Clifts Plantation (44WM33)
The Clifts Plantation site (44WM33) is located in Westmoreland County, Virginia on
land patented by Nathaniel Pope in 1651 and first occupied by tenants two decades
later. Their seventy-year occupation is characterized by rich archaeological evidence,
but an unusual documentary silence. In 1713, the Lee family purchased the property
on which the Clifts was located, and incorporated it into their family plantation.
About 1730, the Lees started construction on their large H-shaped Georgian mansion,
known as Stratford Hall, a quarter of a mile from the site. The construction period
coincides with the abandonment of the Clifts.
The site is best known as one of two fortified 17th-century domestic compounds excavated
on the Northern Neck, the other being the Hallowes site (44WM6), located less than five
miles to the east on Currioman Bay. The original dwelling at the Clifts is surrounded by
a palisade with circular bastions dating to the period of Bacon's Rebellion. The fortification
was temporary, and a complex curtilage that included a quarter, barn, cellared building,
dairy, and a number of smokehouses emerged over time. Concurrent with the construction
of these buildings was the development of a highly structured landscape, one of the
earliest and best documented examples of the use of dynamic symmetry and perspective
in the Chesapeake. The site is also significant for the excavation of a cemetery that
bounded the eastern edge of the domestic core. It contained the remains of site tenants,
enslaved Africans, and indentured servants. The cemetery has provided important information
about plantation demographics, health, and mortuary practices.
The Pope's tenants, who remain unidentified, were unusual for the time. By the fourth quarter
of the 17th-century, tenancy was becoming lifelong. A shortage of available land in the lower
Tidewater made it nearly impossible to become a freeholder for those unwilling to move to the
frontier. Tenancy agreements typically lasted for three of the owners' lifetimes (the planter,
his wife, and his heir), as appears to be the case at Clifts given the long occupancy of the
site and evidence that the manor house and its outbuildings were improved through several episodes
of alterations. The demography of the site, as well as its architecture, landscape, and artifacts
indicate that the tenants at the Clifts, though landless, were materially well off.
The Clifts Plantation was first identified in the 1960s when members of the Archeological Society
of Virginia surface-collected the area. In 1972, a group of avocational archaeologists excavated
parts of the site, including a brick-lined cellar associated with the manor house and several trash
pits, with little attention paid to provenience. They also dug trenches across the site in search
of structural foundations. The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association subsequently hired Fraser Neiman
to fully investigate the site in 1976. Neiman and his crew excavated the Clifts site intensively
during two field seasons between June 1976 and January 1978.
Under Neiman's supervision, 124 10-by-10-foot test units were excavated over the core of the site and
an additional eight 10-by-10-foot units were placed randomly to sample the outlying portions of the site.
All excavated plow zone was screened through ¼-inch mesh. Following the plow zone sampling, the remaining
plow zone was mechanically stripped from the site to expose features. All features were recorded, mapped,
and excavated by hand following natural and stratigraphic units; all feature sediments were screened
through ¼-inch mesh and sediment samples were taken for flotation and chemical analysis. Neiman
conducted the majority of the artifact analysis; Lawrence Angel conducted the bioarchaeological
analysis and Joanne Bowen undertook the faunal analysis.
Neiman's investigations revealed a large domestic core consisting of 15 structures, several landscape
features, trash pits, and a cemetery. Neiman phased the site into four time periods based on TPQs and
presence/absence seriation using ceramics. The phases calculated by Neiman were: Phase I: 1670-1685,
Phase II: 1685-1705, Phase III: 1705-1715, and Phase IV: 1720-1730.
During the initial phase of occupation, the domestic complex included an earthfast dwelling measuring
18.5 by 41 feet with a 12-by-15-foot addition on the north, an 8.5-by-9.5-foot porch on the south façade,
and a 5-by-9-foot shed on the east gable end. The main dwelling had an off-center central chimney that
divided the house into three parts: a hall, chamber, and cross passage. An 18.5-by-25-foot post-in-ground
servants' quarter was located 40 feet southwest of the dwelling.
The manor house was surrounded by a ditch-set palisade with opposing circular bastions on the northwest
and southeast corners. The west palisade line extended past the southwest corner of the enclosure and
connected to the quarter. Residents of the site likely erected this defensive structure in response to
raids in the area by Susquehannock and Doeg Indians preceding and during Bacon's Rebellion. The palisade
did not stand long and was dismantled by the start of Phase II. One to two other outbuildings,
likely smokehouses, were also standing during Phase I.
The cemetery was established to the east of the main dwelling during Phase I and continued to be used
into the 18th century. People were buried in two groups, those of European descent to the north and
those of African descent to the south, indicating that distinctions were made between free and enslaved
occupants of Clifts Plantation.
During Phase II, the manor house was repaired and updated. The original smokehouses were replaced with
two new outbuildings. A new worm or Virginia-style fence encircled the manor house and quarter. A
16.5-by-20-foot cellared building located to the south of the manor house was also built during this phase.
The landscape at Clifts Plantation was dramatically altered at the turn of the century. During Phase III,
the layout of the manor house shifted from a cross-passage to front entrance style home. A new
19-by-36-foot slave quarter was built along with five other outbuildings including a diary. An orchard and garden
were planted to the east of the house. Ditch-set fences subdivided the home lot into discrete activity
areas. During Phase IV, these fences were replaced with post-and-rail fences, and the placement of the
lines became increasingly more complex. Additionally, three more buildings were constructed.
Over 100,000 artifacts were recoverd from the Clifts, of which approximately 43,000 were from
phased features. Of the nearly 5,000 ceramic sherds recovered, the most prevalent types were tin-glazed
earthenware, Buckley ware, English Brown stoneware, Morgan Jones earthenware, North Devon sgraffito and
gravel-tempered, Nottingham stoneware, Rhenish blue and gray stoneware, Staffordshire Brown, and white
salt-glazed stoneware. Forty-one pieces of colonoware were also found as well as two fragments of Iberian ware.
Brad Hatch has included the ceramics and faunal remains from the site in his study of changing ideas about
manhood during the early modern period in the Potomac Valley.
The tobacco pipe assemblage included 31,434 pipes found during Neiman's excavations, of which 216 were
locally-made. Lauren McMillan included an analysis of the tobacco pipe fragments found in two features
at the Clifts, including Trash Pit 1 (255B-T) and the second-quarter cellar in her study of trade, identity,
community formation, and pipes in the Potomac Valley.
Small finds include 28 bale seals used to identify textiles and parcels of trade goods. Four Spanish coins
were recovered as well as a number of horse-related artifacts including bits, bridle bosses, buckles, leather
ornaments, spurs, and stirrups. A large quantity of lead shot and gunflints was also recovered. Items relating
to clothing and adornment include buttons, beads and buckles, a cufflink and a chatelaine with iron scissors
and a silver heart charm attached. A single bone die and 12 bone comb fragments, from both double- and
single-edged combs, were found.
The diverse faunal assemblage recovered from the Clifts plantation includes domesticates such as cattle,
pigs and sheep; wild mammals including deer, raccoon, opossums, squirrels; domestic and wild birds
including goose, turkey, chicken, and bobwhite; bony fishes, and commensal species such as horse,
dog and cat. Brad Hatch includes fauna from the first three phases of occupation at the Clifts in
his discussion of foodways and masculinity in the early modern Potomac River Valley.
Angel, Lawrence. 1980. Family Skeletons from Clifts Plantation. Appendix
III in Field Archaeology of the Clifts Plantation Site, Westmoreland County, Virginia by
Fraser D. Neiman. Report to the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc., Stratford, VA.
Aufderheide, Arthur C., Fraser D. Neiman, Lorentz E. Wittmers, and
George Rapp. 1981. Lead in Bone II: Skeletal-Lead Content as an Indicator of Lifetime Lead
Ingestion and the Social Correlates in an Archaeological Population. American Journal of
Physical Anthropology 55:285-291.
Bowen, Joanne V. 1980. Analysis of the Faunal Remains from Clifts
Plantation. Appendix II in Field Archaeology of the Clifts Plantation Site, Westmoreland
County, Virginia by Fraser D. Neiman. Report to The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association,
Inc., Stratford, VA.
Hatch, D. Brad. 2015. An Historical Archaeology of
Early Modern Manhood in the Potomac River Valley of Virginia, 1645-1730. Doctoral dissertation, Department of
Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Heath, Barbara J. in press. Dynamic Landscapes: The Emergence of
Formal Spaces in the Chesapeake. Historical Archaeology.
Library of Virginia [LOV]
1661-1662 Westmoreland County Deeds, Wills, Etc., microfilm reel 1. Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.
McMillan, Lauren. 2015. Politics, Conflict, and
Exchange in the Chesapeake: An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Tobacco Pipe Trade in the Potomac Valley,
ca. 1630-1730. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Neiman, Fraser D. 1980. Field Archaeology of the Clifts Plantation Site,
Westmoreland County, Virginia. Report to The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc., Stratford, VA.
Neiman, Fraser D. 1980. The Manner House Before Stratford: Discovering the
Clifts Plantation. Edited by Alonzo T. Dill. A Stratford Handbook, Stratford, VA.
Neiman, Fraser D. 1986. Domestic Architecture at the Clifts Plantation,
The Social Context of Early Virginia Building. In Common Places, Readings in American
Vernacular Architecture, Dell Upton and John Vlach, editors, pp. 292-314. University of
Georgia Press, Athens, GA.
Neiman, Fraser D. 1990. An evolutionary approach to archaeological inference:
Aspects of archaeological variation in the 17th-century Chesapeake. Ph.D. dissertation,
Department of Anthropology, Yale University. UMI International, Ann Arbor, MI.
Toner, Joseph M. 1891. Wills of the American Ancestors of General
George Washington. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 45:199-215.
Walsh, Lorena S. 1985. Land, Landlord, and Leaseholder: Estate Management
and Tenant Fortunes in Southern Maryland, 1642-1820. Agricultural History 59(3):373-396.
Further Information on the Collection
The Clifts Plantation collection is owned by Robert E. Lee Memorial Association and curated
at Stratford Plantation. For more information about the collection and collection access,
contact Judy Hynson, Director of Research and Library Collections at 804-493-1940;
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