Where Are the Human Remains?: The Washington Family

Ferry Farm’s tens of thousands of years of human habitation has provided archaeologists with nearly 800,000 artifacts to date, consisting of discarded items left by the people who lived on, worked, or visited this land. A question we often receive from visitors is where are graves of the PEOPLE who left behind these discarded items?

Well, nearly all of the Washington family, who lived at Ferry Farm from 1738 to 1772, are buried elsewhere. George is in a burial vault at Mount Vernon, where he died 220 years ago.  If you are a Fredericksburg local, you likely know George’s mother Mary is buried on Washington Avenue near Kenmore, her daughter Betty’s home. Although he died at Ferry Farm, George’s father Augustine is buried at Pope’s Creek where George was born. A Washington family cemetery had already been established there years before. George’s brothers Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles and sister Betty are accounted for in various other cemeteries in both Virginia and West Virginia.

George Washington's Tomb

George Washington’s Tomb at Mount Vernon. Credit: Tim Evanson

Washington Family Burial Ground

Augustine Washington, George’s father, is buried in the Washington Family Burial Ground at Popes Creek, where George Washington was born. Credit: National Park Service

2016MaryWashingtonMounment

Mary, George’s mother, is buried near The Mary Washington Monument on Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

So, are any Washington family members buried at Ferry Farm? The only Washington buried here is George’s youngest sister Mildred, who was born shortly after the family moved to Ferry Farm in 1738, and died at only 16 months old. Her cause of death is unclear, but the infant mortality rate in the 18th century was far higher then it is today.

The topic of burials at historic sites like Ferry Farm can be both exciting and panic-inducing for archaeologists. In general, we are pretty well-versed in identifying grave shafts long before we reach actual human remains and measures are always taken to know as much as possible about where we are going to dig before we actually initiate an excavation.

Human burials leave telltale signs when they are accidentally disturbed if you are paying attention. When soil is removed from the ground and then returned during the digging of a grave, the now mixed composition of the soil doesn’t look the same as the undisturbed soil surrounding it.

In any case, how to approach the care of a burial site is a serious subject and a legal subject too. In Virginia, if archaeologists discover human remains, a permit or court order is required to continue the excavation. Once permits are in place, forensic archaeologists who specialize in excavating human remains are called in. They must determine if the burial is old or new, and whether or not we may have stumbled into a possible crime scene. Usually (thank goodness), there is no crime scene but a whole new can of worms is opened in determining what to do next.

We don’t know exactly where the remains of Mildred Washington are located on the Ferry Farm property. All we have to locate the burial site is a survey of the property conducted by George himself in 1771, where he uses “the little gate by the tombstone” as his beginning reference point to lay the boundaries of what George called “the fields where my mother lives”.

Along with the survey is an 1833 painting by John Gadsby Chapman of the Washington property facing the Rappahannock River that shows foundation stones where the Washington House stood and, in the approximate location of the grave on George’s survey, the silhouette of an object that resembles an arched headstone.

In 2009, we brought in experts to conduct a geoscientific study to assist in locating but not excavating the grave of Mildred. It would help the foundation planning effort if we knew where this important grave was located. William Hannah, Claude Petrone, John Imlay, and Dale Brown conducted non-destructive remote sensing surveys in and around the area identified in George’s 1771 survey. These remote sensing surveys included ground-penetrating radar (GPR), electromagnetic induction (EMI), and vertical magnetic-gradiometry.

Ground-penetrating radar survey of George Washington's Ferry Farm by Bill Hannah and John Imlay.

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey of a portion of George Washington’s Ferry Farm conducted by Bill Hannah (R) and John Imlay (L).

GPR by DaleBrown and PetePatrone

Dale Brown (L) and Pete Patrone (R) assisted with the GPR survey.

The researchers kept in mind that while finding Mildred’s grave was like searching for a needle in a haystack, there were some clues to hold onto while conducting the search. First, they considered the 1771 survey and the Chapman painting, and then they focused on the probable size of the grave. To prepare themselves for what kind of anomalies to look out for on their equipment, they looked at a modern growth chart for a 16 month old child. The composition of the container holding the body was also considered. It was determined the size of the anomaly should be around 29.25 to 33.25 inches in length, and though it had been 270 years, any iron elements such as coffin nails might be detected with these methods.

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) uses electromagnetic radiation in the radio spectrum to reflect signals off of anomalies below the surface. In short, radar waves bounce off of objects of different densities in the ground, providing an image of differences in the surrounding area. You can see voids as well as objects. The image created comes back like this:

Electromagnetic induction (EMI) measures changes in electromagnetic fields, and the magnetic susceptibility of both metal and non-metal materials to provide a sub-surface image (below). The resulting image maps areas of more and less resistivity, revealing patterns and shapes that archaeologists can use to identify any possible features.

EMI by Bill Hannah

Bill Hannah begins an electromagnetic induction survey at Ferry Farm.

Vertical magnetic-gradiometry senses total magnetization of ferrous (iron) materials and produces imaging similar to EMI, but using just magnetization instead of electrical conductivity. Patterns and shapes that archaeologists recognize are still present.

SONY DSC

Bill Hannah conducted a magnetic gradiometry survey of Ferry Farm.

Once plotted on a map, there were a few areas in the expected region that had “grave-like” qualities based on the 2009 remote sensing survey.

Diagram from remote sensor survey report show "grave-like" echoes.

Diagram from remote sensor survey report shows “grave-like” echoes.

Armed with evidence from surveys old and new, we theorize that this area is the possible location of Mildred Washington’s grave. But without a full excavation, we can’t be certain if this is Mildred’s gravesite, or if this area even contains a grave at all. Conveniently shaped anomalies can throw off researchers, but these geophysical surveys provided useful evidence. There are indeed a few anomalies that are the right length, width, and depth of a grave for a young child. We have not conducted any ground-truthing, or surveys that involve coring or probing the ground, nor have we dared to move dirt in this area for fear of disturbing Mildred’s final resting place. The area remains undisturbed, even while the surrounding excavations and the construction of the replica Washington House took place from 2016 to 2018. Due to the destructive nature of archaeology, avoiding the grave site is best for now, and there are no plans to disturb or excavate the area.

Elyse Adams, Archaeologist
Co-Field Director / Archaeology Lab Technician

Five Cool Ancient Artifacts Found at Ferry Farm [Photos]

Fredericksburg is famous for its colonial and Civil War history – but what about before that history?  Decades of archaeological excavations at George Washington’s Ferry Farm have revealed millennia of human development and technology from pre-historic Native American Clovis spearpoints to 18th-century wig curlers and beyond.  While our main focus rests on young George Washington’s story, nearly 25% of all artifacts ever found at Ferry Farm have actually been Native American in origin with many dating thousands of years into the past.  Here are five cool ancient artifacts found at Ferry Farm…

Jasper Drill: The above is the tip of a jasper drill.  It may have been adapted from a spear point, which was not uncommon.  When a spear point broke or became too short from re-sharpening sometimes they were turned into other tools.  This particular drill likely dates to around 8,000 BCE to 6,000 BCE.

Clovis Point: Also, jasper, this spear point (shown above) is our oldest artifact and dates to between 13,500 BCE – 11,000 BCE.  To learn more about it, visit our previous blog post here.

Ground Stone Axes: These two axes (depicted above) were found together.  They’re made of Catoctin metabasalt, which is also often called ‘greenstone’.  They were in use from 3000 BCE – 1000 BCE.

Mystery Bead: This large partial bead (shown in the two photos above) is a bit of a conundrum.  It’s made from non-local sandstone and is heavily weathered.  To further the mystery, it was found with the stone axes discussed above and the chunkey stone discussed below, leaving us to believe these artifacts were part an amateur archaeologist’s collection and may not have been brought here by people indigenous to Virginia.

Chunkey Stone: The doughnut-shaped stone (in the above photo) is made from quartzite and is part of a game called chunkey which was invented around 600 CE.  To learn more about our chunkey stone, check out our recent blog post here.

See these and other artifacts during ArchaeoFest: Exploring Ancient Techology at Ferry Farm this Saturday, October 26 from 10am-4pm.  Enjoy a family-friendly day focused on early human technology! Scheduled demonstrations by members of EXARC, a global network of experimental archaeology professionals and other experts, include flint knapping, throwing spears using atlatls, making Viking glass beads, 18th century stone carving, and much more.  Experimental Archaeology demonstrations begin at 11am.  Dive into hands-on activities like an archaeological dig, see a sampling of the thousands of Native American artifacts excavated at Ferry Farm, and visit with members of the Patawomeck tribe.  Admission is $9 for adults, $4.50 for students,  and free for under age 6.  To learn more, visit ferryfarm.org.

When Games are Serious Business: Chunkey

Sometimes games are just fun but sometimes games can make you or break you. This is the case with chunkey, a Native American game.  Invented around 600 AD by indigenous peoples of the Cahokia region (near modern day St. Louis, Missouri), chunkey was a popular game that spread across much of North America.  There were variations in the rules, depending on the cultures playing it, but the basic premise was that a large ground stone disc (a chunkey) was rolled across a level field by a player. One or multiple players from the opposing side would then throw sticks (also called chunkey) underhanded at the stone, aiming to get as close as possible or to touch the stone once it stopped rolling.  Chunkey stones took time to make, were considered valuable, and were often communal property of a village.

Although the game could be played casually, Chunkey tournaments were a big deal with much pageantry and costumes, often drawing people from far away to participate and watch.  Think of it as an ancient Super Bowl.  Gambling was common at these events with players risking everything, including their honor, on the outcome.  Reportedly some unfortunate defeated players killed themselves after a loss.

Chunkey continued to be played after Europeans arrived in North America and was subsequently documented by some who frequented the events.  However, sometime in the mid-19th century, the game lost favor, likely as a result of the decimation of indigenous cultures by those same Europeans.

“Tchung-kee, a Mandan Game Played with a Ring and Pole” (1832-3) by George Catlin depicts Native Americans playing chunkey. Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

This brings us to the chunkey stone excavated at Ferry Farm.  Visitors who see it immediately note that it looks like a stone doughnut.  Personally I believe it to be one of our coolest artifacts.

Chunkey stone excavated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Oddly enough, this chunkey was found suspiciously close to three other prehistoric artifacts, not all of which belong on an archaeological site in Virginia.  Two stone axes and an odd bead were recovered right next to the chunkey in soils that were plowed which caused the mixing of artifacts from different time periods.  The axes date to the late archaic period (3,000 BCE – 1,000 BC) while the chunkey stone, as stated above is thousands of years younger.  Additionally, the bead, which is still a bit of a mystery, is a type of sandstone not found in Virginia.

So does this mean that indigenous peoples hundreds of years ago were playing chunkey on a site that would eventually be George Washington’s home?  Maybe…but maybe not.  When you add all of these factors together it starts to look more and more like these items were collected in the historic period and did not necessarily belong to any tribes living at Ferry Farm. The English and their colonists were prodigious collectors of natural and Native American artifacts.  Famous colonial collectors include Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

The chunkey stone and these other Native American artifacts are still very cool finds but definitely a reminder that removing artifacts from their original location without preserving their context greatly limits how archaeologists can interpret them.  And, in this case, may throw archaeologists a bit of a curve ball …er, a curve chunkey!

Play a version of chunkey during ArchaeoFest: Exploring Ancient Technology at Ferry Farm on Saturday, October 26 from 10am-4pm.  For more details, visit kenmore.org.

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Supervisor

The Brick Building Where George Didn’t Sleep: A History of Ferry Farm’s Visitor Center

The Visitor Center at George Washington’s Ferry Farm is a lovely red brick colonial revival building with towering white columns and cool architectural details built in the 1960s.  What’s not to love?  The only problem with having a 20th century building that looks like it could be from the 18th century is that people who visit sometimes assume our visitor center is actually Washington’s boyhood home, a mistake that’s easy to make.  Even though our building dates from just 50 years ago, it does have its own fascinating history. Here is the tale of this often misunderstood yet beloved structure.

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (2)

The Colonial Revival-style exterior of the Visitor Center at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

In the 1950s, The George Washington’s Boyhood Home Restoration, Inc. (GWBHR) owned Ferry Farm and was dedicated, as many groups had been before, to transforming the property into nationally-renowned historic site dedicated to the young life of the first president.[1]  By the end of the decade, the group’s hopes had dimmed and, in 1961, board member “Joe Zenker . . . brought Ferry Farm to the attention of Youth for Christ International” (YFCI).[2]

Youth for Christ emerged out of a series of Christian youth rallies centered in Chicago during the Second World War.[3] By the 1960s, the organization’s Lifeline ministry was working with social welfare services to help children deemed troubled, disadvantaged, or as having difficulties living in foster homes.[4]

Youth For Christ was interested in Ferry Farm as the location of a boys home and initially hoped to purchase the site from GWBHR but that was not to be.  Instead, a YFCI majority was placed on the GWBHR’s board and they launched their plan to build the home.[5]  It was hoped that by living where Washington grew up the young men would “develop character . . . and become leaders in our country.”[6]

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (3)

A visit to Ferry Farm begins at the welcome desk inside the Visitor Center.

By 1962, Youth For Christ was using an existing farm house on the property called the “Colbert House” after the family who built it in 1914.  Paul Millikan was placed there to curate the George Washington Museum on the first floor and to function as YFCI’s on-site representative while a suitable boys’ home was constructed.[7]

The architects hired to design the boys’ home were Robert Sully and Stephen Oppenheim. They envisioned a large Colonial Revival structure with a formal symmetrical garden on the grounds.  Construction of the home was started in fall of 1965 by Nice Brothers Inc. of Newport News, Virginia and was completed by January 1966.[8]

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (4)

A museum gallery in the Visitor Center displays artifacts excavated by archaeologists at Ferry Farm and panels chronicling George Washington’s boyhood and the construction of the Washington house replica.

By the fall of 1966, boys were living in the house and spent time “taking meals, being bussed to local schools for class, performing chores, working on homework, and participating in recreational activities.”[9]  There was time for play as well.  Archaeologists have excavated toys and game pieces such as “Hi-Ho Cherry-O” cherries throughout the property. Whether or not these games were provided as a reminder of Washington’s youth and the myth of the cherry tree is unknown, but it is certainly possible that this game was part of YFCI’s plan to evoke Washington ideals even through play.[10]

While the local community donated food, gasoline, and household items, these gifts did not provide funds to address the house’s mortgage payment. The live-in house parents at the time, Gilbert and Kathe Nichols, were critical of this lack of involvement as seen in The Free-Lance Star on February 16, 1968:

Frankly disappointed in support the home has received here, the Nichols say their critics are honest in wanting to know why the home needs money and how it can expect local aid when it refuses to take local boys into its care….  All monetary contributions must, in the home’s financial arrangements, go toward the mortgages, [Gilbert] Nichols says. Support money from the court and a small income from the George Washington Boyhood Home shrine go toward operating expenses. . . .  Nine of the 10 boys living at GWBH now are from Virginia, but not from Fredericksburg or nearby counties. And the fellows are mainly ones who need a new environment to get on the right track in society. This is why local boys aren’t accepted. Too close to home and old peer groups, boys wouldn’t feel the impact of the normal, yet professionally guided life.

As former director of the home Gary Foss recalled, Fredericksburgers probably expected a large, well-funded national group like Youth for Christ to fully fund the house.  The sizable mansion-like building itself surely exacerbated this feeling.[11]  Moreover, its appearance confused visitors, who mistakenly thought it to be George Washington’s actual boyhood home.[12]

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (5)

Visitors may watch archaeologists analyze artifact findings through these windows that look into the Archaeology Lab in the Visitor Center.

Faced with growing debt on the new building as well as day-to-day costs, YFCI sold access rights to the southern portion of Ferry Farm to be used to quarry stone for gravel to form the roadbed of I-95.[13]

Operations at the boys’ home ceased in the summer of 1968 because a fundraising drive by Youth For Christ to keep the home open was not successful. On August 2, 1968, The Free-Lance Star reported that “The George Washington Boys’ Home in Stafford County is being closed after more than two years of operations. . . .  The phase-out marks the end of a dream for Youth for Christ, Inc.”[14]  By 1969, there were no longer any boys living at the George Washington Boys’ Home.

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (6)

The office of a member of the museum education staff in Ferry Farm’ s Visitor Center.

On March 27, 1969, Samuel and Irma Warren bought the property containing both the historic area and the closed Youth for Christ boys’ home.[15]  The Warrens rented out the boys’ home building to a variety of religious groups.

The first tenant was the Fredericksburg Bible Institute and Seminary and the related Crossroad Baptist Church.  The institute, founded by Dr. George Albert Brown, Jr., moved into the building on the first day of January 1970 while, later in the decade, Brown’s newly formed Crossroads Baptist Church met for three years in the building.  In 1981, the church and institute vacated the property to move into a new building in Fredericksburg.[16]

Ferry Farm Visitor Center (1)

The Warrens’ next tenant was Calvary Chapel starting in 1985.  Three years later, Calvary tried to use the building once more as a foster home for teenage boys.  Six boys, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years, were placed in the home called Samuel House.  This effort lasted only two years and was the final attempt by anyone to make Ferry Farm into a residential youth home.  Calvary Chapel did continue using the building for church services until 1995.[17]

Today, the boys’ home building serves as the Visitor Center for George Washington’s Ferry Farm and houses the Archaeology Lab and staff offices for The George Washington Foundation, which has operated Ferry Farm as well as Historic Kenmore as historic sites together since 1996.  This is the building where your visit to Ferry Farm and the newly built Washington house replica begins and we hope to see you soon!

Sasha Erpenbach, UMW student
Fleming Smith Intern

 

[1] Rebekah K. Wood, “History of the Visitors Center Building, George Washington’s Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm,” The George Washington Foundation, October 15, 2010: 1.

[2] Philip Levy, Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013: 169; Wood, 1.

[3] Dr. Art Deyo, “Celebrating 70 Years of Youth for Christ: YFC’s History,” https://www.yfc.net/images/uploads/general/YFCs_History_by_Dr._Art_Deyo_-_Final_Version.pdf [accessed July 29, 2019]: 1-4.

[4] Oral History with Gary Foss, January 18, 2008. Interviewers: Melanie Marquis and Rebekah Wood. The George Washington Foundation Oral History Project, The George Washington Foundation, Fredericksburg, VA: 2, Deyo, 8.

[5] Foss oral history, 8.

[6] Foss oral history, 6, 10, 22.

[7] Wood, 3; Oral History with Paul Millikan, Jay Kessler, Bruce Love, and Gary Foss, July 1, 2008. Interviewers: Melanie Marquis and Rebekah Wood, The George Washington Foundation Oral History Project, The George Washington Foundation, Fredericksburg, VA: 22.

[8] Wood, 3-4.

[9] Wood, 4.

[10] Melanie Healy-Marquis, “Souvenirs from Ferry Farm: Two Centuries of Myths at George Washington’s Boyhood Home,” 2009, 11.

[11] Foss oral history, 10, 18.

[12] Wood, 5-6.

[13] Levy, 173.

[14] John Goolrick, “Boys Home Here Begins Shutdown,” Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, August 2, 1968: A1.

[15] Wood, 8.

[16] Wood, 8.

[17] Wood, 9.

Little George Goes to London [Photos]

A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore recently vacationed in London.  Little George accompanied her and visited places related in some fashion to George Washington and his era as well as the city’s most popular tourist sites.  Here is a collection of photos documenting Little George’s travels!

GW on Blackheath

GW at Greenwich

Little George stayed with a friend in Blackheath, straddling the Boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham.  Blackheath is famed for its heath, or large field, while nearby Greenwich Park boasts impressive views of London.

GW on Thames

Little George views the Thames River at Greenwich.

GW at Cutty Shark

Little George relaxes at the Cutty Sark, an old pub in Greenwich built in the early 1800s on the spot of an even older pub that catered to sailors.

GW at Hatfield 1

GW at old Hatfield

Little George visits old Hatfield House (above top), which was the home of Elizabeth I before she became Queen in 1558.  The “new” Hatfield House (above bottom), a Jacobean house built around 1611, is the seat of the Cecil Family, the Marquises of Salisbury.

GW and St. Pauls

Little George near Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The site of a church since CE 640, the current cathedral was built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the previous church.

GW at Old Royal Navy College

Little George at Old Royal Navy College, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, established in 1692 as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. Then, in 1873, it became a training site for the Royal Naval.  George himself nearly joined the Royal Navy as we’ve written about here.

GW at Pillars of Hercules

Little George outside the Pillars of Hercules pub in Soho, which we’ve actually written about on the blog.

GW at British Museum

Anti-colonial propaganda British Museum

Little George toured the British Museum, founded in 1753, and saw an ceramic bowl decorated with an anti-colonial propaganda.  Personal objects often carried or were endowed with political symbolism. Read about the 18th century political significance of ceramics, cuff links, and pipes.

GW at BF house

Little George at the door to Benjamin Franklin House, where Franklin, the colonies’ representative before the Crown, lived and worked for sixteen years from 1757 to 1775.

GW Buckingham Palace

Little George outside Buckingham Palace, built by the Duke of Buckingham and acquired by King George III in 1761.  It is the main official residence of the present-day British monarch.

GW and dentures

At the Museum of London, Little George looks at a nice pair of 18th century dentures that he probably wished he could have had instead of his painful dentures of cows, donkey, and human teeth encased in lead.  Read about George’s infamous teeth troubles here.

GW with Tarleton Painting

Little George with Tarleton, The Butcher.  Tarleton was a colonel in command of the British Legion, a contingent of Loyalist cavalry and light infantry. At the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina on May 29, 1780, Tarleton’s force ignored the white surrender flag of some Virginia Continentals led by Colonel Abraham Buford and killed 133 soldiers, severely wounded 150 others, and captured 203, earning his infamous nickname.  Tarleton also undertook some raids into Virginia and, for a time, it was feared he might come as far north as Fredericksburg or Mount Vernon to abduct George’s mother Mary, his sister Betty, or even his wife Martha.

Cornwallis Pub

Little George at The Marquis Cornwallis, a pub in Bloomsbury, London.  Charles Cornwallis was a general in the British Army during the American Revolution whose surrender to George Washington in 1781 ended the Siege of Yorktown and ultimately the war in America.

GW at Westminster Abbey

Little George at the famed Westminster Abbey, coronation and burial site of numerous English and British kings and queens.

GW with GW at National Gallery.png

Little George stands next to a statue of himself outside The National Gallery.  The Commonwealth of Virginia gave the statue to Great Britain and Ireland and it was erected in 1921 on a square of American soil.  It is based on Jean Antoine Houdon’s marble statue in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

GW on Tube

Little George rides the London Underground, which first opened in 1863, only 64 years after George Washington’s death. While the Tube was not around in his time, Little George approved of it as a great way to get around the city.