Archaeological Evaluation of the Original Site of the Rebecca Vaughan House
Southampton County, Virginia
In early April 2011, ACC, Inc. conducted a limited archaeological evaluation at the original location of the Rebecca Vaughan House in Southampton County, Virginia. The evaluation was conducted at the request of the Southampton County Historical Society (SCHS), located in Courtland, Virginia. This investigation was part of the overall plan to stabilize and rehabilitate the house for visitation by the public.
The current property owner donated the house to the SCHS. In 2004, the house was moved to a new location in Courtland. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) due to its association with the Southampton Slave Insurrection (also referred to as the Nat Turner Rebellion). In addition to donating the house to the SCHS, the property owner allowed ACC to investigate the original house footprint for archaeological remains. One of the purposes of this investigation was to obtain details that would aid in the reconstruction of the house in its new location.
The Rebecca Vaughan House is thought to have been built around 1790-1800, although its exact date of construction and builder are unknown. The construction style is typical of late eighteenth to early nineteenth century houses in this part of Virginia.
It is believed that the Vaughan family settled in the project area in the early 1700s. In the 1810 federal census, Thomas Vaughan is listed as a head of household with six free whites and seven slaves. He and his wife, Rebecca, had two daughters, Mary and Martha and two sons, George and Arthur. Thomas Vaughan died around 1816-1817, leaving Rebecca a widow with four children. The estate inventory at the time of Thomas Vaughan’s death included 12 slaves. However, an inventory of Rebecca’s estate at the time of her death in 1831 identifies no slaves in her possession. It is not known what became of the 12 slaves Thomas Vaughan owned at the time of his death.
The Rebecca Vaughan House is best known for its association with the 1831 Southampton Slave Insurrection /Nat Turner Rebellion. The slave uprising was especially bloody, as men, women, and children were murdered during the revolt. Approximately 50-60 African Americans participated in the revolt, most of whom were later executed. Similarly, approximately 50-60 whites were killed. The Rebecca Vaughan House was the last house where residents were killed by Turner’s followers. Rebecca, her two sons, and a niece were murdered on the property. Rebecca’s niece was murdered in the yard, and Rebecca was murdered in the house on her knees while praying. Her sons were killed while approaching the house along the lane linking the house to Barrow Road. Although the insurrection left a long-lasting memory, its physical effects on the house itself were minimal. None of the plantations raided were burned or materially damaged, although the insurrectionists likely rummaged the houses looking for food, weapons, etc.
Field investigation focused on exposing structural features, such as chimney bases and piers or footings, which could assist in the accurate reconstruction of the house in its new location in Courtland. As there was no ground surface visibility, field methods consisted of probing with a metal rod in the area where the house once stood to locate either pier or chimney remnants. When possible architectural features were identified, shovels and trowels were used to expose these features.
We were able to retrieve valuable data from archaeological contexts at the Vaughan House which can assist in accurately reconstructing architectural features at the new location of the house. While the house measured 18 x 32 ft, we revealed that the house originally had a cellar measuring 18 x 19 ft, with brick walls that were 1 ft wide. The part of the house without a cellar was likely underpinned with bricks as well. We identified an entrance to the cellar, located on the northern end of the western wall. While we found no evidence of the western chimney, a partially intact portion of the eastern chimney was identified. Only limited details of the chimney remains, but we can conclude that they were likely made entirely of brick. We were also able to distinguish that the foundation was constructed using an English Bond pattern, which uses alternating courses of headers and stretchers.
Several outbuildings were in the vicinity of the house circa 1900. However, we cannot be sure if these represent the setting from 1831. These outbuildings include a possible kitchen, a well, a barn/shed, and two other outbuildings. Our field investigations suggest the two farm outbuildings appear to have been razed. The remains (concrete foundation elements, sheet metal roofing, etc.) are visible in push-piles located in a low-lying area surrounded by trees, west of the Vaughan house location.
The Rebecca Vaughan House is considered a valuable resource because of it relationship to the Southampton Slave Insurrection. However, the archaeological site at the original location may be linked to research themes besides its association with a significant event and person. It retains examples of construction features and techniques from more than a quarter century before the rebellion occurred, as well as intact features associated with a late nineteenth/early nineteenth century residence. The house site is likely to reveal details about artifact and activity patterns from antebellum and post-bellum occupations. It is also rich with deposits associated with the occupation period spanning the late nineteenth through middle twentieth century, a period during which local informants suggest the house was occupied by African Americans. This house site has the potential to add to our knowledge of local history, architecture, and activity patterns. More work is necessary to determine the site’s eligibility to be listed on the NRHP.