Kenmore’s Famed Gingerbread

Historic Kenmore was associated with gingerbread for decades.  Many people’s first memories of Kenmore involve the square of gingerbread and a cup of tea that used to be served at the end of every tour.    The dessert welcomed visitors to the world of colonial Fredericksburg, it comforted soldiers on their way to war in Europe or the Pacific, and, most important of all, it helped save the historic house itself.

The ladies of the Kenmore Association, which owned and operated the historic home in the 20th century, took on a great challenge when they accepted stewardship of Kenmore.  Raising the money to purchase the house was not the only obstacle they faced.  They also needed funds to restore and staff the house. Unfortunately, the ladies drive to save Kenmore coincided with the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Led by Annie Fleming Smith or “Miss Annie,” the ladies triumphed, kept Kenmore running, and even used the grounds to assist Fredericksburg in the war effort.  They did all this with their indomitable drive and patriotism and with a little help from gingerbread.

The beneficial partnership between gingerbread and Kenmore began in the early 1930s when the Dromedary Cake Mix Company launched a nationwide search for gingerbread recipes new and old.  In the search, Mary Washington’s personal recipe was found in a cookbook owned by the Washington-Lewis Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was tried and well-liked.  The firm approached the chapter about producing the recipe as one of their mixes.  Because the Washington-Lewis Chapter worked closely with the Kenmore Association in saving, restoring, and caring for Kenmore, Miss Annie and the ladies, being astute business women, brokered a deal with the company to benefit the historic home.

Dromedary Ad

An 1940s-era advertisement for Dromedary gingerbread mix “made from the 200-year-old Recipe of George Washington’s Mother.”

The arrangement allowed Dromedary to produce gingerbread mixes based on Mary Washington’s recipe.  In exchange, the Kenmore Association got all the gingerbread they could serve to visitors.  The company also donated mixes to be sold by the Association and various DAR chapters for 25 cents a box.  The Association got half of the money realized from these sales minus the shipping costs.  This agreement, in the end, earned the Kenmore Association over $38,000 – a hefty sum in the mid-20th century – and provided countless visitors with a yummy Washington family treat.

In 1941, the United States entered World War II.  Fredericksburg became a hub of activity with thousands of soldiers stationed at the A.P. Hill Military Reservation in Bowling Green visiting town to get a break from military life.

The Association’s ladies knew that Kenmore, with its historical and patriotic legacy, had a unique opportunity to welcome soldiers who would be fighting for the country and ideals that the Lewis and Washington families helped create. So, they threw open the gates, set out the picnic tables, and recruited local women to put on their colonial best and greet the men of the United States military. At the heart of this hospitality was iced tea and Mary Washington’s gingerbread.

Gingerbread (1)

Servicemen enjoy gingerbread and tea on the grounds at Kenmore.

During the war years, Kenmore hosted over 60,000 soldiers making sure each one was fed and knew his service was greatly cherished.  The ladies of the Washington-Lewis DAR even took time to write each serviceman’s mother, wife, or sweetheart about their loved ones.

Gingerbread (2)

C.R. Murphy, Sr. of Coolidge, Georgia wrote The Free Lance Star to express his gratitude for Annie Fleming Smith’s (identified in the letter as Mrs. H.H. Smith)  hospitality towards him and his son during a visit to Fredericksburg from a nearby military post where the son was stationed.

The humble gingerbread recipe from Mary Washington’s cookbook gave Kenmore a perfect tangible link to its colonial past and bright future.  The gingerbread that resulted assisted the ladies in their community outreach, their historic preservation, and their national patriotic duty.   It was a sign of nostalgia, of hospitality, and most of all appreciation.

Today, when you tour Kenmore, our guides will happily take you through the reconstructed colonial kitchen that functioned as the Kenmore Association’s tea room.  Regrettably, gingerbread and tea are no longer served to visitors because we do not have a fully-functioning kitchen.  Gingerbread mixes and teas specifically created for The George Washington Foundation are available for purchase by anyone who might wish to relive their first taste of Kenmore’s famed gingerbread.

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

Ledger Book Zero

Daily ledgers, journals, cash account books, letters, invoices – these are the kinds of documents an 18th-century plantation owner and businessman needed to manage his land and property successfully.   Tracking everyday expenses and the purchasing of items that couldn’t be produced on one’s farm was a necessary routine in daily life.  Dry good items such as clothing, dishes, and food stuffs, building materials, and medicines as well as doctor visits, cash loans to friends, tavern expenses, and money repaid for loans or for goods delivered were just a few examples of the financial transactions recorded in a daily ledger.

George Washington was a meticulous record keeper throughout his entire lifetime.  Surviving financial papers detailed daily accounts, both public and private, from when he served as paymaster of the Virginia Regiment, during the Revolutionary War, as president of the new United States, and as the long-time owner of Mount Vernon. Washington’s published record books start with Ledger Book 1, when he was 18 years old, and continue on until his death in 1799.

But George’s first effort at recording his expenses actually dates to 1747, when he was only fifteen years old and living at Ferry Farm.  “Ledger Book Zero,” our name for this document, is a personal cash account ledger in which George listed his credits and debits with family, close friends, and clients between the years of 1747 and 1750. (1)  It is organized in the double-entry accounting style, with debits listed on the left hand page and credits on the right hand page.  All of the cash monetary units are in pounds, shillings and pence.

Ledger 1

His first entry (pictured above) was Mr. Bailey Washington, a cousin.  On September 10, 1747, George purchased 3 books (debit) from Bailey for the combined price of 4 shillings 12 pence.  One of the books is listed as “Scomberg,” a reference to the 17th century German  Protestant soldier of fortune , Duke Frederick Herman von Schomberg, who fought under the flags of France, Germany, Portugal, and England and died at the Battle of the Boyne fighting for William of Orange.  Schomberg wrote about his adventures which would have been of great interest and fascination to a young man of fifteen.

Ten days later, George listed on the credit side of Bailey’s account “a two foot Gunter” with a value of 1 shilling 3 pence.  George’s purchase of a gunter scale, a two-foot long ruler specifically designed to help surveyors quickly solve trigonometry problems, is an intimation of his early interest in training to become a surveyor.

Ledger Book Zero sheds light on many other interests and activities young George pursued in his teen years.  He won and lost money playing the card games of whist and loo with his half-brother Lawrence and sister-in-law Ann.  George also won 1 shilling 3 pence playing billiards with a Mr. Thomas Turner of King George County in June of 1748.  Earlier that same year, he lent money to his good friend George Fairfax while on an expedition to the South Branch of the Potomac.

In addition to lending and winning cash from friends and family, George regularly purchased personal items such silk stockings, shirt buttons, knee bands and shoes, as well as food and liquor, such as limes, a bowl of fruit punch, and a “bottle of Rhenish” wine.

Ledger 2

In July 1748, George purchased ribbons from a Mr. Mitchell (see above), as well as a glass ring costing but 3 ¾ pence.  He also paid 3 shillings 9 pence to a “Musick Master for my entrance” in September of the same year.  We are unsure if this music teacher taught only music or, perhaps, dancing. Both were important skills for Washington to learn if he wanted to participate in the social life of Virginia’s gentry.

What is interesting about these last three purchases is that they were all made on his mother Mary’s account, which means George paid for them but his mother later reimbursed him.  Mary repaid George in dubloon’s and pistole’s which were English slang words for different types of money.

George’s blossoming profession as a surveyor is also represented in this ledger.  On July 23, 1749, he charged Mr. Richard Barnes of Richmond 2 pounds 3 shillings for surveying 400 acres of land in Culpeper County.  On September 26 of the same year, Mr. John West paid him 12 shillings for “copying 4 deeds out of the Proprietors’ [book]”, a preliminary clerical step to surveying land.

Washington even practiced writing out an index for his ledger at the end of the book, listing all those people whose last name began with “W” and on what page their account appeared.  Handwriting samples and sums of numbers show up throughout the book, as George evidently used some individual pages as notepaper.  He later reused some of the ledger in the 1760s while residing at Mount Vernon.

As a youth, George spent many hours copying lessons on such subjects as mathematical formulas, legal documents, geography, and codes of conduct.  These were subjects that would prove useful to him as he became a soldier, surveyor, landowner and politician.  Maintaining accurate and detailed financial records, a skill necessary for any successful gentleman, was one more habit a young man with aspirations needed to accomplish and master.

As we study the contents of Ledger Book Zero, we expect to gain more insights into George’s relationships with family members, boyhood friends, and business contacts. By examining this earliest ledger, we will understand the activities Washington was pursuing during his passage to adulthood and gain a glimpse at what life was like for a young George growing up at Ferry Farm during the 1740s.

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Assistant Lab Supervisor

A copy of the ledger was obtained from the Morristown National Historic Park, Morristown, NJ., Lloyd W. Smith Archives, Microfilm Reel #63.

Photos: Fielding’s Story, A Gentleman’s Sacrifice

This past weekend, visitors to George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore learned about Fielding Lewis in the dramatic presentation, Fielding’s Story: A Gentleman’s Sacrifice. They were able to step back in time and see colonial-era Fredericksburg through the eyes of Fielding Lewis—member of Virginia’s gentry, wealthy merchant and leading citizen of Fredericksburg, builder of Kenmore, patriot and supporter of the American Revolution, and husband of Betty Washington Lewis.

In this historical drama, which spanned from 1750 to 1781, actors portrayed people and events from Fielding’s life in the settings where those events took place. Guests saw Fielding’s courtship and marriage to Betty Washington, visited his newly built home as the guest of Betty , eavesdropped as Fielding considered wartime plans, and witnessed the sacrifices he made for the Patriot cause.

In certain scenes, dialogue was taken directly from historic documents including a 1750 edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a letter dated November 14, 1775 from Fielding Lewis to George Washington, and an authentic patriotic appeal in the Virginia Gazette.

Here are images from Fielding’s Story: A Gentleman’s Sacrifice…

The next theater production presented by The George Washington Foundation will be Twelfth Night at Kenmore in January 2016. As we approach the holidays, watch for details!

In Search of Mary’s Mug

Child Mugs (0)

Child’s mug that reads “A Present for Mary” unearthed at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Archaeologists are always trying to link artifacts with the actual people who lived at the sites we study.  As such, we get very excited when we find artifacts with people’s names on them.  It makes our job easy, right?  So, imagine our elation when a small creamware cup bearing the words “A Present For Mary” in black transfer print was unearthed at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.  People immediately assumed it must have belonged to George’s mother Mary Washington, the most famous Mary to live here.  However, upon closer inspection this theory totally unraveled.  The small cup was in fact a child’s mug manufactured long after Mary had grown up and, for that matter, probably after her death.  It could never have been owned by Mary Washington.  What seemed an open and shut case got a little more interesting.

First off, what was a child’s mug?  Well, it was a common and inexpensive small mug given to children as a reward for learning, doing well in Sunday school, or general good behavior.  The mugs were fairly small and decorated with the child’s name, bible verses, images of play, or references to learning.  Inspiration for these decorations came from the popular children’s books of the time.  A few common sayings found on these mugs were:

A gift for___.
A present for ___.
A trifle for ____.
A present for a good girl/boy.
A present for writing well.
A reward for industry.

Child Mugs (2)

Child Mugs (3)

Example of a complete mended pearlware child’s mug with a whimsical phrase illustrated in black transferprint.

These mugs were similar to christening mugs, which are still common gifts today.  While they have the same shape and are given to children, the two types of cup differ in material and purpose.  A child’s mug was mass-produced in factories and made of relatively cheap ceramic.  It would have been sold for a few pennies.  In contrast, a christening mug was a fancier gift, often made of far more expensive silver or porcelain.  Similar to our fine china today, these christening mugs weren’t meant for everyday use like the more ordinary child’s mugs.  Indeed, excavated child’s mugs often exhibit extensive use wear from being handled by children.

Ceramic child’s cups were manufactured starting in the late 1700s and remained abundant by the mid-1800s.  Their rise in popularity coincided with the emergence of a more modern concept of childhood. Prior to the 19th century, children were treated like tiny adults or pre-adults.  They dressed like adults and the few toys that did exist reinforced social roles and instructed children how to perform adult tasks.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that childhood became distinct from adulthood.  With this change, children became a new marketing demographic with books, toys, and ceramics targeted just at them.

In our efforts to find more fragments of the mystery Mary mug, we scoured the Ferry Farm artifact database and not only discovered more of her mug but also sherds from three other child’s mugs!  While two of these do not contain complete names, one pearlware mug clearly reads “A Present For Billy”.

Child Mugs (1)

Pearlware and Creamware sherds representing, clockwise, at least four child’s mugs. All include the phrase “A Present For…” Two names are visible. ‘Mary’ can be seen on far right mug in grouping 2 and the partial name ‘Billy’ is exhibited on the lower middle sherd marked 3.

Unfortunately, the dates during which these mugs were manufactured fall within a fifty year gap in our knowledge of who exactly was living at Ferry Farm.  From the late 18th century to the first quarter of the 19th century, an absentee owner rented the land to tenants. Information on just who those tenants were has been lost to time.  In a sense, this makes the discovery of the mugs even more special.  Although we’ll probably never precisely know the Mary and Billy the mugs belonged to, we now know that two children with those names lived and played here.  Anonymous no more, these simple sherds are likely all the evidence there is to proclaim their time at Ferry Farm.  While the children may have been sad upon breaking their mugs, we’re very happy to have what remains and hope to one day expand upon their stories.

Lauren Jones, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Technician

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

A Colonial Wedding

An imagining of the “Wedding of George Washington and Martha Custis.” Lithograph from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Paris: Lemercier, c1853.

A wedding is one of the most monumental moments in a person’s life.  The celebrations that accompany the ceremony might range from simple to lavish but they are always highly anticipated and joyous.  In this enthusiasm for weddings, we share much with our early American ancestors.  Although there are extremely important differences between past and present, many wedding traditions of the 18th century would be quite familiar to 21st century Americans.  What did a colonial-era wedding look like?

Today’s weddings can take place in any imaginable location – a church, dedicated wedding venue, cruise ship, beach resort, park, city hall, and on and on – but, in the 1700s, the large distances people often lived from an actual church building meant that the vast majority of weddings occurred at the brides’ home.[1]

In another inverse of modern preferences for spring, summer, and fall weddings, many colonial-era marriage celebrations took place in the winter months when there was less to do on the farm or plantation agriculturally.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t weddings outside the winter season.  Indeed, Fielding and Betty married on May 7, 1750.  We have no definitive evidence to say that their wedding occurred at the Washington family home on the land we now refer to as Ferry Farm.  Since Fielding and Betty lived relatively close to St. George’s Church in Fredericksburg, it is certainly possible that the ceremony took place there, though it would have been fairly unusual.

If the ceremony did occur at the Washington home, an Anglican minister, perhaps from St. George’s, would have still read the marriage ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer.  An edition published in 1750 contains language that remains immensely familiar even today.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony…”

“Wilt thou have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God’s Ordinance, in the holy Estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, serve him, love, honour and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”

“With this Ring, I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow…”

Along with these familiar words came familiar acts as well.  The father gave his daughter away, the couple exchanged vows, and the groom gave the bride a ring.  The bride, however, did not present a ring to the groom.

Just as it does today, a party began after the ceremony.  This celebration also took place at the home of the bride’s family.  “The family might decorate a table with white paper chains and lay out white foods for a collation. It included two white cakes. The guests consumed the groom’s cake, and sometimes left the bride’s cake untouched for the couple to save (in a tin of alcohol) to eat on each wedding anniversary.”[2]

There was much food, drink, and toasting along with games and plenty of dancing.  For Virginia’s gentry the party’s scale and length could be extremely lavish with the festivities continuing for days!

If you want to learn more about colonial-era weddings, you can witness a re-creation of the marriage ceremony of Fielding Lewis to Betty Washington on either Saturday, October 10 or Sunday, October 11 during Fielding’s Story: A Gentleman’s Sacrifice, a dramatic theater production taking place at both George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore.  Fielding’s Story recounts important moments and milestones in Fielding’s life as a member of Virginia’s gentry, a wealthy merchant and leading citizen of Fredericksburg, the builder of Kenmore, a supporter of the American Revolution, and the husband of Betty.  Reservations are required. Please call 540-340-0732 ext 24 or email

[1] Jane Carson, Colonial Virginians at Play, Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1989: 5-9.

[2] Elizabeth Maurer, “Courtship and Marriage in the Eighteen Century,”