Construction at the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson emulated Andrea Palladio’s depictions of classical architecture at the University of Virginia, both to implicitly uphold the democratic ideals of ancient Rome but also to elevate American architecture by serving as built models. However, this idea of democracy is in stark contrast to the realities of constructing and maintaining an early 19th century university in the American south. The truth is that Jefferson’s University was largely built by the labor of enslaved African-Americans. They did the hard work of leveling the Lawn’s terraces, hauling building materials, and digging foundations through bedrock. They were highly trained brick makers, carpenters, and stonemasons. The University’s records are silent on the vast majority of the enslaved individuals who made Jefferson’s designs a reality, but recent research has tried to identify the names of enslaved artisans and delve deeper into their stories.

Explore the map below by clicking on the colored buildings to learn about the lives and work of some of the enslaved individuals associated with the construction of the University of Virginia.

Academical Village Construction