Top 5 “Lives & Legacies” Posts of 2015

This December marks the one-year anniversary of Lives & Legacies: Stories from George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore. As we bring the blog’s first year to a close, we thought it might be worthwhile to share once again several of our most read entries from 2015. We hope you enjoy reading them for the first time or reading them again as we move into 2016 and year two of Lives & Legacies.

Here are our Top 5 Most Read Posts of 2015:

#5… Nancy Hallam: America’s First Celebrity Actress tells the story of the the earliest known acting troupe in the colonies and that troupe’s close connection to Virginia.  At the center of this story was a young actress named Nancy Hallam, whose talent was greatly praised at the time and who probably performed for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Her renown was such that she was even painted by Charles Willson Peale.

#4… What is this Artifact? is one of many entries during the year focused on one particular artifact recovered by archaeologists at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.  As is often the case with archaeology, the artifact presented a mystery to solve.  A variety of alterations to an 18th century leaded glass base from a cup or mug raised the possibility that the resulting glass disc may have been a homemade toy top.

#3… George Toasts George? investigates the political meanings found in Westerwald stoneware recovered at Ferry Farm.   The presence of these artifacts celebrating the British Crown at George Washington’s boyhood home show that until the Revolution the Washington family, like most Americans, viewed themselves as loyal subjects of the king.  It is indeed intriguing to picture a young George Washington drinking heartily from a ‘G.R.’ mug and toasting a king against whom he would lead a revolution.

#2… After Digging: What Happens in the Archaeology Lab?  reveals that archaeology is far more than just digging for artifacts. In fact, generally, archaeologists spend 3 days in the lab cleaning, cataloging, labeling, and analyzing objects discovered for every 1 day spent digging them up. This post explains the process artifacts go through in the lab after being excavated from an archaeological site.

#1… Perukes, Pomade, and Powder: Hair Care in the 1700s begins with the fact that archaeologists at Ferry Farm have recovered a variety of hair care artifacts, including over 200 wig hair curlers.  These baked clay curlers were used exclusively to curl wigs, or ‘perukes’, and formed part of the Washington family’s regimen of wig maintenance.  The regimen included wearing wigs made from human hair, styling those wigs using pomades made from animal fats, and powdering them with flour or clay.  The post also discusses why powdered wigs were highly fashionable among gentlemen of the 1700s.

Video: “Twelfth Night at Kenmore,” A Preview

On January 8, 9, and 10, Historic Kenmore presents “Twelfth Night at Kenmore,” a dramatic theater performance inside the 18th century home of Fielding and Betty Lewis. This short video previews the performance.

Immerse yourself in the experience the candlelight, music, and decorations of an eighteenth-century Christmas!

Performance Times: 3:00, 3:45, 4:45 and 5:30 p.m.
Reservations required. Call 540-370-0732 x24 or email
Cost: $12.00 adults, $6.00 ages 3-17; free ages 3 and under.

Learn more about the event at

Photos: Holiday Decorations at Ferry Farm & Kenmore

The George Washington Foundation wishes everyone a joyous holiday season!  Enjoy these photos of holiday decorations created by wonderful volunteers!  The George Washington Foundation Garden Guild decorated at Kenmore and the Lake Anna Garden Club decorated at Ferry Farm.

There is still time to see Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm adorned for the season as well as each site’s annual display of dollhouses, miniatures, and gingerbread creations. For details about these exhibits, visit Finally, if you missed it, check out our most recent post A Christmas of Uncertainty, December 1775.

A Christmas of Uncertainty, December 1775

Kenmore in Snow.JPG

When Fielding Lewis moved his family into their new home – the magnificent brick house we call Kenmore – in late 1775 it was the culmination of years of hard work and planning. It might seem as though that year’s holiday season should have been one of continual joy. Unfortunately, the Lewis family’s first Christmas inside Kenmore was far from joyful. December 1775 was an extremely difficult time in their lives and for the American Revolution.

That December, the Revolution was in a frustrating state of limbo. Although declared to be in open rebellion by the King and Parliament, few colonies had yet to see any armed conflict. Fighting outside of Boston started in the spring but fizzled into stalemate following the Battle of Bunker Hill in June.  Independence may have been discussed in taverns but was still far from being discussed at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

The colonies were still suffering economically and had been suffering for some time. In 1774, Congress passed the Non-Importation Agreement. These measures stopped all trade with Great Britain and other British-owned ports. The Association, as it came to be known, remained in effect in December 1775.  Colonists lacked numerous supplies and goods.  Fielding Lewis experienced a significant drop in his shipping business and the family’s finances began to suffer.

Even though it was the holiday season, the Non-Importation Agreement also discouraged…

every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock-fighting, exhibitions of shews, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments. 

To be loyal to the American cause, one could not delight in the revelries typically enjoyed during Christmas.

All levels of Virginia society felt the strain of war’s uncertainty that fateful December. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore and Virginia’s Royal Governor, had been at odds with his colonists since he removed portions of the public stores of gunpowder to a Royal Navy ship back in the spring. Lord Dunmore’s most recent action, however, hit much closer to home for Fielding Lewis and his fellow planters.  The Governor threatened to take their slaves, the precious private property, as they saw them, upon which they had built their livelihoods and wealth.

Lord Dunmore.jpg

Portrait of John Murry, 4th Earl of Dunmore by Joshua Reynolds (1765)

In November 1775, Dunmore had issued a proclamation in Virginia intended to swell his ranks and cripple the so-called ‘rebels’ by imposing martial law, raising the King’s standard, and declaring, most significantly,

all indentured Servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms.


A copy of Dunmore’s proclamation. Library of Congress photo

Dunmore’s Proclamation angered and frightened slave owners throughout Virginia and put the colony’s enslaved population in a difficult predicament. Achieving freedom was highly dependent on an enslaved person’s ability to get to Dunmore in Norfolk. Not surprisingly, the largest percentage of enslaved people who fled to the British came from the counties closest to that port city.  While it is uncertain if any Lewis slaves ran away to the British, at least one indentured servant perhaps did. Joseph Smith, an a painter who had worked for George Washington and presumably for Fielding Lewis, saw the political schism in Virginia as an opportunity to free himself from his servitude and fled in the summer of 1775. In November, Fielding wrote to George, saying “I have never heard of your Painter tho’ suspected he was gone to Ld Dunmore[.] I do not expect he can be got as Dunmore wants Men.” Smith’s successful escape may have been on the mind of the other indentured servants and enslaved people in the Lewis household when word of Dunmore’s Proclamation arrived in Fredericksburg.

December 1775 in the Lewis family’s new home was an anxious one for many and yet for others it must have been a hopeful one as well. The American forces at Bunker Hill had proven to the British that the fight would not be easy or quick. The Fourth Virginia Convention met that December and ordered even more companies formed to support the Continental forces.  Most hopefully, Dunmore’s forces were defeated in the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9. The Governor would leave the shores of Virginia in the early part of 1776 never to return. His forces did include a portion of enslaved people who had dared to hope for their own freedom, a hope that would be denied for many Christmases to come. A large portion were captured and returned to slavery, many more died from disease or lack of supplies, and others perished in battle. Few actually gained their freedom.

Back in Fredericksburg, the December of 1775 was most likely not what the Lewises had expected or hoped for. It was a Christmas of uncertainty, when war raged on Virginian soil.  Yet, the future was not solely bleak for Fielding, Betty, and the Americans. As 1776 began, it begged the hopeful question: what may the new year bring?

Joe Ziarko
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

Experience this Lewis family’s Christmas of uncertainty during Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation at Historic Kenmore on Friday, January 8, Saturday, January 9, or Sunday, January 10. The year is January 1776. It is the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis celebrate in their newly built home. It is not the usual celebration, however. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.  Immerse yourself in the experience the candlelight, music, and decorations of an eighteenth-century Christmas!

Performance Times: 3:00, 3:45, 4:45 and 5:30 p.m.
Reservations required. Call 540-370-0732 x24 or email
Cost: $12.00 adults, $6.00 ages 3-17; free ages 3 and under.

A Secret Society and a Historical Mystery

Occasionally, archaeologists uncover an artifact which raises more questions than it answers.  Recent re-examination of artifacts recovered from Historic Kenmore revealed a number of ceramic sherds with an elaborate but unidentified crest. Determining the ware and vessel type was a snap, it was clearly a creamware pitcher with olive over-the-glaze printing.  The glaze may have originally been black but, because it was not glazed over, the decoration degraded after burial.

Mystery Sherds

The perplexing ceramic fragments recovered during archaeological excavations at Historic Kenmore.

But what of the mysterious crest?  Did it belong to a family or a specific city?  Thankfully, it was a fairly distinctive crest with a multitude of phrases written on it including “Industry Produceth Wealth”, “We Obey”, “Be Merry And Wise”, “Freedom With Innocence” and “Unanimity Is The Strength Of Society”.  In archaeology terms we would call it ‘talky’.  Unfortunately, nowhere on the pitcher did it state a family’s name, a city’s name, or clearly indicate the identity of the crest in any other way. Talk about frustrating!

One of the problems lay in the popularity of drinking vessels emblazoned with similar motifs during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.   Ceramic vessels such as punch bowls, mugs, and pitchers printed with scenes or crests proclaiming the political views, the patriotism, or the private affiliations of the owner were quite common.  After many hours of pouring over books and the Internet later, we discovered the identity of the mysterious crest.  It belonged to an organization called The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Bucks.

Crest 01

The crest of The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Bucks as it would have appeared on the complete pitcher.

The Society of Bucks was a somewhat obscure secret fraternal organization (sort of like the Masons) that claimed it descended from Nimrod, a Mesopotamian king figuring in several Biblical stories.  Despite these allegedly lofty origins, in reality, the society was more of a gentlemen’s drinking club known for its rowdy parties.  A member of the society in the 1770s – a man known to history only as “Hurle” – left the group after becoming disgusted with their behavior. In 1781, he founded another fraternal order known as the Ancient Order of Druids, which forbade its members from using profanity or discussing politics.  Apparently, the Society of Bucks had quite a reputation.

Joseph Highmore's A Club of Gentlemen

“A Club of Gentlemen” by Joseph Highmore, circa 1730. Public domain.

The Society existed in Britain from the 1720s through the 1820s.  It’s heyday seems to have been in the 1760s and 1770s.  The fragments found at Kenmore showing the Bucks crest indicate the vessel dates to sometime after 1757.  The Society’s crest had a different appearance before that year, when John Sadler published a print of a new version of the crest.

While these fragments indicate the presence of a very specific piece that we can now set about acquiring for display in Kenmore, they have also opened a window on a completely new possibility in our knowledge of Fielding Lewis’s life.

Fielding was a Mason, having joined the Fredericksburg Lodge in 1754, but his level of involvement in the organization has always been unknown.  Masonry at the time was as much about secret vows and handshakes as it was about social status and business connections.  It also had a heavy political component, as many of the leaders of the colonial revolutionary movement were Masons.  It is unknown which aspect appealed most to young Fielding.  As with most things in his life, we are left with very few clues as to his thoughts and motivations, especially from his own hand.

One fact that we thought we had firmly nailed down was the surprising notion that he had never been to England, or even left Virginia.  For a man of his status, and of his family’s status during his childhood, it is rather unusual that Fielding had never visited England, whether for business or education.  But no historical document makes mention of such a trip, and in the timeline of his life it is hard to find a window in which such a lengthy voyage could have taken place.  The discovery of the Society of Bucks fragments at Kenmore raises some intriguing possibilities.

First, the society originated in Liverpool, the city in which most of Fielding’s trade relationships existed.  It apparently never made the leap across the Atlantic to the New World, as no indications of the Society of Bucks being present in the colonies has ever been found.  If Fielding could never have encountered the Society of Bucks in Virginia, and he never travelled to the city with which he did so much business, how did he come to own these vessels? Is it possible that he did in fact visit Liverpool at some point? While there, did he perhaps join the local fraternal society as a way to network with local businessmen, much as he did with the Masons in Fredericksburg? Were these vessels perhaps a gift from members of the Society? Whatever the case, the archaeological fragments found at Kenmore continue to call into question some long-held beliefs about Fielding Lewis’s life and remind us again that history is a dynamic and ever-changing story.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

Photos: 2nd Annual “A Wee Christmas” at Kenmore

For the second year, Historic Kenmore presents “A Wee Christmas,” an exhibit for the holiday season of highly detailed, replica dollhouses – including the Kenmore mansion – and miniatures in the Crowninshield Museum Building. Come to Kenmore and share memories of your dollhouse with children and grandchildren as you explore the treasures in this festive display!

The dollhouses and miniatures of the “A Wee Christmas” remain on display until December 30.  Historic Kenmore is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m and on Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Kenmore will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Admission cost for viewing the dollhouse exhibit only is $5 adults, $2.50 students, under 6 free. There is an additional fee for a guided tour of Kenmore. Visit for more details.

Photos: 29th Annual Gingerbread House Contest at Ferry Farm

It’s a long-standing holiday tradition! Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of the festive creations displayed at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

This year’s theme is “George Washington Slept Here” and a list of contest winners can be seen here (PDF). Visitors may vote for their favorite and this ‘people’s choice’ winner will be announce after the holidays. The gingerbread houses remain on display until December 30.

Ferry Farm is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m and on Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. The site will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Admission cost for viewing the gingerbread exhibit only is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free. There is an additional fee for a self-guided iPad tour of Ferry Farm. Visit for more details.

Tallio! Fox Hunting at Christmas

Although Fielding Lewis certainly built a home capable of hosting the elaborate Christmas celebrations popular in 18th century Virginia, Historic Kenmore probably never saw occasions on such a lavish scale, with the possible exception of the family’s first Christmas in the house in December 1775.  If the family hosted the traditional Christmas celebration, Fielding and Betty would have welcomed lots of friends and family, serving them fancy dinners and entertaining them with dancing and music. They and their guests might have enjoyed fox hunts as well.

Virginians regularly included fox hunts as part of their Christmas celebrations.[1]  In an era long before environmental conservation, colonial Virginians viewed foxes as pests that endangered livestock, which is why they hunted them so relentlessly.[2]  Additionally, during hunts, gentry men like George Washington could show off their hunting dogs and their skill at horseback riding while chasing foxes through the countryside.

George Washington loved fox hunting. In the year 1768, for example, he went on fox hunts 40 different times.  These hunts often lasted hours.  On a March day in 1768, he caught “a fox with a bobd Tail & cut Ears, after 7 hours chase.

George owned numerous hunting dogs and “helped develop the breed known as the American Foxhound.”  These hounds chased the fox and hunters on horseback chased the hounds.  The chase required galloping horses to jump over streams, bushes, and fences and riders to duck under low-hanging tree limbs.  Fox hunting allowed wealthy Virginians to show-off their horse riding skills and George was widely considered an excellent horseman.

Hunters also wore special clothes.  George went hunting in “a blue riding frock and scarlet waistcoat threaded with gold lace and topped by a black velvet cap.  He wore high boots and carried a . . . riding crop.”[2]    He wore cuff links that said “tallio” on them – that’s what hunters would shout when they found a fox.  These cufflinks were unearthed by archaeologists at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and their discovery hint at George’s interest in fox hunting even in his younger years.  He also hung paintings of fox hunts on the walls of his home at Mount Vernon.


Cufflinks discovered in the parlor root cellar and yard of the Washington House at Ferry Farm show a fox running across grassy rolling hills with the word “tallio” engraved above. This is a popular 18th century motif.

Like the George’s paintings at Mount Vernon, Fielding Lewis included foxes in the decor of his home. At Kenmore, the Lewis children were always reminded of the sneaky ways of foxes when they looked at a picture above the Dining Room fireplace.  The plaster image illustrates the Aesop’s fable known as “The Fox and the Crow.”

Fox Crow Overmantle (1)

This plaster over-mantle in Historic Kenmore’s dining room depicts the Aesop’s Fable known as “The Fox and the Crow.”

One day a fox saw a crow flying with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree.  “That’s for me!’ said Master Fox, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.

“Good-day, Mistress Crow,” he cried, “How well you are looking today; how shiny your feathers; how bright your eyes.  Your voice must be more beautiful than that of other birds.  Won’t you, please, sing me a song that I may know you are the Queen of Birds?

The crow, quite happy to hear such praise, began to sing her best – “Caw, Caw, Caw”, but when she opened her beak, the piece of cheese dropped to the ground and was snapped up by Master Fox.

Fox Crow Overmantle (2)

A close-up view of the over-mantle shows Mistress Crow dropping her cheese to be scooped up by Master Fox.

“Aha, Mistress Crow,” said he.  “That was what I wanted.  In exchange for your cheese I will give you some advice for the future: “Beware of false flattery.”

This Christmas, some sneaky foxes have found their way into Kenmore.

Fox in Kemore 2

A sneaky fox hiding somewhere inside Kenmore.

During the holiday season, younger visitors can help us look for them in a special scavenger hunt and learn about the colonial Christmas custom of fox hunting.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

[1] Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, ed Hunter Dickinson Farish (Williamsburg, Va., 1943), entry for Dec. 18, 1773: 44

[2] Jane Carson, Colonial Virginians at Play, Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1998: 62-64

[3] Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life, New York: Penguin Press, 2010: 124-5.