The partially unearthed foundation was discovered beneath a sidewalk near the Wren Building on the Williamsburg campus. The exposed area has been filled in for safekeeping until it can be properly excavated.
“The discovery of these foundations is too important to rush the process,” said Louise Kale, director of the school’s Historic Campus, in a release. “We need some time to put together a partnership of all the necessary scholars to interpret this site.”
The discovery becomes part of an ongoing project to recover the history of the African Americans who lived, worked and studied at William and Mary centuries ago.
One campus scholar, Joe Jones, said the foundation can be dated to the early 18th century from the type of mortar used in the construction. That would actually make it newer than the Wren Building, which — and this is not a misprint — was built between 1695 and 1700.
“It’s a substantial outbuilding or dependency,” Jones said in the release. “Based on the time period, where it’s located and the dimensions, it’s probably a specific-function building like a kitchen building, or maybe quarters for slaves.”
Here’s more on the structure from another campus scholar, Neil Norman, a specialist in the archaeology of the African diaspora:
“It’s probably not a privy, probably not a stable, probably not a smokehouse. Those kinds of structures are usually wooden and relatively ephemeral. If it was an outbuilding, it was a relatively substantial one and one that could have been used for quite some time. If you are going to invest money into durable materials and energy into creating what, back then, was a relatively massive structure, then it’s something intended to endure.”
Norman is part of the college’s Lemon Project, an initiative that examines the college’s past ties to slavery. The project is named after Lemon, a slave named in early college records.
Much is known about Thomas Jefferson and the other affluent white men who dwelled on campus, Norman said, “but we don’t really know about the lives of the people like Lemon who, during Jefferson’s time, cooked, cleaned and made academic life possible. This site has the potential to allow us to interpret the conditions of their lives and add them to the emerging narrative of the college.”