Thirty Years of Gingerbread

It’s a long-standing holiday tradition. In fact, it’s so long-standing that this year, 2016, marks the tradition’s 30th year.  What tradition is that?  The annual Gingerbread House Contest and Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

Since we are marking three auspicious decades for this event, we dug into the archives to present a look back here on Lives & Legacies.

The contest began in 1987 and, for many years, took place at Historic Kenmore instead of Ferry Farm.  Our records are scant for the contest’s first year but we do know that the 2nd annual contest in 1988 saw middle schoolers Lisa Allen and Erika Paulson win best-in-show, according to a Free Lance-Star clipping in our files. Rev. Ed Boutchyard of Bowling Green’s Zion Full Gospel Church made a church with an ice cream cone steeple!

1987-1

A Polaroid from the first-ever Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit in 1987.

Lisa Allen repeated her best-in-show victory in 1989 with the help of her sister Melanie and friends Theresa Stockdill and Courtney Lucado.

In these early days of the contest, the German Club at James Monroe High School, one of the contest’s longest-running participants, began submitting regular entries and, in 1993, they won their first-ever best-in-show.

In 1995, the Free Lance-Star (scroll up) profiled Claybourne, Emily, and Meredith Beattie, who, having entered the contest for nearly ten years, had only ever won a single 2nd place ribbon.  For this family, the “tradition of assembling and decorating the houses is far more important than winning prizes.” The kids, along with mom and dad, would visit their grandmother out-of-town over Thanksgiving break. They created their gingerbread houses there and then traveled the 300-miles back to Fredericksburg with the houses packed in the back of the car.  Clay explained that he entered year after year “because I like doing it with my sisters and my family.”

1997-1

A gingerbread version of the Fielding Lewis Store from 1997.

In 2000, the contest and exhibit moved from Kenmore across the Rappahannock River to Ferry Farm, where it has been held every year since.

There’s still time to enter a gingerbread house in this year’s contest and be a part of the tradition! Gather the family, start baking that gingerbread, and creatively decorate your house together. This year’s theme is “Home for the Holidays.”  Entries are being accepted now through Saturday, December 3 at Ferry Farm. Click here for rules and an entry form.

The exhibit will open to the public on Sunday, December 4.  Ferry Farm is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $8 adults, $4 students, under 6 free. To view the gingerbread exhibit only, the cost is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free. For more details about this and other holiday events at Ferry Farm and Kenmore, visit kenmore.org/events.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Inside the Archaeology Lab: Putting Artifacts on Exhibit

Here on Lives & Legacies we’ve shown you a variety of important tasks that take place inside the Archaeology Lab at George Washington’s Ferry Farm. You’ve seen how we wash, catalog, label, and then mend vessels with archival glue. One goal of all this work is to piece together whole artifacts from the many broken bits found and share that whole artifact with our visitors as part of the exhibits in our museum gallery.  Right now, a new exhibit of white salt-glazed stoneware vessels is on display at Ferry Farm. It took numerous staff and volunteers working hundreds of hours to get the vessels on display ready to be exhibited. Here’s how we did it!

Seven reconstructed white salt-glazed (WSG) stoneware vessels make up a new exhibit at Ferry Farm.  These pieces, which include two dinner plates, a fruit dish, three ointment pots (used for mixing medicines and cosmetics), and a tea ware or condiment pot lid, were all excavated from the Ferry Farm site. These ceramics were popular during the mid-18th century and most likely graced the tables of the Washington family.

white-salt-glaze-fruit-dish

White salt glaze stoneware fruit dish, 1740-1765. The dish is decorated with a molded “dot, diaper, basket” pattern and would have been displayed prominently in the Washington house at Ferry Farm. An almost identical dish has been excavated at Mount Vernon and additional sherds with a similar pattern were recovered across the river at Kenmore. This may signify a Washington family preference for the motif or indicate that someone within the family acquired multiple fruit dishes and gave them as gifts, something George Washington was known to do.

In preparation for the exhibit, I spent the better part of three weeks in August and September finishing the documentation for the individual vessels and then meticulously gluing them together. This relatively small amount of time spent at the end of the project was only the tip of the iceberg – the total amount of time spent getting these pieces ready for exhibition encompassed a year and a half! Preparing these pieces to be displayed involved the hard work of numerous archaeology lab staff and volunteers.

November 2014 – January 2015: Executive decisions are made…
First, discussions were held within the archaeology department about studying Ferry Farm’s archaeological collection of white salt-glazed stoneware. Such a study would answer questions about the material setting of the Washington household and help with interpreting the forthcoming Washington house replica to the public. The project was given the go-ahead.

January 2015: Getting the lists together…
Using our searchable artifact database, we generated a list of every piece of white salt-glazed stoneware in our collection.  A total number of 1,623 artifact bags were on this list, representing over 2,800 actual sherds.

database

Screencap of the artifact database.

February 2015: Puzzle-solving begins!
We started pulling the 1,623 artifact bags from storage, and by my records, we were still pulling artifact bags in June.  Lab staff, volunteers, and, on rainy days, the excavation field crews helped with pulling the artifacts.

After making sure the sherds were labeled correctly, we laid them all out on one of the lab tables, which had been covered in a black foam board to make it easier to see the all-white ceramics. The sherds were first separated by decorative variations, such as plain white salt-glazed, slip-dipped, scratch blue, or dipped with iron oxide, and next by vessel part, such as rims, bases, and bodies. Then the cross-mending began.

white-salt-glaze-artifacts-on-table

Sherds of white salt glaze stoneware waiting to be mended together.

Over the next eleven months, countless hours were spent at the table looking for mends between the sherds.  Having identifiable vessel parts, such as rims and molded and decorative elements, helped in the matching process, but there were hundreds of plain white, non-descript sherds to try and fit together.  Pieces that mended were taped together with painter’s tape, which doesn’t leave an adhesive residue on the artifacts.

A friendly competition began and whoever had the most mends at the end of each month won a free lunch!  In all, everyone spent countless, addictive hours each week scrutinizing the sherds and patiently putting together “puzzles” for which, unfortunately, the majority of the pieces were missing.

lauren-mending

“Do these match?”

vessel-209-pot-lid-recto-before-treatment

Puzzle solved!

January 2016: Minimum Vessel Count…
After eleven months, we cried “uncle” to the cross-mending and started the minimum vessel count by figuring out how many and what types of individual WSG vessels were represented in our collection.  Under the supervision of Mara Kaktins, The George Washington Foundation’s ceramic and glass specialist, the sherds were separated into what we believed were individual vessels using the bases and rim styles.  By late April, our choices were firm and over sixty white salt-glazed vessels were identified.

July 2016: Putting the paperwork in order….
Treatment reports were started on the most complete vessels, which would be included in the new exhibit.  Each report listed all the sherds that made up each vessel and their condition. Photographs were taken to help with the mending and gluing.  The remaining white salt-glazed sherds on the table were separated into bags according to decorative and body type, their contexts recorded in a spreadsheet for our records, and then returned in storage.

August 2016: Finally, the fun part – gluing!
I started gluing the vessels using a product called B-72, an archival glue that can be removed, if necessary, and that we mix ourselves in the lab.  The design of the upcoming exhibit, including the layout, mounts and signage, was created by Meghan Budinger and Heather Baldus, the Foundation’s curatorial team.

lid

White salt glaze stoneware lid, 1720-1780. This lid could have been used with any of several different vessels related to serving tea, such as a tea pot, a punch put (a large version of a tea pot), or a tea canister. Tea was an important part of 18th century life, and displaying fine teawares demonstrated social status.

September 2016: Finishing touches…
The white salt-glazed stoneware exhibit is now installed and ready for the enjoyment of our visitors to Ferry Farm. A total of 614 days from report prep to exhibition!

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Assistant Lab Supervisor

Digging Up a Card Table

Tantalizing evidence of historic furniture use exists within the soils of George Washington’s Ferry Farm and that evidence gives us a more complete view of how the Washington family lived in the 1700s. The hundreds of items archaeologists and students have uncovered represent the remains of furniture broken or embellishments lost. The ruthless outdoor elements leave scant vestiges of furniture’s former glory. Wood disintegrates into soil, so these relics typically include only iron and brass hardware, such as drawer pulls, casters, bolts, keyhole escutcheons, or hinges. Over half of the hardware found consists of brass tacks.  Such brass studs were often used in furniture upholstery, but were also popular for saddles, trunks, even antique wig stands: anytime a leather covering was added to a wooden frame or base.

One particularly interesting brass hinge was unearthed in 2007 and boasts an exciting past. This hinge, part of a folding card table, was a crucial element in the popular Virginia domestic pastime of playing games such as backgammon, chess, and cards. Card tables provided a luxurious accessory for popular social entertaining and were part of a well-appointed home.  Providing guests with such pleasant amusements reflected well upon the Washington family.

card-table-hinge

18th century card table hinge excavated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Archaeological investigations sponsored by The George Washington Foundation have uncovered evidence that demonstrates that the Washingtons’ mid-1700s home was filled with fashionable accessories to enhance social bonding.  These tools included tea wares, stemmed drinking glasses, glass decanters, fashionable dining utensils, and smoking pipes. The recovery of a card table hinge provides another element of their well-equipped home.

cardtable-hinge-on-table

Gentleman often played card games together, but occasionally women joined the amusement as well (Porter and Porter 1782:466-467). Playing cards allowed ladies and gentlemen a refined form of amusement in a convivial atmosphere, without raising critical eyebrows from discerning social commentators in Virginia.  These games were occasions in which mixed company – men and women – could enjoy companionship and pass the time in a genial way. It was one of the few entertainments in which men and women could directly compete (Sturtz 1996:169-171). Lucy Byrd’s acumen prompted her husband William to cheat on at least one occasion (Sturtz 1996:172-173, 175-176).

Such benign competition also allowed players to showcase their skills. William Byrd II thought that such games provided an effective antidote to “disagreeable” company, as it allowed the time spent with tiresome guests to pass quickly (Sturtz 1996:175). Tea or stronger beverages might lubricate such gatherings, which enhanced social bonds.

hogarths-wanstead-house

Card playing (group at card table in painting’s center) and tea drinking (group at table at painting’s right) provided elegant entertainment as depicted in The Assembly at Wanstead House (1728-31) by William Hogarth. Public domain. Credit: Philadelphia Museum of Art / Wikipedia

If card games included a little wager, they were all the more thrilling.  Self-assured gambling and an indifference to losing money demonstrated a gentleman’s independence from monetary anxiety (Isaac 1974:352; Koda and Bolton 2006:100; Sturtz 1996:166). Such competitive confidence went a long way towards refuting any rumors of financial stress from which a gentleman might be suffering in the community.

In the years leading to the American Revolution, these occasions were increasingly viewed as a source of social disorder (Isaac 1974:358-359), but such amusements remained popular social events in Virginia.

Cards were a popular Virginia pastime and specific furniture such as folding card tables existed as luxurious accessories to support this pasttime (Isaac 1974:352). Hospitality was an important part of these occasions (Isaac 1974:352) and the folding card table made the game and the hospitality possible.  Applying knowledge of the past to particular objects like a card table hinge excavated at Ferry Farm gives us a more complete picture of the lives led by the Washington family here in the 18th century.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

References Cited

Porter, James and William Porter
1782 Letters Addressed to Two Young Married Ladies, on the Most Interesting Subjects. The Critical Review, or, Annals of Literature.  British Periodicals.  Printed for J. Dodsley, London.

Goodison, Nicholas
1975 The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Collection of Metal-Work Pattern Books.  Furniture History 11:1-30.

Issac, Rhys
1974  Evangelical Revolt: The Nature of the Baptists’ Challenge to the Traditional Order in Virginia, 1765-1775. The William and Mary Quarterly 31(3):345-368.

Koda, Harold and Andrew Bolton
2006  Dangerous Liaisons:  Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Election Day in the 1700s

It’s Election Day! From early morning until after dark, voters in Virginia and across the United States are walking into libraries, schools, firehouses, community centers, city halls and, occasionally, even private homes. Once inside, they are given a paper ballot, punch card or, though still relatively rare, may be directed to a touch screen. The voter steps up to or into a voting booth walled off with some type of barrier. There is an atmosphere of quiet deliberateness.  The individual voter alone marks the candidates of their choice. When finished, they place their ballot into a secure ballot box. The ballot requires no signature nor is the voter required to make a public declaration revealing who they are support.  White propertied men of the 18th century like Fielding Lewis, Augustine Washington, and George Washington would be surprised by our 21st century voting process.

In early America, Election Day was an intensely public affair and often times an excuse for everyone, whether allowed to vote or not, to travel to the county seat for the election but also to visit neighbors, conduct business, and simply have a good time.  There was a holiday atmosphere that could get quite uproarious!

the-polling-by-william-hogarth

“The Polling” by William Hogarth (1755), scene 3 in his Humours of an Election series. While Hogarth’s goal is to mercilessly satire English politics, his painting also hints at the festive atmosphere of an actual 18th century Election Day. Credit: Sir John Soane’s Museum / The Yorck Project / Wikipedia.

The festival atmosphere was fueled by a common, though technically illegal, vote-getting technique: alcohol.  The law said that candidates could not provide drinks to votes from the time the election was announced until after votes were cast on Election Day.  To work around this restriction, candidates simply enlisted spouses, family, friends, or servants to distribute the spirits.

George Washington first ran for a seat in the House of Burgesses in 1757. Each county sent two representatives to the house.  In this first election, Washington came in third in a field of three and garnered only 40 votes.  The next year, he stood again.  He won with 310 votes – the most of the four candidates.  While certainly not the sole reason for his victory, in 1758, Washington reimbursed friends £39 for 34 gallons of rum, 3 pints of brandy, 13 gallons of beer, 8 quarts of cider, and 40 gallons of rum punch served to voters.[1]  He wrote one of these friends, James Wood, saying “I am extreme thankly [sic] to you & my other friends for entertaining the Freeholders in my name—I hope no exception were taken to any that voted against me but that all were alike treated and all had enough it is what I much desird [sic]—my only fear is that you spent with too sparing a hand.”

an-election-entertainment-by-william-hogarth

“An Election Entertainment” (1755) by William Hogarth, scene 1 in his Humours of an Election series. The painting is a critical depiction of a candidate hosting a dinner for voters at a tavern. Credit: Sir John Soane’s Museum / The Yorck Project / Wikipedia.

Although 18th century candidates couldn’t directly supply alcohol to voters, they were expected to be present during voting and were also expected to warmly greet all voters.  Today, in most states, there are restrictions against candidates or a candidate’s supporters from campaigning at or near a polling place while voting is taking place.  The candidate was present, in part, so that he could thank the voter for their vote.

Voting in the 1700s was not secret. There were no ballots. Virginians practiced the long English tradition of a public voice vote. Before family, friends, neighbors, and the candidates themselves, a freeholder – a propertied white man allowed to vote – “came before the sheriff, his name was called out in a loud voice, and the sheriff inquired how he would vote.  The freeholder replied by giving the name of his preference.”  The freeholder’s name was recorded in the poll book in a column under the name of his choice.  “The candidate for whom he had voted, arose, bowed, and publicly thanked him.”

While the secret ballot is sacred today, public voice votes of the 18th century and the poll books in which the votes were recorded provide historians with valuable knowledge about the elections of the time and about who voted for whom.  They also hint at personal connections within communities.  For example, we know that Augustine Washington, George Washington’s father, voted for William Fairfax, Esqr and Colonel James Colvill for Prince William County’s two seats in the House of Burgesses in 1741.  We know that Fairfax won one seat with 246 votes and Colvill won the other seat with 175 votes.[2]  While we should be cautious about reading too much into Augustine’s support for Fairfax, George would go on to cultivate connections with William and other Fairfax family members.  After Augustine’s death, George aspired to be like William’s cousin Thomas Lord Fairfax, “socially prominent, well-connected, and involved in important affairs.”

prince-william-county-polling-book

Portion of a page from “The Poll for Election of Burgesses for the County of Prince William…” in 1741.

Americans have been voting for an exceptionally long time. We were voting even before a United States of America existed.  The methods have changed over four centuries and although we no longer literally voice our vote, your vote is still your voice. Be heard today. Go vote!

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

[1] Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life, New York: Penguin Press, 2010: 88.

[2] Poll for Election of Burgesses in Prince William County, 1741, Deed Book E, pg. 524, Prince William County, Va.

Video: Building George’s House – Timber Frame Timelapse

The timber frame – from floor joists to roof sheathing — of the rebuilt Washington house at Ferry Farm was recently completed.  The work was done by tradesmen using a mix of 18th century building methods and 21st century equipment.  The timbers were fashioned by Virginia-based Blue Ridge Timberwrights.

Learn more about the Washington House here and view other videos, photos, and blog posts about the project here.

A Reflection on Lighting in the 18th Century

night-at-kenmore

A lantern burns brightly before Historic Kenmore.

In today’s electrically-lit world, we have very little notion of exactly how dark it can be in a house without any artificial light at all.  In fact, our modern eyes have become so accustomed to bright lighting at all hours of the day and night, that we would probably have an even harder time adjusting to the candlelight of the 18th century, were we to magically time travel back to that period, than those who actually lived then.  Our ancestors were used to it, though, and had a variety of ways to make the most of the light they had after the sun went down.

Sources of light after dark were the usual suspects – candles, fires in the fireplaces, maybe the occasional oil lamp.  The best way to increase the light given off by each of these sources was reflection.  Mirrors were placed behind candlesticks and lamps to double their light, and the lamps and candlesticks themselves were usually made out of reflective polished metal.  Candelabra or girandoles, which were fixtures intended to hold multiple candles at a time, were often made of glass and decorated with quantities of hanging crystals or glass pendants, all intended to increase reflection of candlelight.

candelabrum

Candleabrum with glass pendants dating from the 19th century.

Being able to transport your source of light was also important.  Without flashlights or anything else battery-operated, people in the 18th century had to find ways to carry flame with them when they moved from room to room or left the house after dark.  Chamber sticks were candlesticks with handles on them, most commonly used to light a person’s way to bed (hence the name).  Enclosed lanterns, made either of metal punched through with holes, or glass panes, were also used both indoors and outdoors.

Of course, if most of your light is coming from candles, keeping those candles lit could be a challenge.  Glass shades, or what we often call “hurricanes” today, were not simply decorative in the 18th century.  They were intended to protect candles from drafts (and had the added benefit of providing another reflective surface).  The beeswax or tallow candles most commonly used in the 18th century tended to melt quickly, and so candlesticks that could automatically push the candle up as it burned were invented.  These candlesticks ensured that every last useable bit of candle was put to good use.

push-up-candlestick

Brass push-up candlestick dating from the 18th century.

There were other secrets to bringing some light into a dark night during the 18th century.  If you want to learn more about lighting, join us for Night in Washington’s Day, an evening program at George Washington’s Ferry Farm from 6:00-9:00p.m. on Saturday, November 12! For more details, visit www.kenmore.org/events

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations