scotch-Irish Presbyterian community. Andrew married Ann Dandridge Aylett of King William County, one of the area's largest slave holding families. Eventually, Andrew's grandaughter Mary Evelyn Anderson Bruce represented the apotheosis of the Americanization of the Scotch Irish by marrying into the Bruce family of Berry Hill Plantation in South Boston, one of America's richest families and largest slaveholders. Closely tied to Liberty Hall Academy and its successor Washington College, Andrew held almost thirty African Americans in bondage over his lifetime at his plantation on the former school campus. In addition to the usual agricultural pursuits of plantation owners, Andrew periodically hired out these enslaved people to other industrialists and exploited their labor himself on both public and private infrastructure projects. Today, these materializations of enslaved labor are abundantly visible on the Rockbridge County landscape, though often they are not recognized as such.