Video: Inside the Archaeology Lab – Why Does That Glass Look Funny?

Mara Kaktins, archaeology lab supervisor at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, explains the weird patination on some glass artifacts excavated by our archaeologists.

For other “Inside the Archaeology Lab” videos, visit the Archaeology at George Washington’s Ferry Farm playlist our YouTube channel.

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What Is This Artifact?

With building work on the reconstructed Washington family home at George Washington’s Ferry Farm nearly finished, our archaeologists are in the midst of identifying Washington-owned plates, bowls, glasses, and other household artifacts to be used to furnish the house once construction is finally complete.

While working to identify things, archaeologists sometimes encounter a “mystery artifact” that either can’t be identified or has been altered to serve an unknown purpose from what was originally intended.  We wrote about one especially perplexing mystery artifact almost three years ago.  With that mystery artifact, someone intentionally and for unknown reasons chipped away the edges of that 18th century leaded glass base from a cup or mug to form a disc .

Recently, during analysis of the Washington family’s table glass, Ferry Farm archaeologists discovered another base from an 18th century drinking glass that someone tried to modify by actually breaking or knapping off flakes of glass. It was an apparent attempt to turn the base into a disc. As before, we don’t know for what reason.

Mystery Glass Base

To confirm the glass was knapped, Ferry Farm archaeologists got “science-y” and asked nearby Dovetail Cultural Resource Group in Fredericksburg to take photographs of the glass base using a microscope camera.

Using this microscope camera made the clear glass appear green in the resulting photos.  More importantly, the photos helped us to see flake scars from knapping, which we’ve outlined in black in the photo below, and thus confirm that the glass was actually knapped by someone.

Microscope Photo of Mystery Glass Base

As often happens when studying the past, however, our analysis provided answers but also created many more questions.  Who did the knapping?  Was it perhaps the job of an enslaved worker?  What was the goal?  Why make these modifications?  Although it’s the science of history, even archaeology can’t yet provide answers to these questions.  In fact, we many never have the answers.  In the end, sometimes not knowing is just as much a part of archaeology as knowing.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Snow at George Washington’s Ferry Farm & Historic Kenmore

Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm experienced a snowstorm on Wednesday, March 21, 20118.  Our staff took these photos of the snowfall from around the Lewis and Washington homes.

We also setup a timelapse camera at the Ferry Farm Visitors Center to capture the snowfall over the course of the storm. Closely watch the pine trees in the video below and you can see their branches droop down as the heavy wet snow weighs them down and then raise back up as the snow started to melt late in the day.

How the Enlightenment Transformed Cats into Pets

We look at our cats today as the furriest, purriest companions known to humankind. But most cats in colonial America worked for their status as the designated house cat.  It wasn’t all lazy days trying to squeeze into the smallest box possible or snoozing in that tiny sliver of sunlight on the living room floor. I’m a proud companion of a seven year-old fat cat named Jeffrey, who spends much of his time doing these very things.

Jeffery 1

Jeffrey in his favorite spot- the fruit bowl on the kitchen table.

Jeffery probably would not have enjoyed being a working cat in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, according to archaeologists; many civilizations have treated cats as companions for at least 8,000 years! But cats were often expected to serve a practical purpose, too. Along with companionship, cats were expected to work at jobs like pest control and to even serve as weapons.  This extreme version of work was proposed in an early German explosives and artillery manual that depicts a weaponized cat and bird set loose into an enemy town.

Weaponized Animals

From a “Treatise on munitions and explosive devices, with many illustrations of the various devices and their uses” by Franz Helm (1584). Credit: Rare Book & Manuscript Library University of Pennsylvania Ms. Codex 109.

I expect neither pest control nor explosive assaults from Jeffrey, however. The only thing he “attacks” is the lawn and, more often than not, cardboard boxes.

Jeffery 3   Jeffery 2

Cats as Work Animals
For thousands of years, cats accompanied sailors to sea, including European sailors travelling to the colonies. Rats carrying fleas and disease are common stowaways on ships. As a result, cats were — and still are — used as pest control during sea travel.  Even today, sailors have “ship’s cats” to control vermin onboard their vessels. Not only do they prevent disease and destruction of foodstuffs but they keep vermin from damaging ropes and electrical wiring, which could prove CATastrophic (heh heh heh) if not for ship’s cats.

Winston and Blackie

Prime Minister Winston Churchill stops ‘Blackie’, ship’s cat of the HMS Prince of Wales, from crossing over to an American destroyer during the Atlantic Conference with President Franklin D. Roosevelt off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941. Credit: Imperial War Museum.

Similarly, when Europeans first established their colonies, survival rates were much lower in the beginning due to famine and disease, so pest control was important on land as well as at sea.   Settlers often kept pragmatic, but friendly relationships with cats in order to keep vermin at bay.

Two Cats by Jean-Baptiste Oudry

“Two Cats” by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (18th century) depicts cats doing what they were expected to do, which was to kill disease carriers and some birds, like rats, carried disease vectors or could endanger crops. Credit: National Gallery of Canada.

The Enlightenment
We humans of course established bonds with our friendly working critters and some cats were adopted as what we now call “pets”. The 18th century was a transformative time in pet ownership as we have shown with dogs in another blog post. It had not always been acceptable to keep a pet in European countries. The luxuries that our pets enjoy today would be inconceivable to a person before the Age of Enlightenment. Outfits, daycare, even hotels are now available to our furry friends.  In earlier times, pets were deemed wasteful because keeping them devoted resources to an animal that was neither food nor used for its labor. It was even considered sinful to squander resources on non-working animals. Pets were a luxury saved for the bourgeoisie.

During the Enlightenment, people became more aware of their own sensibilities and opened up to a range of new philosophical ideas. There was a shift from the church being the main authority to the belief that the primary source of authority and knowledge was reason.  People who were newly questioning authority also undoubtedly questioned why they could not devote resources and attention to an animal for no other reason than enjoyment and companionship.  With this attitude change, animals became viewed more as a non-human member of the household and were eventually valued in their own right. Cats became pets.

“Favourites”
We can see the growing prominence of cats as pets in 18th century poetry, paintings, and songs.

One such poem by Thomas Gray published in 1748 was called Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes. The next-to-last stanza describes the tragic moment.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
A Favourite has no friend!

When Gray called the ill-fated cat “a Favourite,” he used an earlier term for “pet”.

European and American portraiture repeatedly depicted people with their pets and cats were common subjects both alone and with their human counterparts. Below, you can see two 18th century portraits of people interacting with their favorite cats.

“Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight” by Joseph Wright (c.1768) Credit: ©English Heritage, Kenwood.

As seen above, Joseph Wright took time to depict two small girls dressing up a kitten.  In children especially, the joy a companion animal brings was irresistible. This critter was undoubtedly a favorite and probably wasn’t expected to do much in the way of work.

Tea-totalism by Edward Bird

“Tea-totalism” by Edward Bird (1795). Credit: ©WAVE, www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk.

Above Edward Bird shows a woman enjoying her tea with her companion cat by her side. She even seems to allow the cat onto the table, which many people won’t allow their pets to do even today.

Finally, an 18th century Polish folk song called  “Wlazł kotek na płotek” or “The Kitten Climbed the Fence” was a very popular lullaby, describing a child and grandmother treating the kitten as a favorite by giving it milk when it climbs the fence into their yard.

Thanks to the Enlightenment, according to the Humane Society of the United States, over 97% of cat owners today consider their cats to be a family member or companion. In a way, nearly all domestic cats in America today are “favorites” rather than sources of labor.  The nature in which Americans treat their pets, whether cats, dogs, chickens, or goldfish, reflects the progression of change from the time of the Enlightenment and into present day. While academic research on such an abstract subject is difficult, it is easy to understand how cats progressed from worker and protector to best friend.

Elyse Adams, Archaeologist
Artifact Cataloger & Field Monitoring Technician

Hessians and History: Learning Something New Every Day

As an historian, one of the many things I find rewarding is constantly learning.  I truly learn something new every day.  It’s exciting.  Many people might find this curious since to them history perhaps seems stale, unchanging, and boring.

In reality, history is incredibly dynamic.  Things historians thought we knew with certainty for years can be instantly tossed aside with the discovery of some hidden treasure trove of historical documents or archaeological artifacts.  It’s also impossible to know everything so, even as you’re researching familiar and well-used sources, you always learn things you did not know before.

I’ve recently been researching the enslaved community at Historic Kenmore when I came across a completely unrelated bit of history that I did not know about before.  I learned that, at the end of October 1781, a group of Hessian prisoners of war passed through Fredericksburg.  This may be familiar history to life-long Fredericksburg residents and historians but perhaps there are some, like me, who were not aware of these prisoners’ brief visit to town.  For those unaware of the incident either in Fredericksburg or among our global readership, I thought I would share almost the entirety of the information I found in one afternoon about the Hessian prisoners in Fredericksburg.

First, however, we should begin with a quick overview of who were these Hessians.  As explained on Mount Vernon’s George Washington Digital Encyclopedia, the British hired about 30,000 German soldiers to fight in the Revolutionary War.  These auxiliary troops came from several small states in pre-unification Germany then known as the Holy Roman Empire.  The largest contingent was from the state of Hesse-Cassel. Confusingly all German soldiers fighting in the colonies no matter their state of origin were often called Hessians.

Holy Roman Empire, 1789

Map of the Holy Roman Empire as it existed in 1789. Arrows point at Ansbach and Bayreuth. Credit: English map by Robert Alfers based on a German original by Ziegel Brenner. / Wikipedia.

The use of Hessians by the British Army was disliked enormously by the American colonists. Hessians were so disliked, in fact, that their use was listed in the Declaration of Independence as one of the king’s “repeated injuries and usurpations” aimed at “the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”  George III was “at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

Ansbach Bayreuth Regimental Flag

Ansbach-Bayreuth Regimental Flag surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Credit: National Museum of American History

Who were the Hessian prisoners who visited Fredericksburg in the fall of 1781?  Well, they were prisoners taken as a result of the British surrender at Yorktown on October 19.[1]  Among them was Johann Conrad Dohla, a private in the 4th Company of the Bayreuth Regiment from the state of Ansbach-Bayreuth.  He kept a diary for his entire period of service in the war starting with his arrival in America in 1777 and ending after his return to the German states in 1783.[2] His diary titled A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution is still in print today.  The remainder of this blog post quotes extensively from Dohla’s entries describing Fredericksburg and its surroundings, which I found quite fascinating.

After the surrender, Dohla and his fellow prisoners began a long journey north escorted by Virginia militia.[3]  They neared Fredericksburg after a ten day march.  On October 29, Dohla wrote, “We marched to within one and one-half miles of Fredericksburg, where we camped in an opening in the forest.  During our march today, we saw many individual houses built in a poor manner of wood and covered with clay and patched together. But inside they were richly and well appointed, and in part furnished with the finest articles….  Poultry was plentiful here and inexpensive.  There is no shortage of good tea in Virginia because everywhere, in the forest, on the heights, and meadows, there is an abundance of such tea herbs.”[4]

The Hessian held up by General Washington on December 25, 1776 at Trenton are earned as prisoners of war in Philadelphia

“The Hessian held up by General Washington on December 25, 1776 at Trenton are earned as prisoners of war in Philadelphia.” An engraving by Daniel Berger after a sketch by Daniel Chodowiecki created in 1784 showing Hessian soldiers captured during the Battle at Trenton marching to Philadelphia. It turns out that buildings located in Fredericksburg’s present-day Alum Springs Park housed both British and Hessian troops captured at Trenton. Credit: Library of Congress.

The next day, Dohla and his compatriots entered Fredericksburg itself.  He wrote, “Our march passed through the small city of Fredericksburg and two miles beyond that place to a main river, the Rappahannock, where we camped. This river contains sweet water and was hardly 100 to 150 feet wide here, and also so shallow that it could be waded across….  It is not to be compared to the James and Potomac rivers.  It rises on South Mountain and is of little value for inland navigation. One to one and one-half miles above Fredericksburg, near Falmouth, it has a waterfall over the granite rocks and becomes navigable from that point to its mouth in the bat, which is a distance of ninety miles.  From its source, however, it might measure two hundred miles. Here it is about a half mile wide, and at its mouth, more than four miles wide. Large ships cannot sail as far as Fredericksburg….  In the region of Fredericksburg glass bottles can be sold at high prices because they are seldom to be had here.”[5]

Dohla breaks from his daily record to make a several observations about Fredericksburg itself. He notes that “Fredericksburg is a medium-size city of rather long and wide layout. It lies in a valley and to the right and left, on heights, along the banks of the Rappahannock River. It has nearly four to five hundred houses and is heavily settled by Germans.  The public buildings lie in ruins, and for no other reason than because it was considered unnecessary to tend to them during the war period and therefore they were neglected, because no English troops came here who could have destroyed them.  They local tobacco industry is of great value and has many advantages.  The price of the best Virginia leaves was formerly twenty-five shillings per hundredweight. The hills surrounding Fredericksburg and on the Rappahannock River consist primarily of sandstone of various colors.  The bed of sand along the river between here and the bay contain, in many places, whale bones, sharks’ teeth, oysters and other shellfish.  Not far from Fredericksburg, in the vicinity of the Rappahannock Falls, one of the most important ironworks in all North America is to be seen because each year more than six to eight hundred tons of iron are said to be manufactured there….  Concerning grain, in addition to corn, much grain and wheat are grown here, although large fields are given over to the raising of tobacco.  Also in some regions below Fredericksburg, the most beautiful cotton is planted and harvested.  Six hundred Englanders are already in Fredericksburg in captivity.”[6]

On the last day of the month, Dohla and his fellow prisoners “broke camp and had to wade through the Rappahannock River.  Some crossed in their shoes and socks; however, I and most of the others took them off and crossed barefoot.  The water was very cold and reached up to our thighs.  Our route went through Falmouth, a small but beautiful village of about thirty to forty houses on the left bank of the Rappahannock, with a German church and two prayerhouses….”[7]

An officer and private in Hessen-Kassel Army's Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen

An officer (left) and private (right) in the Hessen-Cassel Army’s Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen in 1783. Credit: Wikipedia

Dohla and his comrades continued to Winchester where they were held as prisoners of war for about two months.[8]  Then, he was transferred to a prison camp in Frederick, Maryland, where he remained for 15 months.[9]  After the war’s end, Dohla’s band of Hessians were marched from Frederick to Long Island, New York, where they finally were released.  They set sail for home on August 1, 1783.[10]

Dohla’s brief visit to Fredericksburg and his story in general fascinated me and is a great example of what I love most about history. Namely, that I get to learn something new every day.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

 

[1] Johann Conrad Dohla, A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution, Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Bruce E. Burgoyne, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990, 174.

[2] Dohla, x-xi.

[3] Dohla, 182.

[4] Dohla, 185.

[5] Dohla, 185-6.

[6] Dohla, 186-7.

[7] Dohla, 187.

[8] Dohla, 188.

[9] Dohla, 196, 222.

[10] Dohla, 232.