Furnishing George’s House: The Corner Cupboard

Furnishings posts logo finalAs construction of the Washington house at Ferry Farm continues, our attention is turning to the furnishings of the house.  Our goal is to furnish the house entirely with reproductions of 18th century pieces, so that our visitors can fully interact with them, without fear of damage to an irreplaceable piece.  Guests will be able to sit on the chairs, open drawers, pick up the utensils on the table, smell the smoke from real fires in the fireplaces, and feel the breeze coming through open windows.  In short, the interior of the house will be as close to what the Washington family would have known as we can make it both in design and experience.

Making the Corner Cupboard 1

The joiners at Colonial Williamsburg (l-r): Peter Hudson, Amanda Doggett, Scott Krogh, Ted Boscana.

Fully furnishing the house will take several years, but the first piece in the process is already on its way to Ferry Farm! It is a corner cupboard, made for us by the talented craftsmen in Colonial Williamsburg’s joiners’ shop and based upon an original 18th century corner cupboard in the CW collection.  The story of our corner cupboard is an interesting one, and embodies the work solving mysteries with both history and science that we do at Ferry Farm every day.

The story of the corner cupboard begins with Augustine Washington’s 1743 probate inventory, but not because the corner cupboard is listed in the document.  Rather, the fact that it wasn’t listed in the inventory is what caught our attention.  In the Parlor, the inventory lists a variety of furnishings, including 3 chairs, a table, a desk, a mirror and a set of window curtains.  A value is given for each of these line items, as expected.

The document also lists a value for “lumber in the room and cubbord.” This phrase tells us several things.  First, in the 18th century, “lumber” was the term used for what we might call junk today. Lumber was a group of odds and ends or a mish-mash of objects, none of which had much value, and usually lumped together and appraised as a group. “Lumber” did not mean wood. The Washingtons were not storing piles of wood in their Parlor.

Probate Inventory - Corner Cupboard

Page from Augustine Washington’s probate inventory showing the “Lumber in the Room & Cubbord” as recorded by the inventory takers in 1743.

“Lumber in the room and cubbord” tells us that there was an assortment of junk in the room – not overly useful info, although maybe it does help us all relate to the family a bit since most of us have a junk drawer or closet somewhere in our homes.  The important info that the phrase reveals is the existence of a “cubbord” (phonetic spelling for cupboard) in the room.  The fact that the cupboard is only mentioned as a container for the lumber and not as a piece of furniture (it is not given a line item, and is not given a value of its own in the inventory) tells us that the people conducting the inventory felt that the cupboard was not a free-standing piece, but rather a part of the architecture of the house itself.  In other words, it was what we would call a built-in.

In the 18th century, built-ins were not exactly common, but they were popular among the upper gentry, and usually took the form of corner cupboards.  These corner cupboards served as storage places usually in the a cabinet section in the lower half of the piece covered by a pair of doors. More importantly, they were a place to display luxury goods, like fine ceramics or important silver pieces  on the open shelves in the top half of the piece.  Through this research, thorough knowledge of 18th century material culture, and some logic, we concluded with strong certainty that the Washington house had a corner cupboard in the Parlor.

Because corner cupboards were built in to the structure of a house in the 18th century, they usually were not constructed by the same furniture makers who produced the chairs and tables for a house.  Instead, they were crafted by joiners, who specialized in more architectural work.  It was decided to have our corner cupboard constructed off-site at Colonial Williamsburg, so that the historically trained craftsmen there would have ready access to the piece we were trying to reproduce.  This original piece dates to approximately 1745 and was probably from the James River Basin region of Virginia.

Conservators at Colonial Williamsburg performed paint analysis on the remnants of original pigments still embedded in the wood of the original cupboard and determined that it was painted a light gray.  As the purpose of corner cupboards was often to display fine ceramics, they were usually painted in subdued colors that would contrast with any bright or heavily-painted ceramics.

Unfortunately, most of the best ceramics found archaeologically at Ferry Farm are white or lightly-painted.  Gray would not have done much for them.  So, research was done by architectural historian Mark Wenger into the paint analysis of the trims and moldings in other Virginia homes of the time period.  In the end, it was decided that the cupboard will be painted a dark red color, with a dark gray interior.

Finished Corner Cupboard

The finished reproduction corner cupboard for the Washington house at Ferry Farm.

A quirk of 18th century construction methods dictates that all the decorative trims and moldings in a house would be in place before plastering, and then plaster would be applied up to those trims, rather than the trim being applied over finished plaster.  So, the corner cupboard will need to be in place inside the house before the plaster can be applied.  The day when this special corner cupboard will take its place in the Washington house is fast approaching!

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

 

“I wonder if this was mine?”: Robert Bailey’s Ferry Farm

We have a unique situation here at the Ferry Farm Archaeology Lab.  One of our volunteers, who has spent hundreds of hours washing, sorting and labeling excavated artifacts, is oddly enough, also partially responsible for creating some of those artifacts in the first place!

Robert Bailey 1

Robert Bailey

Robert Bailey, his father Ray, mother Peggy and older brother Ray Jr., lived here at Ferry Farm from the late spring of 1957 until August of 1959.  His parents rented what was referred to as the “Colbert house,” a large three-story home built in 1914 by James Colbert, a farmer and businessman.

Colbert House 1

Colbert House

Robert was only five years old when he moved to Ferry Farm.  He vividly remembers playing in the many barns, running through the fields and woods that surrounded the farmhouse, and swimming in the stream that runs alongside the historic Ferry Road on hot summer days. He and his brother also showed visitors stopping to see George Washington’s boyhood home around the property and invited them to sign the guest book located inside the small late 19th century building called the Surveyor’s Shed.

Young Robert

Robert as a child (foreground left in the rocker) in the Colbert House back yard.

He also remembers playing with lots of toys typical of the time, most notably glass marbles, plastic army men, toy cars and trucks, and especially a new toy called Play Doh, a wallpaper cleaner compound that had just been reinvented as a moldable clay product for children.

DSC_0071

Collection of 20th century items excavated at Ferry Farm. Clockwise from left: portion of a Playdoh canister lid, marbles including a large green shooter, green plastic army man, red plastic Indian, blue plastic Civil War soldier, four .22 caliber shelling casings.

Over 800 toy-related artifacts have been excavated and catalogued in our artifact database.  As a collection, these toys span all time periods, from colonial clay marbles, to Civil War-era dice, to a Cold War-era Sputnik ring, and most recently, Dora the Explorer sunglasses! We have also catalogued fragments of bicycle parts, dominoes, board game pieces, dolls, plastic figurines, toy guns and planes, toy cars and trucks, and dishes and tea sets.

Of course, Robert and his brother were not the only children who lived on or visited this site. Other children lived in the Colbert house before and after the Baileys resided there, and hundreds have visited the site on field trips and for special events, such as our annual Fourth of July celebration.

Robert cannot say with any certainty that any of the marbles he has washed in the lab once belonged to him, but the conversations that those marbles start are an important part of the oral and archaeological history of the site.  Robert Bailey has participated in the Foundation’s oral history program with a detailed accounting of his memories of the house and grounds.  Because he experienced living at Ferry Farm, he can tell us about not only the events and activities his family took part in, but also of the perceptions that visitors to the farm had about the importance of this site as Washington’s boyhood home.

Another vivid childhood memory that often comes to Robert’s mind is of his mother shooting at the black snakes that appeared in and around the house and yard.  According to Robert, one day a snake came out of a hole in an old gnarled tree located near the Surveyor’s Shed.  His mother dutifully brought out her rifle and proceeded to, as Robert says, “blast away” at the snake. Despite the countless number of bullets expended, she missed and the snake eventually slithered back into its hole.

Colbert House 3

Surveyor’s Shed in the foreground left with Colbert House in the background right.

While washing artifacts in the wet lab, Robert has come across a lot of .22 shell casings.  Just this past week he washed seven.  Each time one appears in an artifact bag, Robert chuckles and says “this shell casing might be one that my mom shot at the snake in the tree – and missed!”

Robert Bailey 2

Robert looks over some of the 20th century items excavated at Ferry Farm that, who knows, might have belonged to him in his youth.

Sixty years have passed since the Bailey family first came to live at Ferry Farm, but the past certainly comes full circle and is alive again when Robert empties another artifact bag onto the tray and begins to sort its contents.  His connection with our archaeological site provides staff with many opportunities to record and analyze more about Ferry Farm in the 20th century. Robert’s deep commitment to helping preserve George Washington’s boyhood history, combined with his own unique insights, creates a new understanding about Ferry Farm for Robert too.

Robert’s history lies mostly in the topmost soil layers of the site as not enough time has passed to deeply bury his things. Although Robert’s lost marbles and plastic army men are mixed in with excavated toys dropped by other boys and girls, it’s fun to hear him say “I wonder if this was mine?”

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Assistant Lab Supervisor

The Marriage of Mary Ball and Augustine Washington

March 6, 2017 was the 286th wedding anniversary of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s amazing parents.  In addition to calling to mind how grateful we are for their role in raising the boy who would become our courageous General and first president, this anniversary also provides us with an opportunity to discuss the circumstances of Augustine and Mary’s marriage, their family, and their eventful lives here in Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties.

It was not Augustine Washington’s first time to the altar. His earlier marriage to Jane Butler in 1715 produced four children. Jane was likely 16 when she gave birth to their first son, Butler, who died in infancy. Butler was followed by Lawrence (b. 1718), Augustine Jr. (b. 1719 or 1720), and Jane (b. 1722). Their mother tragically passed away in 1729 just shy of her thirtieth birthday. This left young Lawrence (about 11 years old), Augustine Jr. (around ten), and Jane (about seven) without a mother. Their devoted father immediately began a judicious search for a proper wife for himself, a nurturing mother for his children, and an experienced household manager.

He discovered such a gem in the Northern Neck’s attractive and highly eligible maiden, Mary Ball. Mary’s family had thrived in the Virginia Colony’s tidewater region for generations. Mary gained valuable experience managing property from her mother, Mary Johnson Ball who oversaw the family’s substantial resources after the death of Mary’s father Joseph Ball when Mary was only three years old. Mary’s mother again wed, and was soon widowed with additional resources to manage, thanks to the generosity of her devoted husband. When Mary was only 13, her mother passed away, and Mary joined the household of her older, half-sister Elizabeth Johnson. Thereafter, childbirth and childrearing became second nature to Mary who, as a loving aunt, gained valuable experience helping to nurture her sister’s children and perfecting the lessons in household management first learned under her mother’s tutelage.

When it came to matrimony, anxious parents typically steered their children toward appropriate choices, especially among established and propertied clans as the Washington and Ball families. But death had robbed both Augustine and Mary of their respective parents and their wisdom. Some claim that Colonel George Eskridge, a prominent Northern Neck Lawyer and family friend, helped bring this destined pair together. While a parent’s concerns provided some guidance for young lovers, it was only one of several considerations for eager suitors. Ideally, the opportunity for social advancement, acquiring property (both land and enslaved labor), financial security, and – of course – affection were also carefully weighed.

Mistress Mary Ball rang all of these “bells:” She was experienced with children. She had been tutored in plantation management and household skills by her experienced mother. Mary Ball’s generous and enviable dowry had accumulated to include 1000 acres of Virginia land, enslaved laborers, horses, cattle, and sundry personal belongings. Notably, the majority of her acreage bordered Augustine Washington’s iron mine in Accokeek, just one of Mary’s assets that Augustine found irresistible.

On March 6, 1731, the pair joined. Mary was about 23 and her new husband Augustine was 37. Of Augustine’s three living children from his first marriage, Lawrence, Augustine Jr., and Jane, it was Jane who remained a daily part of their Westmoreland Plantation home. Mary continued the household training that young Jane started learning from her own mother. Lawrence and Augustine Jr. continued their education at the Appleby Grammar school in England where their father had attended school.

Before their first wedding anniversary, Mary and Augustine welcomed their first son, George, into the world. He was born on February 11, 1731 (Old Style) in Westmoreland County. In all, their happy marriage produced six children: George (1732), Betty (1733), Samuel (1734), John Augustine (1736), Charles (1738), and Mildred (1740). All but little Mildred survived to adulthood.

Just twelve years after their wedding, Augustine Washington passed away around the age of 48. Mary remained a widow throughout her long life, focused upon raising their children, and later playing an active and cherished role in the rearing and education of her grandchildren. Mary moved into the town of Fredericksburg in the spring of 1772, within easy walking distance of her daughter Betty’s household, headed by Fielding Lewis and known today as Kenmore. She was remembered fondly by her grandchildren and, at her request, was buried near Meditation Rock in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Harriot Washington’s “Hard Knock Life”

With one sister and three brothers, George Washington was uncle to numerous nieces and nephews.  One niece was Harriot Washington was born sometime in 1776 to his brother Samuel and Samuel’s fourth wife Ann Steptoe.  Harriot was orphaned by the time she was five years old, when her mother died in 1777 and her father in 1781.  Harriot’s younger years were a hard life of shuffling between relatives’ households.  She gained stability with her aunt Betty Lewis at Kenmore, where she spent her teenage years.  Both George and Betty were constantly concerned about her financial well-being and development into a respectable woman of the gentry class.[1]

HARRIOT AT MOUNT VERNON, Late 1780s-1792

mount-vernon

Mount Vernon. Credit: Wikipedia/Martin Falbisoner

After her parents’ deaths and living in the care of her mother’s relatives for four or five years, Harriot came to live with uncle George at Mount Vernon because, as Washington noted to nephew George Augustine Washington, he knew of “no resource that Harriot has for Supplies but from me.”

When George and Martha departed Mount Vernon for New York City and his presidency, however, Martha’s niece Fanny became Harriot’s de facto guardian.  Washington lamented to Tobias Lear that Fanny was “little fitted” to the task of caring for her, however.  The new president seemed perplexed by Harriot “who is almost grown” but “is not quite a Woman” and wondered, with some exasperation, about what to do with her.  He judged that, while she was by no means too old to attend boarding school, any such school would have to “enforce good rules” since Harriot was “prone to idleness” and had been “under no control.”

Several letters between Harriot and her uncle survive.  The first in the record was written on April 2, 1790.  Harriot was 14-years-old and living at Mount Vernon while Washington was in New York. Harriot asked her uncle to send her a guitar since she wanted to take lessons for “all the young Ladyes are a learning musick.”  Harriot was confident “that five or six lessons would be sufficient for any body to learn.”  The records consulted reveal no response from Washington.

Harriot wrote a brief letter on October 24, 1791 with short comments about the dreadful weather and an illness plaguing Lund Washington. Harriot mentioned that she had waited until the last minute to write the letter before it had to be sent. This seeming laziness displeased Washington and, worried about his niece’s idle behavior, he took the opportunity to provide a lengthy letter of advice beyond admonishing her to not wait until the last moment to begin a task.  He warned Harriot of the…

“delicacy and danger of that period, to which you are now arrived under peculiar circumstances—You are just entering into the state of womanhood without the watchful eye of a Mother to admonish, or the protecting aid of a Father to advise and defend you; you may not be sensible that you are at this moment about to be stamped with that character which will adhere to you through life.”

Washington assured Harriot that her cousins at Mount Vernon were “well qualified to give you advice” and he hoped that she was “disposed to receive it.”  If she was “disobliging—self willed and untowardly,” however, her cousins would not “engage themselves in unpleasant disputes” but would likely leave her to descend into poor character.  Washington encouraged her to “Think then to what dangers a giddy girl of 15 or 16 must be exposed in circumstances like these—To be under but little or no controul may be pleasing to a mind that does not reflect, but this pleasure cannot be of long duration.”  Washington seemed to express concern about those with whom she was associating and that from them she “can derive nothing that is good.”  This warning might have also been a general caution against keeping poor company.  Regardless, he wanted her to “aid to your Cousin in the domestic concerns of the family.”

Harriot replied, “I was very sensible, of your kindness in giving me such good advice, and shall try to profit, by it as much as I can, I know very well, the obligations I am under, to you and I am very thankful for your care and attention to me.”  She duly promised to assist more with the household duties.  On May 28, 1782, Harriot requested a guitar again and this time, Washington bought her one for $17.

HARRIOT AT KENMORE, 1792-1795

Betty Washington Lewis

Portrait of Betty Washington Lewis by John Wollaston, c. 1755.

In the fall of 1792, Washington determined it was necessary for Harriot to go live with his sister Betty Washington Lewis in Fredericksburg.  He and Martha were to return to the new national capital of Philadelphia while Fanny and her ill husband were leaving for New Kent County.  No one was left at Mount Vernon to care for Harriot.

Betty raised no objections to taking in Harriot “if she comes well cloath’d or Provided to get them, that she may appear tolerable.” She wanted to forestall any chance that the young lady “was prevented frequently from appearing in publick.”  Betty reminded George of the Lewis family’s deep financial difficulties and that her grandchildren were living with her too.

Washington assured his sister that Harriot would arrive “very well provided with every thing proper for a girl in her situation.”  He judged Harriot as having “sense enough, but no disposition to industry nor to be careful of her Cloaths.”  He hoped Betty’s example and guidance would end the 16-year-old’s habit of always wearing her best things while also leaving clothing lying all over her room. Fanny had been too lenient with her, Washington suggested, but Betty’s firm hand could still yet “make a fine woman.”

Not long after getting settled in Fredericksburg, however, Harriot requested money from Washington for a dress or dress material so that she could attend the town’s ball celebrating the president’s birthday.  She apologized for again troubling Washington and assured him that any money sent would be kept by Betty.  Harriot promised to “properly care for the new dress.

At the end of January 1793, Betty confirmed receiving money sent by Washington for Harriot.  She noted that living in town was “unfortunate” for Harriot “for many [of her] things that could be wore to the last string in a [country] Place, will not do here, where we see so much Company.”  Betty took the opportunity to praise Harriot as well, noting that she “Payes the strictest regard to the advice I give her and really she is very Ingenious in makeing her Clothes and altering them to the best advantage.”

Time and a few other letters about money passed back and forth until September 1793 when Betty sent a letter to her bother asking when he might send for Harriot so that she could again live at Mount Vernon.  Betty revealed that, while she knew “of none that I would sooner have to live with me,” her own dire financial situation was not conducive to Harriot staying.  Betty expressed dismay over the small amount of her income and the small number of servants she had. To compound matters, she now only owned two horses, which kept her from visiting over any lengthy distance.  All the while, Harriot and two grandchildren lived with her.

Washington perhaps agreed that the time had come for Harriot’s return to his household.  It seems he told Betty that if Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic continued, Martha would spend the winter of 1793-94 away from danger at Mount Vernon.  If this were the case, he would send for Harriot and she could stay with Martha.  This plan, however, was not implemented.  Instead, Harriot spent part of the winter of 1793-94 with a relative in Culpeper.

As Kenmore, life for Harriot seemed to settle into something of a routine.  Her letters reveal a growing maturity and an understanding of her situation.  Money was still an ever present matter but one gets the impression that her requests were for real needs.  In 1794, requests for cash went to Washington on May 25, and June 27.  A letter of thanks from Harriot to him is dated July 10.  One further request for money came on January 4, 1795.

Betty and Harriot left Kenmore to live at Millbrook in November 1795.  Harriot turned 19-years-old that year and the focus of her relationship with both her aunt and uncle shifted from an orphan girl who had lived a “hard knock life” to a eligible and mature young woman with a respectable suitor and marriage on the horizon.

To be continued….

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

[1] ; Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., “Washington, Samuel, (1734-1781),” George! A Guide to All Things Washington, Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing, 2005, 337-338; Note accompanying “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 2 April 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-05-02-0199;  “Samuel Washington,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Washington, [accessed September 8, 2014].