Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It: Tobacco & Politics in the 1700s

Colonial American.  Think about that term.  What does it mean to you?  It refers to citizens of the American colonies prior to the Revolution.  In the minds of many of us in the present-day United States, however, it might denote a unique American identity, probably because our own identities as Americans are firmly set and celebrated.  But what if I told you that most of these colonial Americans considered themselves to be loyal British subjects for much of the colonial period and proudly displayed objects that confirmed their loyalty?

One such object discovered at George Washington’s Ferry Farm is a small fragment from a white clay smoking pipe bowl.  The design on this tiny fragment includes a small harp and the letters “Mon D…”.

Pipe Bowl Fragment

Pipe bowl fragment excavated by archaeologists at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Sometimes in archaeology we have genuine ‘Ah Ha!’ moments and, for me, this was one such instance.  I grew up with a suncatcher – a gift from an English family friend — in my bedroom that featured a rearing unicorn above the words ‘Mon Droit.


I loved that suncatcher and, when I saw the pipe fragment, I recognized what the design was right away.  It was the British royal coat of arms!

On pipe bowls like the one unearthed at Ferry Farm, the coat of arms wrapped around three quarters of the circular bowl. A lion, shield, and unicorn each filled their own quarter of the bowl above the full French phrase “Dieu Et Mon Droit” or “God and my right,” a claim that the right of the British monarch to govern was divine in nature.  This phrase has a long history in England.  It was first used as a battle cry by Richard I in the 12th century and picked up as a royal motto by King Henry V, who lived from 1386-1422.  The use of the French language for an English motto may seem odd but French was very fashionable and the official language of the English court.

British Royal Coat of Arms

The British royal coat of arms from 1714-1800 during the Hanover dynasty. Credit:  Sodacan/Wikipedia

It is doubtful that anyone living at Ferry Farm after the America Revolution wanted to advertise their loyalty to the British crown so we can safely say this pipe was probably used between 1714, when the Hanover dynasty began under George I, and, at the latest, the 1770s. During most of this time period, the Washington family lived at Ferry Farm.The royal coat of arms is full of important symbols.  Grasping the center shield is a lion signifying England and a unicorn representing Scotland.  On the shield’s lower left is a harp symbolizing Ireland. The harp is clearly identifiable on the pipe fragment excavated at Ferry Farm.  The lower right section of the shield includes a columned monument and another lion. These symbols were added during the House of Hanover’s reign.  Monarchs regularly changed the coat of arms as each new king or queen sought to make their mark on the official emblem.  The monument and small lion were included on the shield to denote the Hanovers’ rule over their territory in what is now Germany.  The fragment found at Ferry Farm also contains these elements indicating that it was manufactured between 1714 and 1800.


Pipes featured more than political symbols. This is a 3D image of another smoking pipe bowl excavated at Ferry Farm decorated with a Masonic symbol. The pipe was probably made in the northeast of England between 1770-1810. You can read more about this pipe here.

Why is this pipe fragment a big deal?  During the 18th century, smoking a pipe with a political symbol like the one we’ve found was the equivalent of slapping a candidate’s bumper sticker on your car, placing a political party’s sign in your yard, or sharing a favorite political meme on social media. The act was public, deliberate, and did not go without notice. The practice continued well into the 1800s when groups such as the Irish employed smoking pipes to advertise their support for causes such as a free Ireland.  It was a way to signal identity to others.

During most of the colonial period in America, aligning yourself with the crown was not at all radical but rather what was expected of most subjects.  In fact, this pipe bowl fragment is not the only artifact excavated at Ferry Farm to hint at past occupants’ loyalty to Britain.  As noted in a previous blog, we have found several drinking vessels exhibiting the initials ‘G.R.’ for ‘George Rex’ or King George.  In another blog, we also discussed an artifact uncovered at Ferry Farm that points toward a growing resistance to the British crown. This mid-18th century sleeve button depicts William III, who, although he died decades before the button was manufactured, came to represent the right of subjects to resist a king who was abusing power.

What we may be seeing in these three types of artifacts present at Ferry Farm is a fundamental shift of views within the Washington family as the political climate changed throughout the 1700s.  The objects hint at a swing from loyal British subjects to revolutionaries and the beginning of our identity as independent Americans.

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

In Memory of Mother Washington


The Mary Washington Monument on Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Today, August 25th, marks the 227th anniversary of the death of George Washington’s mother, Mary.   Mary lived to be 82 years old, and suffered from breast cancer during her final years.

Few biographers have been neutral in their treatment of Mother Washington, a woman of great significance in George’s life.  Some writers have offered overly sentimental descriptions of this matron, whereas others have been critical, and even harsh in their evaluation of her role as George’s mother.

Mary Ball married Augustine Washington on March 6, 1731.  Their marriage produced six children: George, Betty, Samuel, John Augustine, Charles, and Mildred.  When Augustine died twelve years later, a significant portion of the family’s property went to Augustine’s two oldest sons from his first marriage.  Mary raised their five surviving children at their Ferry Farm home, keeping the family together.  In 1772, at the insistence of her children, an aging Mary Washington moved into the town of Fredericksburg where she could be closer to her daughter, Betty.

In the summer of 1789, Mother Washington’s health was rapidly deteriorating.  Betty wrote to her older brother George,

“I am sorry to inform you my mother’s breast still continues bad.  …she is sensible of it and is perfectly resigned…  …the doctors think if they could get some hemlock it would be of service to her breast.”

Hemlock in Köhler's Medizinal Pflanzen

19th-century illustration of hemlock or Conium maculatum (from Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen). Public domain. Courtesy: Wikipedia

Hemlock, an extremely poisonous plant that “affects the transmission of nerve impulses to muscle and causes death through respiratory failure,” was a traditional treatment for breast cancer in the early 1700s. Although doctors in England had largely abandoned this treatment by the late 1780s, when Mary Washington was suffering from this disease, it is evident that local doctors were not up-to-date on the most recent treatments.

It seems likely that hemlock was indeed administered to Mary.  Burgess Ball wrote to George on the 25th of August, 1789:

“The Cause of her dissolution (I believe) was the Cancer on her breast, but for about 15 days she has been deprived of her speech and for the five last days she has remained in a sleep.”

These symptoms that Mary experienced in her final days, such as loss of speech and prolonged unconsciousness, seem consistent with hemlock poisoning, which attacks the nervous system and can cause comas.  Side effects include loss of speech (Steger 1972:71; http://www.webmd.com/).

George publically recognized his mother’s role in his life at a 1784 event where he addressed the citizens of Fredericksburg, when he referred to her, “…by whose Maternal hand (early deprived of a Father) I was led to Manhood”.

After his mother’s death, himself recovering from surgery to his left thigh (Abbot et al. 1992b, pp. 75-77), George consoled his grieving sister Betty Washington Lewis in a letter dated September 13, 1789:

“Awful, and affecting as the death of a Parent is, there is consolation in knowing that Heaven has spared ours to an age, beyond which few attain, and favored her with the full enjoyment of her mental faculties, and as much bodily strength as usually falls to the lot of four score.  Under these considerations and a hope that she is translated to a happier place, it is the duty of her relatives to yield due submission to the decrees of the Creator….” 

On August 28th, Betty Lewis and her children buried Mary Washington near a rock outcropping known today as “meditation rock” (Hetzel 1903:5).  The letter conveying the news of her death had still not reached her son George (Hetzel 1903:1), preventing him from attending the ceremony (cf. Rejai and Phillips 2000:15).  The burial site was part of the Lewis family’s Fredericksburg plantation.  This was a favorite spot of Mary’s, to sit, read the Bible, and spend time with her grandchildren.

For some time, Mary’s grave had no permanent marker.  An attempt to move her remains to Mount Vernon stirred concerned local residents into action (NRHP 2002 Section 8, p. 21) and an effort was begun to place a marker on Mary’s final resting place in 1826.  While a cornerstone for a marker was laid in 1833, construction failed to materialize a suitable memorial before 1893 when the Mary Washington Memorial Association brought this effort to fruition (NRHP 2002 Section 7 p. 16, Section 8, pp. 22, 27).  In 1894 President Grover Cleveland, as well as his Vice President, the Governor of Virginia, the Mayor of Fredericksburg, a senator from Virginia, and thousands of citizens attended the dedication of the completed memorial (NRHP 2002 Section 8, p. 28).

1903MaryWashingtonMonument copy

The Mary Washington Monument as it appeared in 1903. Library of Congress photo.

This Saturday, August 27th, you can commemorate Mary Washington’s death with the Washington Heritage Museums at the grave of Mary Washington.  A reception (cost $10) at the Mary Washington House on Charles Street follows.  For event details, visit washingtonheritagemuseums.org.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Further Reading

Abbot, W. W., Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Beverly H. Runge, Beverly S. Kirsch, and Debra B. Kessler
1992  The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series Volume 1.  University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Hetzel, Susan Riviere
1903  The Building of a Monument Press of Wickersham Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

2002  National Register of Historic Places Form, Washington Avenue Historic District,
http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Cities/Fredericksburg/1115262_Washington_Avenue_HD_2002_Final_Nomination.pdf (accessed August 11, 2016).

Rejai, Mostafa and Kay Phillips
2000  The Young George Washington in Phychobiographical Perspective.  The Edwin Mellon Press, Lewiston, New York.

Steger, Robert E.
1972  Native Plants Poisonous to Humans.  Journal of Range Management 25(1):71-72.

George Washington, My Grandfather, and the Noble Art of Fencing

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1796). Public domain.

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1796). In the portrait, Washington wears his ceremonial sword. Public domain.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts inspired by this year’s Summer Olympics. This week, Archaeologist Mara Kaktins reflects on the connection fencing has created between her family and George Washington. Read our first Olympics-inspired post here.

At our monthly blog meetings, post topics are floated and people grab them up, usually when it aligns with individual research interests.  George Washington as an avid fencer seemed an appropriate subject with the Summer Olympics in full swing this month.  I am no fencer, nor am I an athlete, so why write about fencing?  The spirit to volunteer for this assignment came to me because of the recent passing of my father.  He, my uncle, and my grandfather were all fencers.  It led me to ponder our first president, my grandfather, and the modern Olympic sport of fencing.

Let’s begin by examining the early history of fencing in the American colonies.  Long considered a ‘gentleman’s sport’, fencing was massively popular in Europe. Respect for the knowledge of sword play extended to the colonies, where masters from abroad set up schools to teach young men this ancient art.  These instructors did not just show their students how to fence.  Sword play was part of a larger artistic curriculum that could also include dancing, horseback riding, popular languages such as French, boxing, gentlemen’s games like cards, and knowledge of various musical instruments.   Fencing, or ‘short sword’ as it was sometimes called, was not seen as merely a sport.  It was referred to as an ‘art’.  With mastery, came not just dexterity, physical fitness, and strength but also good temperament, courtly manners, and a sense of restraint.  Teachers often emphasized that a gentleman well-versed in the sword was less likely to ever use one, having gained honor and discipline in addition to knowledge of a deadly weapon.  Sort of like the colonial equivalent of “With great power comes great responsibility”.

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart Sword

A closer view of Washington’s ceremonial sword.

As a young man living at Ferry Farm, George Washington attempted to better himself learning all of the gentlemanly arts. It is no surprise he studied fencing.  Some evidence suggests that Lawrence Washington, his older half-brother who was a Captain in the Virginia Militia may have helped him in this regard.  Schooled in England, Lawrence learned all he needed to know of being a gentleman in the mother country, as was customary for gentry children.  George Washington never attended a real school, much less an English one.  He was determined, however, and sought his gentlemanly education where he could in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Ferry Farm Sword Fragment

Fragment of a cooper-alloy hand guard from a sword dating to the late 1600s or early 1700s and unearthed by archaeologists at Ferry Farm.

The closest dedicated fencing instructor was in far-away Williamsburg so George had to make do. The early George Washington biographer, Washington Irving, suggested that Lawrence and his military friends along with an adjutant known only by his last name of Muse probably instructed George in sword play.  There was also a rather mysterious Dutch mercenary and translator, Jacob Van Braam (all good stories should have a shadowy Dutchman).  Temporarily located in Fredericksburg, Van Braam was in between wars and supplemented his income by teaching young George how to handle a blade.  They later campaigned together and fought at Fort Necessity in 1754 where a mistranslation by Van Braam may actually have contributed to the conflict that is credited with helping start the Seven Year War.  Presumably the Dutchman was more skilled with weapons than in French and George Washington went on to become a famous general, often depicted carrying a sword, a symbol of his status and military skill.  Van Braam later fought in the Revolutionary War but for the British before retiring to France.


Fencing foil belonging to the late Uldis Kaktins, my father.

Fast forward two centuries to a young man in Latvia named Zigurds, my grandfather.  Fencing remained a popular sport in Europe and a skill that educated men certainly looked to acquire.  Zigurds was tall, young, and handsome, had a law degree, and his father was a world famous opera singer.  Zigurds seemed to have a lot going for him and likely learned to fence for many of the reasons George did: physical prowess and a respected mental fortitude.  With the onset of the Second World War, Zigurds learned that the Soviets were going to deport him, his wife, and two young children to Siberia so he took his family and fled to the United States.  In America, his and his wife’s law degrees were worthless.  They moved into a rough but affordable neighborhood in Boston and worked blue collar jobs.  My grandfather’s life was completely different from what he had known in Latvia except for fencing.  He instructed fencing at the YMCA and headed a Latvian fencing club.  Normally a fairly stern figure, Zigurds once dressed as a ‘swashbuckler’ to be filmed fencing for a short film or commercial.

Mara's Grandfather

Zigurds Kaktins, my grandfather, (right) fencing in swashbuckler’s costume in the 1960s.

Zigurds passed on fencing to my father and uncle.  My recently deceased father always had a grace about him.  He carried himself easily and with confidence but was quick and nimble when needed.  Perhaps not coincidentally, he was also an excellent dancer.  I think that his early instruction in fencing contributed to this grace.  A man of grace and confidence, an excellent dancer, and a fencer.  These words prove an apt description of my father, my grandfather, and the Father of my Country.

Mara Kaktins

Photos: “The Taming of the Shrew” at Kenmore’s Shakespeare by Candlelight

Taming of the Shrew (1)

This past weekend was Shakespeare by Candlelight at Historic Kenmore!  William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was presented in eighteenth-century style on the Lawn at Kenmore on Friday and Saturday nights and, because of a thunderstorm, indoors on Sunday night.  Enjoy this collection of photographs from the Saturday and Sunday performances.  Learn more about The Taming of the Shrew’s history here.

Show Horse: How Colonial Horse and Rider Looked Their Best

"Washington Before Yorktown" by Rembrandt Peale (1823) Public domain. Courtesy: The Athenaeum/Wikipedia

“Washington Before Yorktown” by Rembrandt Peale (1823) Public domain. Courtesy: The Athenaeum/Wikipedia

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two posts inspired by this year’s Summer Olympics. This week, it’s an equestrian-inspired post from Archaeologist Laura Galke, who briefly looks at some of the ornaments found on 18th century horse tack.

What an impressive sight the Washingtons made as they rode their horses with bridles and straps embellished with these shiny brass decorations.  Today, people who study these decorations refer to them as “mounts” or “leather ornaments.”  They were used to ornament the leather straps, nosebands, harnesses, and reins of horses. Individual riders enjoyed these, but they also could adorn steeds that pulled carriages.  About twenty of these ornaments have been found during recent excavations at Ferry Farm.

Ferry Farm leather ornaments dating from the 1700s. The Harwoods, Strothers or the Washingtons may have purchased these.

Ferry Farm leather ornaments dating from the 1700s. The Harwoods, Strothers or the Washingtons may have purchased these.

Colonial Virginians, including George Washington, took pride in owning horses. Adorning their stallions with such flashy decorations attracted attention to their owners as they journeyed through the streets, on the ferries, and along the trails of Colonial Virginia and beyond.  It was also a great way to draw attention to a favorite steed or an elegant carriage in a public setting. Unlike household adornments – which were esteemed by an intimate circle of family, friends, and enslaved attendants – investments in these leather ornaments were appreciated by a wider audience as rider and horse proudly paraded about the colony and region.

This copper-alloy mount dates from the mid-to-late 1700s.

This copper-alloy mount dates from the mid-to-late 1700s.

In Colonial households, men typically purchased these showy trimmings. Indeed, they bought most things associated with the stable: horses or transportation.  Horse milliners were the source for such tack.  However, purchases related to the health of livestock, such as medicine, was the responsibility of women.

Copper naturally repels the bacteria that break down organic materials such as leather. These mid-to-late 1700s Washington family ornaments have actually preserved a small portion of the original leather straps they adorned.

Copper naturally repels the bacteria that break down organic materials such as leather. These mid-to-late 1700s Washington family ornaments have actually preserved a small portion of the original leather straps they adorned.

George Washington was an accomplished rider praised by Thomas Jefferson as “the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.”  Leather ornaments and mounts like those excavated at Ferry Farm helped to create that graceful appearance for George and all horse-loving Virginians.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Further Reading

Cofield, Sara Rivers
2008  A Preliminary Study of 17th– and 18th-Century Leather Ornaments from Maryland.  Maryland Archaeology 44(2):12-27.  Available online http://www.jefpat.org/research.html

Griffiths, Nick
2004  Harness Pendants and Associated Fittings.  In The Medieval Horse and its Equipment, c. 1150 – c. 1450, edited by John Clark, pp. 61-71.  The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

McBane, Susan
1992  The Illustrated Guide to Horse Tack.  David and Charles.  Milanostampa, Brunel House Newton Abbot Devon.

Noel Hume, Ivor
1991  A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America.  Vintage Books, New York.

Vickery, Amanda
2009  Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.  Yale University Press, New Haven.

Bartmann Bottle: The Coolest Thing We’ve Ever Found

We excavate hundreds of artifacts every day during the field season at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and occasionally one or two really stand out.  For me, the most interesting artifacts uncovered during the past few years are fragments of a Bartmann Jug.  The combination of an animated human face and fascinating symbolism makes this particular ceramic vessel unique among the hundreds of other vessels excavated from our archaeological site.  Just imagine the excavator’s surprise when the intense bearded face emerges as the dirt gets brushed off. That intense face and the story behind it make this object, in my view, the coolest thing we’ve ever found.

Bartmann Bottle (1)

The bottle itself would have had a solid sturdy base and a round, bulbous body with a cylindrical mouth.  It may have had a pewter lid, but these rarely survive archaeologically.  Pewter was fairly valuable and would have been melted down and reused after the vessel was broken, rather than discarded with the rest of it.  The bottle was medium sized, holding approximately a liter of low-alcohol beverage such as beer or cider.  The face of the bottle itself features a raised applied decoration known as a sprig mold, which is made by pressing wet clay into a mold, letting it dry to a point where it could be peeled out of the mold, and then attaching it to the unfired bottle.

Establishing when the bottle was actually manufactured can be challenging for these vessels.  They were produced in Germany between 1550 and 1770.  The British Navigation Acts made foreign imports increasingly rare in the colonies after the early 18th century.  Knowing that the make-up of the ceramic body and glaze is German lets up narrow down the dates for this bottle to the early years of the 18th century.  It is decidedly part of the pre-Washington era material culture here are Ferry Farm.

Bartmann Bottle (3)

When looking at these bottles with their somewhat grotesque faces, one can’t help but wonder why people decorated their drinking vessels this way for some two hundred years?  What did it mean to their culture?

These Bartmann Bottles were not just made in Germany. They were also shaped by German culture.  Their molded faces were sometimes elaborate and detailed and sometimes crudely executed. They were always male and always sported a large bushy beard.  This references German folklore’s “wild man of the woods.”  He was thought to live just beyond the bounds of civilization and run feral in the wilderness, living almost like an animal.  Perhaps rather appropriate to adorn a container of alcohol with?  However, these bottles were also widely exported. When they were brought to England, they became divorced from this folklore context.  Subsequently, the English created their own story about what the face on these Bartmann Bottles meant.

Bartmann Bottle (2)

In England around 1634, the bottles began to be called Bellarmines after Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.  Superficially, the wild face was said to resemble him. On a deeper level, the name was used as a way to mock the Catholic Church and its wider anti-protestant movement that Cardinal Bellarmine headlined.  This is following the monumental split of England from papal control and its moves farther towards Protestantism.   The colonists who brought this bottle to the new world thought of themselves as English so, if they gave any thought to the grimacing man who adorned their bottle of beer, they would have likely seen the figure as Bellarmine.

This fascinating and drastic change in meaning as the object moves from culture to culture combined with the striking human features is what makes it, in my view, the coolest thing we’ve ever found.

Lauren Jones, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Technician