Masonic Pipe in 3D


Click on the photo for to link to a 3D image the you can zoom, rotate, and manipulate.

Recently, a 3D image of a smoking pipe was added to the Virtual Curation Lab, an online project of Virginia Commonwealth University.  You can view rotate, zoom, and manipulate the image by clicking the photo above or by clicking here.  The smoking pipe was discovered within the fill of the main cellar of the Washington family house at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, his boyhood home.  The pipe features the square and compass and twin pillars that distinguish this as a masonic pipe.  Such motifs were very popular.  The masonic symbols faced the smoker and fluting characterized that portion visible to surrounding friends.  The design elements used suggest that this pipe was likely made in the northeast of England sometime between 1770-1810, in places like Hull.

George Washington was initiated as an apprentice mason on November 4, 1752, passed to fellow craft on March 3, 1753, and became a master mason on August 4, 1753. He achieved all of these masonic ranks at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4.  While it is certainly possible the masonic pipe belonged to George, he was one of four notable masons associated with Ferry Farm.  The other three were Fielding Lewis, Hugh Mercer, and George Weedon, who each may also have left this specimen behind in the archaeological record.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at Virginia Commonwealth University, headed by Dr. Bernard K. Means, scanned this pipe bowl in three dimensions.  3D scanning provides two types of digital models: a three-dimensional image to be viewed on a monitor and, with the use of a special 3D printer, a plastic replica of the item.  Replicas can be printed at a larger scale, allowing details to be viewed more easily.  VCL has used the technology to scan bones from extinct passenger pigeons, allowing researchers from around the nation to compare these known digital models to bird bones in their own assemblages so that they can identify passenger pigeons in their collection.


The pipe bowl being scanned in 3D.

Three-dimensional scanning allows The George Washington Foundation to provide greater public access to fragile artifacts both on the Internet virtually and as 3D printed copies that visitors can see and hold.  Making 3D images available online allows more people to see these artifacts than could ever visit Washington’s boyhood home.  We can even make these digital files available to researchers on the web, allowing others to 3D print them wherever in the world they may be.  In the field, 3D replicas allow staff to engage visitors, showing them (for example) a wig hair curler or tobacco pipe, then inviting them to guess how the object was used in the past.


3D replicas allow Ferry Farm archaeologist Lauren Volkers to share rare and unique artifacts with visitors when the archaeological dig site is open.

Fragile ceramic sherds can be printed in plastic, allowing visitors to mend the pieces together as an educational exercise.  Such access allows the original objects to be on exhibit while simultaneously allowing maximum access to the replicas physically and digitally.


Archaeologist Vivian Hite uses a 3D printed plastic replica of the masonic pipe to engage young visitors.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Payment Tokens… Of a Different Kind

Tokens (1)

Two of 21 payment tokens discovered by archaeologists at Historic Kenmore.

During excavations around and under Kenmore’s 19th century portico in the early 2000s, archaeologists discovered several small metal disks.  Some disks were significantly corroded but a few still showed markings clearly.  They were stamped with the words “Braxton Mason & Co” as well as “1 day” and on another disk “5”. The disks had oval-shaped holes punched through the middle.  Over the years, excavations have found a total of 21 disks scattered around Kenmore.

Tokens (2)

Archival box containing artifact bags of payment tokens recovered during excavations at Kenmore.

What were these disks? The machine-made nature of both the disks and the stamped words on them suggested they dated much later the 18th century and were more likely from the late 19th or even early 20th centuries.  The first clue to their purpose was the holes punched in the middle of each disk, which suggested they were intended to be strung together on a chain or key ring.  Though of different shapes and materials, similar artifacts intended to be strung together in the same manner had been excavated at other sites around Fredericksburg, especially on the nearby Northern Neck.  In those instances, the artifacts were identified as payment tokens used by workers in the “truck farming” industry.  Day laborers were hired to pick produce, which was collected by the bushel-full in trucks and then sold roadside from the same trucks.  For every bushel of produce picked, the laborer received a payment token, usually marked with either the amount “1 bushel” or so many pounds.  At the end of the day or of the week, laborers lined up to trade in their tokens for payment.  As the 20th century progressed, the Northern Neck became a center for the food canning industry, and eventually the small truck farms raised produce almost solely to supply 120 canneries.  These canneries started issuing their own payment tokens often stamped with the company name. [1]

For a long time, it was believed the metal tokens found at Kenmore were payment tokens related to truck farming.  The thought was that the Howard family, who owned Kenmore from 1881 until 1914, perhaps used the remaining land surrounding the house for a small truck farming operation.  The tokens probably had been inadvertently dropped by laborers around the property.  On its surface, this seemed a plausible explanation and was added to the canon of Kenmore’s history.

Upon closer inspection, however, there were issues with the truck farming theory.  First, Braxton Mason & Co was neither a Northern Neck cannery nor a business anywhere in the Fredericksburg area in the 20th century.  Also, the Kenmore tokens were stamped with time increments instead of quantities.  Lastly, there was no other evidence of the Howards being involved in truck farming.

Working in the museum field has its definite perks, and one of them is that we have access to a vast network of people who possess an impressive amount of knowledge about a wide variety of topics.  Almost all of them love a good mystery!  Armed with the name Braxton Mason & Co and a rough date range of 1820 to 1880, I put out a call to museum colleagues in Virginia.  Had anyone ever heard of Braxton Mason & Co? Did anyone have any idea what kind of business it was? Within days, I began receiving bits of information and a truly interesting picture began to emerge.

First, a colleague from Petersburg found a tiny reference to Braxton Mason & Co in the Railroad Gazette of 1871.  The single sentence stated that the company won the contract to build a portion of the Lynchburg and Danville railroad.[2]  Braxton Mason & Co was a railroading firm!  But who were the individuals Braxton and Mason? The Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia for 1870 recorded that a Mr. Braxton and two gentlemen named Mason were among a group of 24 investors who formed the Fredericksburg & Northern Neck Railway Company in April.  Could this Braxton and one of the two Masons be our guys?

A second colleague found reference to a Carter M. Braxton in the Fredericksburg City Council minutes of 1866. With the Civil War over, the city renewed pre-war efforts to build a railway line to Gordonsville.[3] The project’s engineer was Carter Braxton.  The Fredericksburg-Gordonsville Railroad was completed in 1870, just before Braxton Mason & Co was contracted to build the Lynchburg-Danville line.  Could Carter Braxton and one of his fellow investors (named Mason) in the Fredericksburg Northern Neck Railroad Company have split off and formed a smaller railway business? At the moment, that seems the likely explanation.

So, that explains what Braxton Mason & Co was but what did it have to do with Kenmore? A third colleague inadvertently came up with a potential answer.  In order for Carter Braxton to complete the rail line to Gordonsville, the 1866 city council minutes said, swampy land that was part of the Kenmore property needed to be drained.  It was decided the “owners of Kenmore” would be asked to contribute since they would benefit financially from the railway’s construction.  The third colleague involved in this research had done extensive work establishing Kenmore’s ownership history.  The upheaval of the Civil War kept this history a bit cloudy.  Deeds and records of sale simply did not survive.  Because of my colleague’s work, however, we know that, in 1866, Kenmore’s owner was Levi Beardsley, a New Yorker who came to Virginia after the war in hopes of finding promising business ventures.[4]  As New Yorkers were not popular in the South, he told people that he was actually from Iowa.  His secret came to light during a failed political campaign in 1868 and his various business ventures began to crumble.  In order to keep Kenmore safe from his creditors, he put it into trust for his wife.[5]  The trustee was a man named William Barton.

In 1870, the same year that Braxton Mason & Co began taking contracts on their own, Beardsley and his wife finally gave up and left Virginia.  Kenmore was supposedly auctioned off, but it appears that William Barton retained control of the property.  Shortly thereafter, Barton rented the house out to tenants.  We have never known the identity or number of these tenants.

Tokens (3)

The 19th century portico on the east front of Kenmore.

Is it possible that, while working on the Fredericksburg-Gordonsville Railroad that crossed Kenmore property, Braxton Mason & Co housed their workers at Kenmore itself? Did laborers gather on the house’s portico each week to collect payment for their tokens, some of which were accidentally dropped nearby? It would certainly explain the presence of these perplexing metal disks and fill in the gap of who was living at Kenmore after 1870.  Whether this theory can be proven with certainty remains to be seen but, in the end, it’s the investigation that makes it fun…with a little help from our friends.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

[1] Dodd, Anita L. Day Laborer Tokens: Meaning and Function at Two 18th Century Plantations. 2006.

[2] Railroad Gazette, vol. 3, 1871. Pg. 68.  Reference provided by Emmanuel Dabney, Curator, Petersburg National Battlefield.

[3] Minutes of the City Council of Fredericksburg, 1866.  Reference provided by Judy Hynson, Archivist, Stratford Hall.

[4] Walker, Travis. Levi A. Beardsley and Family. 2013.

[5] Norman, Gary J. and Edgar R. Hon. Kenmore’s Yankees: The Beardsleys in Fredericksburg. 1996.

Photos: “Twelfth Night at Kenmore” 2016

Each January, Historic Kenmore presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation that imagines the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis spent in their newly built home. The play is set in January 1776 and that year is not a time for the usual celebration. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.

The 2016 edition of Twelfth Night at Kenmore took place this past weekend. Here are photos from that performance.

Glue: The Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Found

As an archaeologist, I am often asked “What is the coolest thing you’ve ever found?”  The answer is complicated.  Although I’ve unearthed 10,000 year old Paleoindian hearths, elaborate porcelains, coins, long lost jewelry, and ancient stone tools, I say that the coolest thing I’ve ever found is …. glue.  This proclamation always elicits questioning looks from well-meaning folks who expect something a little more glamorous.  Let me tell you why, to date, glue is the “coolest thing I’ve ever found.”

It’s not just the glue itself that is incredible but also the object on which the glue was found.  When I started working at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, my first assignment was to examine creamware associated with Mary Washington, George’s mother, which was excavated from the cellar of the Washington home.  I focused on a lovely punch bowl with beautiful hand-painted enamel depicting a floral motif with cherry accents.  Obviously, we adore cherries at Ferry Farm, being the setting of the fabled chopping down of a certain tree by young George, and we wanted to learn more about it.



The punch bowl was manufactured in the 1760s or early 1770s.  It exhibited a lot of use wear, indicating it was obviously a favorite of Mary’s.  The punch bowl was of a size designed to be passed around at a gathering for each guest to take a sip directly from it.  This was a time before germs were well understood.  Thankfully, for health’s sake, 18th century punch contained a hefty amount of alcohol.  This also meant that punch was not cheap.  Actually, the production and drinking of punch was very much a ceremonial form of conspicuous consumption.  Mary chose this special bowl as much for its beauty as for its function.

After close inspection of the vessel, I noticed a strange substance adhering to many of the edges.  This unsightly brown stuff extended across the many breaks in the bowl and, upon microscopic examination, exhibited suspicious brush marks.  Furthermore, additional ceramics from the same cellar excavation revealed similar residues.  Could it be glue? If it were, this would shed light on a previously unknown behavior taking place in the Washington home – the breaking and subsequent repair of ceramics.  We had to know!  What followed was a multi-year study during which we tested the historic glue residue samples utilizing mass spectrometry courtesy of Eastern Michigan University. We spent months researching historic glues, replicating those glues, and then breaking and mending much thrift store pottery with the aforementioned glue in the name of science.  The conclusion?  We had indeed discovered eighteenth century glues!

interior-glue copy

While this may not seem like a ‘eureka’ moment, it was actually quite significant.  First of all, it’s amazing that 250-year-old glue survived in the ground for so long.  Second, the discovery improves our understanding of Mary Washington, a woman that gave birth to and shaped the young life of our first president.  By replicating period glues and mending modern pottery, we also learned that the vessels Mary had repaired probably were not used for anything other than display after mending.  They could not have held a liquid, which means that after it was broken and mended, the beloved punch bowl was probably relegated to mantle or shelf where the delicate hand-painted flowers and charming cherries could be admired but never used for its intended purpose ever again.

We also concluded that Mary herself would probably not have made and applied the glues personally.  Turns out making eighteenth century glues involved a wide array of bizarre and often stinky ingredients including ox gall, animal hide, bull’s blood, garlic, eggs, cheese, isinglass (extracted from a fish’s swim bladder), and the slime from garden snails (yep). Watch the video below to see how colonial-era glue was made. You can also click here. It was a time consuming and messy endeavor that was likely undertaken by the enslaved people living at Ferry Farm rather than by the mistress of the house.

To date, seven vessels belonging to Mary exhibit glue residue.  Interestingly, even though a professional mender was operating in the town of Fredericksburg just across the river from where she lived, Mary chose to have glue prepared at home with which to repair her ceramics. That, plus the fact that she had these pieces mended even though she could never use them again means Mary was a thrifty woman who saw the value in displaying the objects.  Perhaps demonstrating that she owned these highly fashionable ceramics took precedence over using them?

What makes the glues even more exciting is that nowhere in the historic record does it mention that Mary was repairing ceramics at home.  Our only evidence for this activity is archaeological and it has revealed a previously unknown aspect of her life.  Perhaps now the question is not “Did George chop down the cherry tree?” but rather “Did George break the cherry punch bowl”?

And all that is why glue is the coolest thing I’ve ever found.

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

Photos: Last Year’s “Twelfth Night at Kenmore”

This coming weekend — Friday, January 8, Saturday, January 9, or Sunday, January 10 — Historic Kenmore again presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation set in 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.

Here is a collection of photos from last year’s performances.

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.