When Games are Serious Business: Chunkey

Sometimes games are just fun but sometimes games can make you or break you. This is the case with chunkey, a Native American game.  Invented around 600 AD by indigenous peoples of the Cahokia region (near modern day St. Louis, Missouri), chunkey was a popular game that spread across much of North America.  There were variations in the rules, depending on the cultures playing it, but the basic premise was that a large ground stone disc (a chunkey) was rolled across a level field by a player. One or multiple players from the opposing side would then throw sticks (also called chunkey) underhanded at the stone, aiming to get as close as possible or to touch the stone once it stopped rolling.  Chunkey stones took time to make, were considered valuable, and were often communal property of a village.

Although the game could be played casually, Chunkey tournaments were a big deal with much pageantry and costumes, often drawing people from far away to participate and watch.  Think of it as an ancient Super Bowl.  Gambling was common at these events with players risking everything, including their honor, on the outcome.  Reportedly some unfortunate defeated players killed themselves after a loss.

Chunkey continued to be played after Europeans arrived in North America and was subsequently documented by some who frequented the events.  However, sometime in the mid-19th century, the game lost favor, likely as a result of the decimation of indigenous cultures by those same Europeans.

“Tchung-kee, a Mandan Game Played with a Ring and Pole” (1832-3) by George Catlin depicts Native Americans playing chunkey. Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

This brings us to the chunkey stone excavated at Ferry Farm.  Visitors who see it immediately note that it looks like a stone doughnut.  Personally I believe it to be one of our coolest artifacts.

Chunkey stone excavated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Oddly enough, this chunkey was found suspiciously close to three other prehistoric artifacts, not all of which belong on an archaeological site in Virginia.  Two stone axes and an odd bead were recovered right next to the chunkey in soils that were plowed which caused the mixing of artifacts from different time periods.  The axes date to the late archaic period (3,000 BCE – 1,000 BC) while the chunkey stone, as stated above is thousands of years younger.  Additionally, the bead, which is still a bit of a mystery, is a type of sandstone not found in Virginia.

So does this mean that indigenous peoples hundreds of years ago were playing chunkey on a site that would eventually be George Washington’s home?  Maybe…but maybe not.  When you add all of these factors together it starts to look more and more like these items were collected in the historic period and did not necessarily belong to any tribes living at Ferry Farm. The English and their colonists were prodigious collectors of natural and Native American artifacts.  Famous colonial collectors include Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

The chunkey stone and these other Native American artifacts are still very cool finds but definitely a reminder that removing artifacts from their original location without preserving their context greatly limits how archaeologists can interpret them.  And, in this case, may throw archaeologists a bit of a curve ball …er, a curve chunkey!

Play a version of chunkey during ArchaeoFest: Exploring Ancient Technology at Ferry Farm on Saturday, October 26 from 10am-4pm.  For more details, visit kenmore.org.

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Supervisor

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The Brick Building Where George Didn’t Sleep: A History of Ferry Farm’s Visitor Center

The Visitor Center at George Washington’s Ferry Farm is a lovely red brick colonial revival building with towering white columns and cool architectural details built in the 1960s.  What’s not to love?  The only problem with having a 20th century building that looks like it could be from the 18th century is that people who visit sometimes assume our visitor center is actually Washington’s boyhood home, a mistake that’s easy to make.  Even though our building dates from just 50 years ago, it does have its own fascinating history. Here is the tale of this often misunderstood yet beloved structure.

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The Colonial Revival-style exterior of the Visitor Center at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

In the 1950s, The George Washington’s Boyhood Home Restoration, Inc. (GWBHR) owned Ferry Farm and was dedicated, as many groups had been before, to transforming the property into nationally-renowned historic site dedicated to the young life of the first president.[1]  By the end of the decade, the group’s hopes had dimmed and, in 1961, board member “Joe Zenker . . . brought Ferry Farm to the attention of Youth for Christ International” (YFCI).[2]

Youth for Christ emerged out of a series of Christian youth rallies centered in Chicago during the Second World War.[3] By the 1960s, the organization’s Lifeline ministry was working with social welfare services to help children deemed troubled, disadvantaged, or as having difficulties living in foster homes.[4]

Youth For Christ was interested in Ferry Farm as the location of a boys home and initially hoped to purchase the site from GWBHR but that was not to be.  Instead, a YFCI majority was placed on the GWBHR’s board and they launched their plan to build the home.[5]  It was hoped that by living where Washington grew up the young men would “develop character . . . and become leaders in our country.”[6]

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A visit to Ferry Farm begins at the welcome desk inside the Visitor Center.

By 1962, Youth For Christ was using an existing farm house on the property called the “Colbert House” after the family who built it in 1914.  Paul Millikan was placed there to curate the George Washington Museum on the first floor and to function as YFCI’s on-site representative while a suitable boys’ home was constructed.[7]

The architects hired to design the boys’ home were Robert Sully and Stephen Oppenheim. They envisioned a large Colonial Revival structure with a formal symmetrical garden on the grounds.  Construction of the home was started in fall of 1965 by Nice Brothers Inc. of Newport News, Virginia and was completed by January 1966.[8]

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A museum gallery in the Visitor Center displays artifacts excavated by archaeologists at Ferry Farm and panels chronicling George Washington’s boyhood and the construction of the Washington house replica.

By the fall of 1966, boys were living in the house and spent time “taking meals, being bussed to local schools for class, performing chores, working on homework, and participating in recreational activities.”[9]  There was time for play as well.  Archaeologists have excavated toys and game pieces such as “Hi-Ho Cherry-O” cherries throughout the property. Whether or not these games were provided as a reminder of Washington’s youth and the myth of the cherry tree is unknown, but it is certainly possible that this game was part of YFCI’s plan to evoke Washington ideals even through play.[10]

While the local community donated food, gasoline, and household items, these gifts did not provide funds to address the house’s mortgage payment. The live-in house parents at the time, Gilbert and Kathe Nichols, were critical of this lack of involvement as seen in The Free-Lance Star on February 16, 1968:

Frankly disappointed in support the home has received here, the Nichols say their critics are honest in wanting to know why the home needs money and how it can expect local aid when it refuses to take local boys into its care….  All monetary contributions must, in the home’s financial arrangements, go toward the mortgages, [Gilbert] Nichols says. Support money from the court and a small income from the George Washington Boyhood Home shrine go toward operating expenses. . . .  Nine of the 10 boys living at GWBH now are from Virginia, but not from Fredericksburg or nearby counties. And the fellows are mainly ones who need a new environment to get on the right track in society. This is why local boys aren’t accepted. Too close to home and old peer groups, boys wouldn’t feel the impact of the normal, yet professionally guided life.

As former director of the home Gary Foss recalled, Fredericksburgers probably expected a large, well-funded national group like Youth for Christ to fully fund the house.  The sizable mansion-like building itself surely exacerbated this feeling.[11]  Moreover, its appearance confused visitors, who mistakenly thought it to be George Washington’s actual boyhood home.[12]

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Visitors may watch archaeologists analyze artifact findings through these windows that look into the Archaeology Lab in the Visitor Center.

Faced with growing debt on the new building as well as day-to-day costs, YFCI sold access rights to the southern portion of Ferry Farm to be used to quarry stone for gravel to form the roadbed of I-95.[13]

Operations at the boys’ home ceased in the summer of 1968 because a fundraising drive by Youth For Christ to keep the home open was not successful. On August 2, 1968, The Free-Lance Star reported that “The George Washington Boys’ Home in Stafford County is being closed after more than two years of operations. . . .  The phase-out marks the end of a dream for Youth for Christ, Inc.”[14]  By 1969, there were no longer any boys living at the George Washington Boys’ Home.

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The office of a member of the museum education staff in Ferry Farm’ s Visitor Center.

On March 27, 1969, Samuel and Irma Warren bought the property containing both the historic area and the closed Youth for Christ boys’ home.[15]  The Warrens rented out the boys’ home building to a variety of religious groups.

The first tenant was the Fredericksburg Bible Institute and Seminary and the related Crossroad Baptist Church.  The institute, founded by Dr. George Albert Brown, Jr., moved into the building on the first day of January 1970 while, later in the decade, Brown’s newly formed Crossroads Baptist Church met for three years in the building.  In 1981, the church and institute vacated the property to move into a new building in Fredericksburg.[16]

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (1)

The Warrens’ next tenant was Calvary Chapel starting in 1985.  Three years later, Calvary tried to use the building once more as a foster home for teenage boys.  Six boys, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years, were placed in the home called Samuel House.  This effort lasted only two years and was the final attempt by anyone to make Ferry Farm into a residential youth home.  Calvary Chapel did continue using the building for church services until 1995.[17]

Today, the boys’ home building serves as the Visitor Center for George Washington’s Ferry Farm and houses the Archaeology Lab and staff offices for The George Washington Foundation, which has operated Ferry Farm as well as Historic Kenmore as historic sites together since 1996.  This is the building where your visit to Ferry Farm and the newly built Washington house replica begins and we hope to see you soon!

Sasha Erpenbach, UMW student
Fleming Smith Intern

 

[1] Rebekah K. Wood, “History of the Visitors Center Building, George Washington’s Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm,” The George Washington Foundation, October 15, 2010: 1.

[2] Philip Levy, Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013: 169; Wood, 1.

[3] Dr. Art Deyo, “Celebrating 70 Years of Youth for Christ: YFC’s History,” https://www.yfc.net/images/uploads/general/YFCs_History_by_Dr._Art_Deyo_-_Final_Version.pdf [accessed July 29, 2019]: 1-4.

[4] Oral History with Gary Foss, January 18, 2008. Interviewers: Melanie Marquis and Rebekah Wood. The George Washington Foundation Oral History Project, The George Washington Foundation, Fredericksburg, VA: 2, Deyo, 8.

[5] Foss oral history, 8.

[6] Foss oral history, 6, 10, 22.

[7] Wood, 3; Oral History with Paul Millikan, Jay Kessler, Bruce Love, and Gary Foss, July 1, 2008. Interviewers: Melanie Marquis and Rebekah Wood, The George Washington Foundation Oral History Project, The George Washington Foundation, Fredericksburg, VA: 22.

[8] Wood, 3-4.

[9] Wood, 4.

[10] Melanie Healy-Marquis, “Souvenirs from Ferry Farm: Two Centuries of Myths at George Washington’s Boyhood Home,” 2009, 11.

[11] Foss oral history, 10, 18.

[12] Wood, 5-6.

[13] Levy, 173.

[14] John Goolrick, “Boys Home Here Begins Shutdown,” Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, August 2, 1968: A1.

[15] Wood, 8.

[16] Wood, 8.

[17] Wood, 9.

Little George Goes to London [Photos]

A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore recently vacationed in London.  Little George accompanied her and visited places related in some fashion to George Washington and his era as well as the city’s most popular tourist sites.  Here is a collection of photos documenting Little George’s travels!

GW on Blackheath

GW at Greenwich

Little George stayed with a friend in Blackheath, straddling the Boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham.  Blackheath is famed for its heath, or large field, while nearby Greenwich Park boasts impressive views of London.

GW on Thames

Little George views the Thames River at Greenwich.

GW at Cutty Shark

Little George relaxes at the Cutty Sark, an old pub in Greenwich built in the early 1800s on the spot of an even older pub that catered to sailors.

GW at Hatfield 1

GW at old Hatfield

Little George visits old Hatfield House (above top), which was the home of Elizabeth I before she became Queen in 1558.  The “new” Hatfield House (above bottom), a Jacobean house built around 1611, is the seat of the Cecil Family, the Marquises of Salisbury.

GW and St. Pauls

Little George near Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The site of a church since CE 640, the current cathedral was built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the previous church.

GW at Old Royal Navy College

Little George at Old Royal Navy College, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, established in 1692 as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. Then, in 1873, it became a training site for the Royal Naval.  George himself nearly joined the Royal Navy as we’ve written about here.

GW at Pillars of Hercules

Little George outside the Pillars of Hercules pub in Soho, which we’ve actually written about on the blog.

GW at British Museum

Anti-colonial propaganda British Museum

Little George toured the British Museum, founded in 1753, and saw an ceramic bowl decorated with an anti-colonial propaganda.  Personal objects often carried or were endowed with political symbolism. Read about the 18th century political significance of ceramics, cuff links, and pipes.

GW at BF house

Little George at the door to Benjamin Franklin House, where Franklin, the colonies’ representative before the Crown, lived and worked for sixteen years from 1757 to 1775.

GW Buckingham Palace

Little George outside Buckingham Palace, built by the Duke of Buckingham and acquired by King George III in 1761.  It is the main official residence of the present-day British monarch.

GW and dentures

At the Museum of London, Little George looks at a nice pair of 18th century dentures that he probably wished he could have had instead of his painful dentures of cows, donkey, and human teeth encased in lead.  Read about George’s infamous teeth troubles here.

GW with Tarleton Painting

Little George with Tarleton, The Butcher.  Tarleton was a colonel in command of the British Legion, a contingent of Loyalist cavalry and light infantry. At the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina on May 29, 1780, Tarleton’s force ignored the white surrender flag of some Virginia Continentals led by Colonel Abraham Buford and killed 133 soldiers, severely wounded 150 others, and captured 203, earning his infamous nickname.  Tarleton also undertook some raids into Virginia and, for a time, it was feared he might come as far north as Fredericksburg or Mount Vernon to abduct George’s mother Mary, his sister Betty, or even his wife Martha.

Cornwallis Pub

Little George at The Marquis Cornwallis, a pub in Bloomsbury, London.  Charles Cornwallis was a general in the British Army during the American Revolution whose surrender to George Washington in 1781 ended the Siege of Yorktown and ultimately the war in America.

GW at Westminster Abbey

Little George at the famed Westminster Abbey, coronation and burial site of numerous English and British kings and queens.

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Little George stands next to a statue of himself outside The National Gallery.  The Commonwealth of Virginia gave the statue to Great Britain and Ireland and it was erected in 1921 on a square of American soil.  It is based on Jean Antoine Houdon’s marble statue in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

GW on Tube

Little George rides the London Underground, which first opened in 1863, only 64 years after George Washington’s death. While the Tube was not around in his time, Little George approved of it as a great way to get around the city.

We Really Dig History!: Summer 2019’s Excavation at Ferry Farm

From late May through early August of 2019, archaeologists at George Washington’s Ferry Farm were busy working in the field again, excavating a block of 18 5’x5’ units located on the east side of the Washington house. It’s not obvious today, but the area directly to the south and west of our 2019 block had previously been excavated between 2008 and 2018 down to sterile subsoil and back-filled with dirt. The grass grew back, leaving no signs of this previous activity, but the concentration and variety of artifacts found indicated something was going on in this area of the site when the Washington family was living here in the 18th century. This didn’t surprise us all that much though, as this area was the “workyard” of the Washington house, where most of the daily activities related to the running of the household were taking place.

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Location of 2019 excavation block near the Washington house site.

You might remember from last season’s dig blog, that we excavated the “north yard” of the house, which was visible from Fredericksburg, the river, and the ferry landing during the 18th century. Our excavations last year concluded that the north yard was actually quite clean of artifacts (garbage) and features, suggesting people valued the aesthetic look of this area and kept it very orderly and free of daily activities – likely because it was visible to the entire town across the river. In direct contrast to this clean space is the workyard – the fenced areas located behind the house. The workyard is where the daily household-related activities such as cooking, laundering, and dairying took place. Corresponding structures such as a kitchen, storage sheds, smokehouse, and temporary work spaces, were located here and doubled as living quarters for the enslaved people who worked in these spaces. With all these activities happening within this outdoor space, it’s not surprising that archaeologists have found an abundance of 18th century artifacts in this area over the years.

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The 2019 dig crew: (L-R) Elyse Adams, Sarah Perdue, Frank Amico, Judy Jobrack and (front) Lizzie O’Meara.

The 2019 dig crew consisted of two field directors — Judy Jobrack and Elyse Adams — and three archaeologists — Frank Amico, Lizzie O’Meara, and Sarah Perdue. For a total of 11 weeks our five-person crew slowly excavated thin layers of dirt in the 15’ x 30’ block in search of evidence of activity areas and outbuildings related to the workyard. Our approach to excavating the area was to take down all the units in the entire block at the same time — removing all the 20th century layers, then the 19th century layers, and so on — instead of taking each individual unit down to the subsoil. This would allow us to view any related features, such as building foundations or post holes, at the same time.

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Dave Muraca, director of archaeology at Ferry Farm & Kenmore, lends a hand in getting the excavation block started.

The dig started with the removal of the grass and topsoil layers from all eighteen units. To our surprise, we were greeted with an obstacle that measured between 6 inches and 2 feet deep across the entire block. Remember the 2016-2017 construction of the Washington house? Well, as with any large project, there was a lot of disturbance to the surrounding lawn by vehicles and construction activities. A significant layer of dirt and gravel had to be laid down to grade the landscape and gravel access road leading up the house. It happened only two years ago, and yet we completely forgot about this fill activity! We dug this disturbed layer out with shovels and pick axes without screening the dirt until we revealed the 2016 grass and topsoil layers. Two weeks after starting, the real dig began.

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Two feet of construction fill layer as seen in the sidewall of an excavated unit.

The number of artifacts we found, especially those dating to the 18th century, was not disappointing. Ceramics such as Whieldon, tin-glazed earthenware, Westerwald, and white salt-glazed stoneware were abundant in the area, as were various types of redwares and stonewares typical to food storage and other utilitarian purposes. Other colonial-era artifacts included wrought nails, tobacco pipe stem fragments, and a total of 12 wig hair curler fragments. The amount of 18th century-dated artifacts definitely overshadowed the number of 19th and 20th century artifacts in the area.

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FF30 block during excavation.

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18th century ceramics and a wine bottle neck found this summer.

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Wig curler fragment found this summer.

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Civil War uniform button and Minié ball found this summer.

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Projectile point found this summer.

In addition to artifacts, a number of 18th-century features were uncovered, including the “rut-like” parallel linear features (F274 and F275) in the photo below. Figuring out what these and other features found in the 18th century layers may be will take place over the coming months.

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Two parallel, linear 18th century features.

The excavation ended on August 9th within the 18th century level, and the site was covered by a tarp until next year. The 2020 season’s dig will continue excavations in this block until subsoil is reached, but will also expand by opening more 5’ x 5’ units to the north. After washing, researching, and cataloging the thousands of artifacts recovered this season, our staff will have a clearer idea of what activities were going on in this part of the work yard, so that we can reconstruct these areas accurately as we did the Washington house itself. It’s going to be a busy winter for the lab staff while we put together the pieces of the workyard puzzle.

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Co-Field Director / Assistant Archaeology Lab Supervisor

Thievery, Espionage, and Fancy Dishes: Why Porcelain Was a Big Deal for the Washington Family

Porcelain is the king of all ceramics.  As resilient as it is beautiful, porcelain has long fascinated many people.  During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the Chinese began exporting porcelain to Europeans, who coveted the precious dishes to the point that porcelain became more valuable than gold.  Europeans obsessed over how it was produced and various countries sent spies, attempted to kidnap those with the knowledge, and sought to steal texts describing the process.  The Chinese closely guarded the secret, however, and the recipe for the clays and how to get the firing temperature high enough (between 2,200, and 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit) remained a mystery.  The Chinese had been making hard-paste porcelain (as opposed to soft-paste porcelain, which was considered less desirable) for over a thousand years.  That’s a well-kept secret, folks.

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Tea canister with hand painted landscape motif.

In the 16th century, the first Europeans attempted to make porcelain in Florence but without success.  Following that, Portuguese traders returned from China with kaolin, a clay found to be key in making porcelain, but they didn’t know what else to add to it so it would survive the high firing.  Then, around 1700, a teenage alchemy apprentice with poor judgement named Johann Friedrich Böttger boasted that he knew the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that would turn base metals into gold.   Word got out and he was kidnapped first by Frederick I of Prussia and then Augustus II the Strong of Poland.  Augustus locked him up in Dresden and ordered him to make good on his claim.  Obviously he couldn’t and to avoid being killed by the increasingly impatient king, he reluctantly partnered in 1707 with Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, a scientist working on developing porcelain.  Combining their efforts resulted in the first hard-paste porcelain manufactured in Europe and resulted in the establishment of the Meissen porcelain factory in 1710.

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Saucer fragment (rim and body) with hand painted landscape motif and gilding

But the intrigue doesn’t end there.  In 1712, Father Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles, a French Jesuit, learned the secrets of how the Chinese manufactured porcelain with the help of Chinese he had converted to Catholicism.  He published a letter detailing the process, in what was arguably an act of industrial espionage, and it began circulating through Europe.  To further complicate matters, Samuel Stölzel, an employee of the Meissen factory, which fought hard to prevent its employees from blabbing about their secret for making porcelain, fled the factory’s oppressive conditions in 1719. He made it to Vienna, where he promptly spilled the aforementioned secret.  Within a few decades, porcelain was being produced widely across Europe.  Although Chinese porcelain was still highly valued, their exports began to drop off.

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Rim sherds from a hand painted teacup.

As evidenced by all this thievery and espionage, porcelain was a big deal.  Owning porcelain was a sign of status and refinement.  If you were of the European upper class, it was imperative that you own these fancy dishes AND show them off whenever possible.  It was no less imperative for the gentry class in British North America.  Archaeological analysis of the Washington family’s porcelain illustrates that they were very much a part of this culture of conspicuous consumption when they lived at Ferry Farm.

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Rim and body sherds from a hand painted punch bowl in the Imari palette.

Our current mending project, piecing together porcelain sherds recovered from Ferry Farm, revealed dozens of distinct dishes once owned by the family.  George Washington’s mother Mary owned porcelain predominantly from China.  Interestingly, all were teawares as opposed to dinner wares.  While dinner was definitely a time to show off one’s ‘good china’, colonial tea time was arguably an even better opportunity.  Serving tea in the 18th century had a large ceremonial aspect and was an opportunity for those participating to show off how cultured they were while serving a beverage (also from the distant locale of China as well as India) linked closely to high status.  Perhaps Mary, a widow on a budget, decided to put her limited resources into more conspicuous teawares rather than dinner plates and bowls.  Previous analysis in our archaeology lab indicates that Mary preferred a ceramic called white salt-glazed for her dinner dishes.

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Hand painted partial teacup with scalloped rim.

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Matching saucer for teacup for teacup immediately above.

It has also been interesting to discover the china patterns that Mary favored, which include landscape scenes, abstract geometrical designs, and floral patterns.  While she did not appear to own ‘sets’ of china she did have cups that matched saucers, a further illustration of refinement.  As complete sets of china were not common in the middle of the 18th century, one could attempt to match up similar color palettes.  Although we’ve identified dozens of motifs in our collection, there is little evidence for Mary matching the palettes of her porcelains.  Her table, as with most colonial households, was a lot more varied in colors and patterns than we expect in the modern day.  Mary’s porcelains were delicate and skillfully hand-painted with brushes sometimes containing no more than a few bristles.  Many of the teawares are also gilded, which was a premium type of decoration for the time.

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Two chocolate/coffee style cups. Hand painted and likely gilded.

In addition to teacups and saucers, our archaeologists have identified one tea canister and a few coffee or chocolate style cups, which tend to have taller and straighter sides and be of a smaller diameter.

With this mending experiment under our belt it’s on to the next one in our never ending quest to learn as much as we can about the Washington family!

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Supervisor