The excavation of a hidden chamber at the former home of Thomas Jefferson's girlfriend has not turned up any love letters — yet. "We still have about 2 feet further down to dig," said Thane Harpole, who is leading the project along with fellow archaeologist David Brown.
Fairfield Plantation was the Gloucester County home of Rebecca Burwell, who was 16 when she met College of William and Mary student Thomas Jefferson. The house was built in 1694 for Lewis Burwell II, patriarch of one of colonial Virginia's largest and most politically influential families.
Harpole and Brown say excavation of the hidden chamber in the home's cellar has turned up several artifacts, but nothing related to the romance between Rebecca and the man who would become the author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation's third president.
The archaeologists have no idea why the hidden chamber was built, but early indications are that it was used in more recent times as a giant junk drawer.
Ultimately, they hope extensive study of the site will provide a greater understanding of the more than 300-year evolution of one of the most important plantations in Virginia's history.
Fairfield, which also was known as Carter's Creek, originally spread over some 7,000 acres in a period when Gloucester was Virginia's most populous county. Grants and private donations to the Fairfield Foundation are paying the estimated $372,000 cost of the excavation.
The foundation held its first formal fundraiser last Thursday at Warner Hall, another Gloucester historical treasure. About 70 guests paid $60 each to view exhibits from the project and hear inspirational words from Charles F. Bryan Jr., president of the Virginia Historical Society.
The project is about to move into the second of three planned phases, which will include erecting a protective structure — essentially a roof on stilts — over the excavation area.
Eventually the plan calls for construction of wood and steel walkways to enable archaeologists and visitors access to the ruins' interior.