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Belle Grove Plantation to Continue Archaeological Investigations at Slave Quarter Sites

Archaeology at a slave quarter site at Belle Grove Plantation will continue this summer under the leadership of archaeologist Matthew Greer. Mr. Greer, a PhD candidate at Syracuse University, has for the last three years conducted methodical testing of this 1.5-acre site located across Belle Grove Road from the main visitor parking lot. He has confirmed it was inhabited between about 1800 and 1850. The more than 10,000 artifacts already discovered at this site provide information on the architectural styles, landscape, and consumption practices of the enslaved at Belle Grove.

From 1783 to 1851, the Hite family at Belle Grove enslaved 276 Africans to labor raising grains and livestock, doing household tasks, and operating a grist mill, saw mill, distillery, lime kiln, quarry, and blacksmith shop. Although slave dwellings are no longer extant, a cluster of small buildings were documented on Civil War maps by Jedediah Hotchkiss and G. L. Gillespie as well as in drawings by Civil War artist James E. Taylor.

The 2018 field research began on May 21 and will continue until August 10. Work will include excavating a previously identified burned housesite, areas surrounding this dwelling, and the locations of several more possible housesites, trash deposits, and pit features. “This research is integral to learning and talking about the enslaved individuals who were owned at Belle Grove,” said Executive Director Kristen Laise. “Although there are some archival records that provide names and information about the enslaved, it doesn’t tell us much about what their daily lives were like. Archaeology is a powerful tool in discovering more about this significant enslaved community.”

Mr. Greer is joined this summer by archaeologist Erica Moses. In May and June, five undergraduate students from Hood College and Frederick Community College (both in Frederick, Maryland), and Syracuse University will participate in the research and learn about field archaeology under the direction of Mr. Greer and Dr. David Hixson of Hood College.

Funding for this research has been made possible through a generous grant from the James R. Wilkins Charitable Trust based in Winchester, Virginia. “Our family is pleased to continue its long relationship with Belle Grove, and to be supportive of its efforts to explore and protect its history,” said co-trustee Donna Downing.

This project also received funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Battlefield Preservation Fund; this is the second year this project has received this competitive grant. “Organizations like Belle Grove help to ensure that communities all across America retain their unique sense of place,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We are honored to provide a grant for the slave quarter archaeology research at Belle Grove to help preserve an important piece of our shared national heritage."

The archaeological excavations will take place primarily on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and visitors are welcome to visit during these hours to see the work in progress. There will also be two Saturdays when fieldwork will take place, Saturday, June 16 and Saturday, July 14. Mr. Greer will also give a tour and talk on Tuesday, July 17 at 4 p.m. and on Wednesday, July 25 at 11 a.m.

Belle Grove is seeking volunteers to help wash artifacts on weekdays during the field season and will provide training. This work will be done outdoors at a table under a tent. Those that are interested may contact Belle Grove at or 540-869-2028.

Updates on the project will be made frequently on social media at and Instagram at

News stories on the project:

Radio interview Historic Belle Grove with Host Chris Mitchell on Q102's Crossroads, August 24, 2018

Television story Archaeologist Continue to Dig Up History at Belle Grove Plantation, Local DVM, June 7, 2018

Belle Grove Continues Archaeological Investigations at Slave Quarter Sites, Northern Virginia Daily, June 6, 2018

Details Unearthed of Lives in Bondage at Belle Grove, Winchester Star, August 7, 2018

Belle Grove Plantation to Continue Archaeological Investigations at an Enslaved African American Site, National Park Service National Heritage Areas Blog, July 9, 2018


Photo Caption: Archaeologist Matthew Greer (far left, back row) and Erica Moses (far left, front row) along with Dr. David Hixson of Hood College (second from left, back row) co-director of the field school. In the front row are Jessica Burnette (Hood College), Mary Hallaren (Frederick Community College), Marissa Reed (Hood College) and in the back row are Nate Purser (Hood College) and Michael Dobscha (Syracuse University). (photo by Kristen Laise)