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City of Richmond, VA

Between December 2005 and April 2006, JRIA conducted a preliminary historical and archaeological investigation of the former site of “Lumpkin’s Jail,” an antebellum slave trading compound located in the Shockoe Bottom district of Richmond, Virginia. The site was later used as a religious school for freed African-Americans, and was the precursor to Virginia Union University. The project was performed on behalf of the City of Richmond, the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods.

The 2006 investigations yielded evidence of deeply buried cultural layers and features associated with the jail complex. JRIA subsequently drafted a data recovery and treatment plan, and conducted archaeological data recovery at the site between August and December 2008. In the course of the excavation, JRIA uncovered an incredibly intact and well-preserved urban landscape associated with Lumpkin’s mid-nineteenth-century complex, buried beneath 8-15 feet of fill material. The Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site is among the most extensive urban excavations yet conducted in Virginia, and the results of this project has added considerably to the understanding Richmond’s critical role in the slave trade in the decades prior to the Civil War, as well as to the scholarly interpretation of the archaeology of urban captivity.

Over the course of the project, JRIA has worked with the project partners to share the results of the investigation with the Richmond community, organizing site tours, working with student volunteers, assisting with the production of interpretive displays, and lecturing at a variety of institutions, including the Virginia Historical Society, Virginia Union University, and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. JRIA has also assisted in the production of numerous print and broadcast media stories on the project.

In 2015-2016, JRIA Senior Researcher, Dr. Matthew R. Laird, played an integral role in “Richmond Speaks,” the public outreach initiative spearheaded by Richmond mayor Dwight Jones which has solicited city-wide opinion on the interpretive and international tourism potential of the site. As part of this initiative, Dr. Laird has spoken to thousands of Richmond residents and met with students in each of Richmond’s high schools. Dr. Laird recently made a presentation on the project at the Society for Historical Archaeology’s 2016 annual conference in Washington, D.C.

The Lumpkin’s Jail project has figured prominently in local, national, and international media stories. Lumpkin's Jail In the News >

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