Eppington Plantation cemetery may contain Thomas Jefferson’s relatives

Last Wednesday was the second of a two-day ground-penetrating radar investigation of the cemetery at Eppington Plantation.   The Eppington Foundation Inc. and Chesterfield County contracted scientific experts Dr. William F. Hanna and Pete Petrone to conduct the investigation. Hanna and Petrone, along with their support staff’s work, will try to answer questions about the people buried at the Eppington cemetery - who they might be, the number of adults and infants, as well as determining the size of the cemetery.

“Not able to tell so soon,” said Dr. Hanna, during a lunch break on their final day. “We have to carefully analyze our results. There is very little we can tell at the moment.” 

Along with their survey as to the size of the cemetery and where the burials are, Hanna and Patrone will utilize historical information compiled by Pat Sternheimer, archaeology chair with the Eppington Foundation - which will include cemetery records, letters and correspondence and family members - to come up with their findings in the final report.  “We [the Foundation] want to preserve it [Eppington] for the next hundred years. To document our findings for the next generation,” said Sternheimer.

Eppington Plantation was the home of Francis Eppes VI and his wife Elizabeth Wayles Eppes, the half-sister of Martha Jefferson. The plantation is located in the southern part of Chesterfield County near the Appomattox River.

Historical research has revealed that there are several members of Thomas and Martha Jefferson’s family buried at Eppington. Their daughter, Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson, died at Eppington of whooping cough in 1784 while Jefferson was serving in France.

In addition, two of Jefferson’s grandchildren are buried there. There are more graves in the cemetery than there are markers, so it is hoped that the ground-penetrating radar will help to shed light on who else is buried there.

Following the report, the Foundation will assess the conditions of the existing monuments with plans to install new markers commemorating all of the cemetery’s occupants.
Sternheimer said Dave Hazzard, an archaeologist with the Department of Historical Resources, was instrumental in connecting the Foundation with Hanna and Petrone. They have extensive backgrounds in using remote-sensing surveys on archaeological and forensics projects, many with Dr. Douglas W. Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution.

Their surveys of other historic sites include Monticello, Montpelier, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Gunston Hall and Yorktown. They also have conducted forensic-related searches for the FBI and police departments in Spotsylvania County and Anne Arundel County, Md.

“Line 71- 0-115,” said Dale K. Brown, team member and archaeologist, through a walkie-talkie back to John Inlay where Petrone’s equipment will be transmitting the signals to a devise located in Patrone’s van.

The team discovered an anomaly in their final line and felt it was necessary to do one more before completing their discovery. Hanna prepares to slowly drag the orange antenna, with an attached hose, that resembled a portable car battery charger. Teammate Jackie Cuyler marks the point every five feet with a large pole on the tape measure.

The antenna emanates energy downward and when there is an anomaly in the soil, such as a burial, they get excited. The signal is usually sort of a hill-shape, what they call a hyperbolic echo similar to an image from fishing sonar.   “We do get excited,” said Hanna. “You wouldn’t believe how excited, it is a very good excited.”  Sometimes the anomaly is so huge the whole crew will return to the van to view the transmission. “It is exciting,” said Patrone.

A report should be ready for the Foundation in October.

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