Maritime History at Kenmore & Ferry Farm

Today – September 30 – is World Maritime Day. The United Nations and the International Maritime Organization created World Maritime Day in 1978 “to celebrate the international maritime industry’s contribution towards the world’s economy, especially in shipping.”

“The South East Prospect of London from the Tower to London Bridge” (1746) by John Maurer. Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2018

Both Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm – perhaps surprisingly – feature fairly significant maritime histories.  Situated on the Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg was a bustling seaport in the 1700s when George Washington grew up at Ferry Farm and when Fielding Lewis practiced his merchant trade while living at Kenmore.  George saw ocean-going sailing vessels unloading and loading cargo from his bedroom window.  Some of these ships were owned by Fielding and his family.  Both men were part of “the Atlantic World,” a global community of many different peoples trading back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean.

Here on Lives & Legacies, we’ve written regularly about Fredericksburg as a seaport and about the impact of Atlantic trade on both the Washingtons and the Lewises.

“The Voyage of the ‘Stanton’” recounts one voyage of a Lewis family ship and the cargo it carried traveling from Virginia to Madeira off the European coast, then to the British West Indies in the Caribbean, and finally back to Virginia.  Each leg of this journey formed part of the Atlantic World’s famed “Triangular Trade.”

Many of the Washington family artifacts recovered at Ferry Farm came to their home from different parts of this triangle and beyond.  For example, the fragments of wine bottles depicted below and written about in “The Wine Bottle: Ubiquitous and Informative” may have carried fortified wine from Madeira to Ferry Farm. European grapes did not grow well in the colonies while native grapes did not make good wine so wine was imported.

Mid-18th century bottle neck and base fragments excavated from the Washington house cellar at Ferry Farm.
An example of what the bottles excavated at Ferry Farm looked when they were whole.

The maritime-based economy that brought Madeira wine and the many other goods used by the Washingtons at Ferry Farm is also perfectly symbolized by a “black dogg” coin. Unearthed not far from the Washington house site and written about in “The Tale of the ‘Black Dogg,’” this coin “originally circulated in the French Caribbean” and may well have come to Fredericksburg in a sailor’s pocket.

“Black dogg” coin excavated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

As a merchant, Fielding Lewis owned ships that traveled the Atlantic World carrying goods to and from Fredericksburg.  The goods brought to Fredericksburg he then sold to the community or placed in his fashionable home.  Maritime trade was Fielding’s life-long business and he put some of his enslaved workers to that task.  As written about in “Abraham and The Ropewalkers,” a handful of Lewis slaves wove rope at ropewalks near Fredericksburg or perhaps even in Richmond.  Of course, much of this rope was likely used on Virginian sailing vessels.

Portion of The Divvy List made by Betty Washington Lewis showing Abraham with an “R.W.” after his name.
Portion of The Divvy List showing Bob #2 with “Fredbg” after his name and Bob #2 with “Ropewalk” after his name.

The impact of today’s ocean-going global trade can be largely unseen. Similarly, the maritime histories of Kenmore and Ferry Farm are not immediately evident to our eyes. However, sailors, ships, and their cargos significantly influenced the lives of the Washingtons, the Lewises, and the enslaved people of Ferry Farm and Kenmore in 1700s.  World Maritime Day is a good day to remember the impact of the international maritime industry, past and present.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Public Programs