“Have you found anything today?” was (and always is) the most-asked question posed by our daily visitors who stopped by our archaeological site at George Washington’s Ferry Farm this summer. Everyone wants to understand what is going on in the very large square hole we have made in the lawn. “Yes, we find something every day,” our crew happily answered, while showing the visitors all the small bits of ceramics, glass, metals, and other artifacts sifted out of the dirt that day. Not only did we find hundreds of artifacts during the course of the summer dig, but we also hope we found a building!
This year’s archaeological dig at Ferry Farm began on June 7 and ended on August 21. We opened twelve new 5-foot by 5-foot square units and reopened six previously excavated units just south of and adjacent to last year’s excavation site. Our site is located within the Washington house work yard, where activities such as food preparation and cooking, washing laundry, animal husbandry, dairying, household storage and wig maintenance took place.
The direction of this year’s dig was prompted by the discovery during last season’s excavation of two large rectangular postholes with similar alignments and measuring ten feet from each other.
Finding additional postholes of similar size and properly distanced from each other would enable us to determine if our postholes were part of a fence line or one side of a post-in-the-ground building.
After a lot of hard work, we uncovered two similar postholes on the same line as the first two. Unfortunately, we did not find a parallel line of postholes representing the opposite side of a building within the limits of our dig.
The abundance of artifacts found on the north side of the posthole line, and the contrasting lack of artifacts to the south of them, indicates the presence of some physical barrier substantial enough to create a division preventing artifacts from passing. Our plan for next season is to hopefully expand the excavation block to the south and the west because that is where associated posts would be located. If there are no matching posthole features, we know we have a fence. If it is a building, we want to get the proper dimensions of that structure, which in turn will help determine its function on the landscape.
Now that this year’s dig is over, our staff and volunteers are busy in the lab washing and cataloging the artifacts we found this season. As usual, we collected artifacts ranging from present day plastics to thousand-year-old prehistoric tools. Although our total artifact count was not as numerous as in former dig years, we did manage to find some interesting items.
Our total wig curler count of over 200 continues to grow with the addition of seven wig curler fragments this year. This may not necessarily sound like a lot, but the amount of curlers found this season alone surpasses the number most other domestic colonial sites have in Virginia. Thirty wig curler fragments have been found within the 30-foot by 45-foot excavation block dug between from the years 2019 to 2021 in the work yard.
Other artifacts of interest include a bone-handled toothbrush, children’s toys, a round rusty lock, delicate Chinese porcelain cup fragments, projectile points, buttons, and the rim of an alphabet plate.
The prettiest artifact prize goes to our blue paste gem button. Research has not yet started on this little gem, but we suspect it dates to the 18th century.
For now, the excavation site is once again covered with tarp for protection against the winter elements until we open it again next year. Here on Lives & Legacies, we’ll keep you up-to-date about what we found this summer as we spend the next several months researching these 2021 artifacts in the lab.
Join us for our first Movie on the Lawn event at Historic Kenmore on Friday, September 17 as we show National Treasure starring Nicholas Cage and the Declaration of Independence!
FACT: George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring used codes, ciphers, and invisible ink (among other tactics) to outwit the British during the American Revolution.
FICTION: There is a map in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
You are probably wondering what the connection to George Washington is, right? He did not write the Declaration. He did not debate it. He did not sign it. Ah, but he read it and more importantly, he read it to his troops on July 9, 1776. He was sent a copy hastily printed by John Dunlap, a printer in Philadelphia.
Much like Washington, the document is one of America’s treasures. The Declaration has a fascinating history on its journey to the National Archives, where, in National Treasure, Nicholas Cage’s character steals it in order to save it. Think about it! Just how did the document we all celebrate every July survive these past 200+ years?
After it was signed, sealed, and distributed, the official version remained with Charles Thompson, Secretary to the Congress, until he retired in 1789. The person who next took responsibility for the document was Roger Alden, deputy secretary of foreign affairs (The U.S. briefly has a Department of Foreign Affairs before it became the Department of State). By March of 1790, Thomas Jefferson would become Secretary of State and protector of the document he spearheaded in drafting. Talk about full circle!
In August 1800, the Declaration was moved to newly-built Washington, D.C., residing briefly in the Treasury building. It was sent to the War Office in May 1801 where it would stay until 1814. Thanks to the quick thinking of Stephen Pleasonton, a senior clerk at the State Department, the Declaration (among other critical documents. Ahem! The Constitution!) were secreted out of the City to a farmhouse in Virginia during the British attack on Washington on August 24, 1814. The documents were returned to the Capital after three weeks, once the British had left town.
While at the State Department, the document was mounted and displayed (with Washington’s Continental Army commission!) at the Patent Office (today the National Portrait Gallery) at the suggestion of then Secretary of State Daniel Webster in 1841. Preservation techniques were not considered, as the document was placed in direct sunlight and exposed to all manner of elements. It remained on display for the next 35 years!
When it traveled to Philadelphia for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the public was exposed to the dire state of the parchment caused by sunlight. The good news was that it was better cared for during this time and was even kept in a fireproof safe. The bad news was that its condition was widely reported in the newspapers. In response to the resulting public outcry, Congress adopted a joint resolution that the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and Librarian of Congress figure out a way to save the Declaration.
Despite the commission, nothing was done for 17 more years. The document was exposed to even more light until 1894, when the State Department decided to shield it in a steel case. The Declaration was then examined by the National Academy of Science in 1904 to determine how best to preserve it. The conclusion? Keep it in a dark and dry place, never to be displayed again. So, the State Department did just that and locked the document up for the next twenty years!
Between1904 and 1920, Herbert Putnam, then the Librarian of Congress, campaigned for the State Department to turn over the founding documents to the Library of Congress (LOC), with no luck. He would not see any movement on his mission to preserve and house the Declaration until Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby formed a committee to review necessary preservation steps and recommended the Declaration be sent to the LOC. President Warren Harding issued and signed an Executive Order on September 29th, 1921 to that effect. Putnam was ecstatic and used the official library vehicle, a Model T mail wagon, to transfer the document from the State Department to the LOC.
The question remains, though. How did it eventually end up at the National Archives?
During the tumultuous years of World War II, Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish was on a mission to protect the documents from potential damage. His solution? Stored them at Fort Knox! It was perhaps one of the most “hush-hush” operations ever carried out by the LOC. George Washington probably would have been very proud to witness the operation carried out with a military precision worthy of Henry Knox’s (the Fort’s namesake) mission to move cannons from the Great Lakes to Dorchester Heights in Boston during the American Revolution.
Finally, the documents were transferred from the LOC to the National Archives building on December 13, 1952 (the cornerstone was laid in 1933). Congress created the Archives in the 1930s to care for government records and made the Declaration the Archives’ responsibility in 1952. Representatives of all the armed forces carried out the transfer, including military police, a color guard, the U.S. Army Band, the U.S. Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps. They used a Marine Corps armored personnel carrier, two light tanks, and a motorcycle escort. Lining Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues were members of all the service branches. At the National Archives since 1952, the Declaration has been (and continues to be) preserved so that visitors can view it daily. Ultimately, it also inspired a fun action-adventure film!
While mostly fiction, National Treasure is one of those movies that excites people about History. The number of times visitors to the National Archives have asked “Is there actually a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence?” and they hear “Nope” is not a bad thing. It is clear that something brought them to that museum and it shows they took an interest and asked a question, which is a great start to studying History.
Interestingly, a line of the riddle from the movie:
“The legend writ, the stain affected, the key in Silence undetected, fifty-five in iron pen, Mr. Matlack can’t offend”
refers to Timothy Matlack, who while considered a “boisterous, swashbuckling personality,” was also known to be “a man of intellectual vigor, a fine writer and public speaker.” He was selected by the Continental Congress to write out the official document (the one now residing in the National Archives) that measures 24.25 by 29.75 inches. He also — fun fact! — wrote out George Washington’s commission to lead the Continental army!
So, gather some friends, grab chairs, blankets, and whatever movie snacks will make you happy, purchase a ticket and join us on the lawn of Historic Kenmore on Friday, September 17 for an epic adventure starring the Declaration of Independence! Oh, and that guy Nicholas Cage too.
Amy N. Durbin Director of Education
Puleo, Stephen. American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address. Picador, 2017.
Recently, I came across an interesting notice in an early edition of the Virginia Gazette. On June 9, 1738, Augustine Washington, George Washington’s father, placed a notice in the newspaper about one of his indentured servants running away. The notice read…
“RAN away from Capt. McCarty’s Plantation, on Pope’s Creek, in Westmoreland County, a Servant Man belonging to me the Subscriber, in Prince William County; his Christian Name is John, but Sirname [sic] forgot, is pretty tall, a Bricklayer by Trade, and is a Kentishman; he came to Patowmack, in the Forward, Capt. Major, last Year; is suppos’d to have the Figure of our Saviour mark’d with Gunpowder on one of his Arms. He went away about the 20th of April last, in Company with three other Servants…”
The notice then described the three other indentured servants, ostensibly belonging to McCarty. First, sailor Richard Martin was “a middle siz’d Man, fresh colour’d, and 22 Years of Age.” Next, tailor Edward Ormsby was “a small thin Fellow, of a swarthy Complexion . . . has a Hesitation or Stammering in his Speech, and being an Irishman, has a good deal of the Brogue.” Finally, carpenter Richard Kibble was “a middle siz’d young Fellow, has several Marks made with Gunpowder on his Arms, but particularly one on his Breast, being the Figures of a Woman and a Cherry Tree.”
I found the inclusion of the tattoos’ descriptions fascinating and the spark to many questions. How common was tattooing in Colonial America? Who was most likely to have tattoos? What kind were popular? Where were they placed on the body? And finally, why did colonial people choose to permanently mark their bodies in this fashion?
Unfortunately, documentation of tattoos from the 18th century is scarce, and finding information about tattooing in early America is nearly impossible. Two records I did find helpful were the Seamen’s Protection Certificate Applications (SPC-A) and various runaway indentured servant and convict notices in the Virginia Gazette.
The SPC-A were applications made by seamen under the Act for Relief and Protection of American Seamen of 1796. The act was passed to protect American seamen from impressment into the British Royal Navy in the years that led up to the War of 1812. Each sailor who served on a United States vessel applied for a certificate of protection, which included a detailed physical description that encompassed any tattoos.
The applications range from sailors of 12-years-old with one tattoo to 59-years-old with several detailed designs. Tattoos on the “17 and under” tended to be pretty standard symbols like personal initials, initials of loved ones, or small maritime and religious marks like anchors and crucifixes. These were boys probably just starting their careers as sailors and had not yet had the time or the travels to collect a more complex range of tattoos.
For the more seasoned sailor, initials, names, words, and letters seemed to be the most common and sought after tattoos with 38% of all reported from 1796-1818 falling into this category. Second most common was the 21% of sailors who reported some type of sea-themed tattoo from simple anchors and compasses to more complex ships, mermaids, and sea creatures.
Surprisingly, coming in at 8% were symbols of love with around 200 tattoos. These included but were not limited to hearts, linked hearts, hearts and darts, hearts and arrows, hearts with initials and dates, bleeding hearts, and hearts with doves. Patriotic and political tattoos were prevalent as well, particularly with men born in or before 1776. These designs included flags, eagles, clusters of stars, “1776”, and words such as “Independence” and “Liberty”. Religious symbols represented around 8% of tattoos and another 4% were miscellaneous depictions of people and animals or other crude drawings.
Another source for my survey of colonial tattoo use was newspaper notices alerting the populace to runaway indentured servants and wayward convicts. Fifteen different notices examined from the Virginia Gazette between 1737 and 1768 described a runaway’s tattoos. For these 14 men and one woman, the tattoos ranged from initials made with gunpowder to a complicated floral design in blue ink.
The placement of the tattoos tended to be on the arms, wrists, or hands with all 15 having at least one mark on these extremities. Only two men were described as having marks on their chest in addition to their arms.
There is minimal information available that documents tattooing and tattoos in Colonial America. What information we can glimpse is from records that were mainly descriptive markers of the subject. The personal history and individual intent of the tattoos are lost to time.
We can surmise from the data that the people who marked their skin with gunpowder or ink tended to be those on the margins of society. At the time, these were people deemed to be in the lower rungs of society or people in positions of servitude. They could mark their bodies without their social position being questioned because they were already positioned at the bottom.
Why might they mark themselves in society when already marginalized? There are a few possible reasons. First, the tattoos could have been forced upon them. It was common for soldiers to get tattoos as a form of identification. It would have been a convenient and permanent way to mark convicts, indentured servants, enslaved workers, and others in servitude, hindering potential escapes and creating easier captures.
Second, tattoos created comradery and a sense of belonging, particularly for the sailors. It became sort of rite of passage for sailors to tattoo their bodies with marks of their trade and thereby distinguishing themselves from “landlubbers.”
Lastly, people got tattooed for sentimental reasons, which is similar to the primary reason people arguably get tattooed today. Tattoos reminded them of their family, faith, and history. It was a way to permanently remember important events and people in their lives.
We do not know if Augustine Washington’s runaway notice in the Virginia Gazette resulted in the return of John or any of the other three indentured servants. He offered 5 pounds reward for John’s return. The notice reports that “They went away from Capt. Aylett’s Landing, on Patowmack, in a small Boat and are suppos’d to be gone towards the Eastern-Shore or North-Carolina.” Another of the runaways in one the other notices examined was believed to be headed to North Carolina as well. The wild, sparsely-populated swamps, tidal marshes, and barrier islands of both regions drew many of the 18th century’s marginalized people seeking to create a new, freer life. Many likely marked in some way by tattoos.
Heather Baldus Collections Manager
 Ira Dye, “The Tattoos of Early American Seafarers, 1796-1818” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 133, No. 4 (Dec., 1989), 520; Petar N. Zidarov, “The Antiquity of Tattooing in Southeastern Europe,” in Ancient Ink: The Archaeology of Tattooing, ed. Lars Krutak and Aaron Deter-Wolf (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 137-149.
On a recent summer Saturday morning, a group of photographers came to George Washington’s Ferry Farm for a hike on the trails around the property. A lot of wildlife call Ferry Farm home, and we hoped to capture some of it. We saw many birds, a turtle, and a rabbit eating breakfast in the grass as well as plenty of beautiful flowers. Unfortunately, many animals – including the doe and fawn that have been spotted frequently on the property this year – seemed shy that morning, but we are planning another wild photography session at Ferry Farm in the fall.
If you’d like to explore wilds of Ferry Farm yourself, you can purchase a self-guided grounds only tour upon arrival at the Ferry Farm Visitor Center. Ferry Farm is currently open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday and from Noon to 5 p.m., Sunday.
Jessica Burger Manager of Marketing, Communications, and Information Technology
The 2021 archaeological dig season at George Washington’s Ferry Farm is over two-thirds complete. Here’s a collection of photos taken in the field of a few artifacts discovered thus far. You can read an overview of our expectations and goals for this year’s dig here. Visitors can ask archaeologists questions and observe their work Monday through Friday at Ferry Farm. The dig continues until August 20.
Throughout my time as a museum professional, I have worked at several different museums each with different classifications, rules, and operating procedures. Before entering the museum world, I used to think that most museums operated in a similar way. However, that could not be further from the truth. One of the most common questions I have gotten since leaving the National Park Service for the private sector has been some variation of: “Why can’t I use my National Park Pass here?” It is an understandable question that I am here to answer.
Museums can be categorized by many different subjects. For example, there are art museums, history museums, science museums, zoos, gardens and more! There are also different categories on how museums operate, fundraise, and are preserved. For example, George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore are both historic house museums. They are owned by The George Washington Foundation, a private, non-profit organization that is charged with caring for the properties. Ferry Farm and Kenmore are funded by your donations, admission fees, and fundraising events. However, the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. is a National Park Service (NPS) property, operated by the government and funded, in part, with tax-payer dollars.
In addition to the NPS sites, the United States government also created the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places is a list of places that are worthy of preservation but are not necessarily and, in fact, are not usually operated by the U.S. government. Sites on this list are able to apply for certain grants and funding through the NPS. They also receive certain tax breaks and can work towards becoming a National Park Site. Fun fact, there are almost 100,000 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places!
Of those 100,000 National Register properties, some also have the distinction of being National Historic Landmarks. Landmarks are sites that are again, not necessarily government-run, but have been recognized by the federal government as being nationally significant, meaning they correlate to a significant part of our nation’s history. These properties are also able to apply for certain grants and tax breaks. Not all properties on the National Register of Historic Places and not all properties listed as National Historic Landmarks are museums and not all of them are open for public visitation. However, being on these lists adds a layer of protection should the owners of that property need assistance in preserving the site.
Along with National Register and National Historic Landmark status, there are also several types of Easements that can be put in place to protect historic sites. Two types of easements often used in the museum world are Conservation Easements and Preservation Easements. These easements are agreements between the government and a property’s stewardship organization that allow for the government to step in and take over the operation of a property if the private owners are not caring for it properly or it becomes endangered in some fashion. Easements also allow the government to have approval over major changes to the properties to ensure they maintain their historic or natural significance. Private easements can also be created between two parties such as a historic site and a local conservation organization to protect the natural areas of a historic site.
The George Washington Foundation is a 503(c) (3) non-profit. This designation gives our organization certain tax exemptions. We are a private foundation that operates the two historic sites. These sites are not National Park Service sites and do not receive direct taxpayer funding from local, state, or federal governments. Both Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm are on the National Register of Historic Places and also are both National Historic Landmarks. Additionally, Ferry Farm is under a conservation easement with the National Park Service. All of this means that while we still operate as a private foundation, there are several layers of protection to ensure these treasured historic properties are preserved and protected for decades to come.
As a private organization, we rely on admission fees and your generous donations to fund our sites. We are not part of any National Park or state park pass system. Your ticket purchase helps preserve and promote the legacies of these two sites. Perhaps that is why we are so appreciative for each and every guest who visits. If you would like to support The George Washington Foundation, please consider a donation. We hope to see you at the National Historic Landmarks of Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm soon!
Elizabeth Hosier Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services
The Fifes & Drums of York Town played and marched today at George Washington’s Ferry Farm. The group will also perform on the lawn at Historic Kenmore this Sunday, June 27. There will be three 15 minute performances between 12:30pm and 1:30pm. No admission required, but we encourage you to make a day of it and purchase a guided tour of Historic Kenmore. Buy tour tickets at kenmore.org/visit-kenmore.
Visitors to Kenmore’s Drawing Room may have noticed an unusual pairing of glassware and ceramic pieces displayed on the gaming table – a beautiful, air-twist stem wine glass sitting next to a Westerwald pottery jug. At first glance, this small vignette may simply appear to depict a wine jug at the ready, waiting to fill the glasses of those seated for the card game. But a closer inspection reveals that there’s more to the story.
In addition to its delicate air twists and balusters, the cup of the wine glass is etched with intricate designs. On one side, there’s a rose, and on the other is the word “Liberty.” The rose refers to the Scottish House of Stuart and their exiled claimant to the Scottish throne, the Bonnie Prince Charlie. The word “Liberty”, in this case, refers to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 – 1746, in which the Scottish clans attempted to overthrow the English king and re-install the Bonnie Prince, thereby ending the English occupation of Scotland. The Uprising ended in a bloodbath for the Scottish forces at Culloden Moor, and the Bonnie Prince remained in exile for the rest of his life. The defeat at Culloden ushered in a period of extreme violence and repression of Scottish Highland culture known today as the Clearances. Thousands of Scots were forced from their homes and prosecuted in English courts for crimes against the Crown. Those found guilty were often sentenced to “transportation,” which meant they were crowded onto prison ships and sent to the American colonies.
The stoneware jug is decorated in typical Westerwald-style cobalt blue glaze patterns, with the addition of a sprigged central medallion bearing the letters “GR.” Those initials stand for Georgius Rex, the Latin for King George of Britain, probably George III in this case. Westerwald ceramics produced in what is now Germany for export to Britain in the 18th century were often decorated with the GR emblem in honor of King George. Most British households, including young George Washington’s home at Ferry Farm, would have had a piece or two exhibiting the GR motif.
Both items are included in Kenmore’s furnishings today because fragments of similar pieces were found archaeologically on the site during excavations in the 1990s, so we know that both were used by the Lewis family at very nearly the same time. The juxtaposition of their messages, though, illustrates what a very strange and confusing time the Lewis family were living in. Literally up until the very eve of the American Revolution, Fielding Lewis saw himself very much as a proper English subject. His business relied almost entirely on good relations with English counterparts. He built Kenmore to emulate in every way the proper English manor house, and apparently he owned ceramics that honored King George.
Almost overnight, however, the Lewis’s world completely changed. They were no longer English subjects, but rather traitors to the Crown. Fielding’s income and business were gone, and his very English house was now a liability. Those transported Jacobites living in the American colonies, many of them neighbors to the Lewises like Hugh Mercer, were among those who advocated for war with Britain. The symbols and ideals of the Jacobite Uprising were adopted into the American revolutionary movement. And so our placement of the Liberty glass next to the GR jug on the gaming table is both a wink and a nod to the idea of rebellion hidden in plain sight, and a recognition of the complicated times in which the Lewis’s found themselves.
Celebrate the 245th anniversary of liberty from the King during the Fourth of July at George Washington’s Ferry Farm from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 4, 2021! Tour the Washington house, learn about archaeology at Ferry Farm, enjoy a patriotic flag retirement ceremony at 1:00 p.m., interact with historic reenactors, listen to festive music, view living history demonstrations and theatre performances, make crafts, play games, and enjoy other activities for the whole family. $5.00 per car for a combined parking and event admission pass. Advance purchase of parking and event admission pass is strongly encouraged. Visit kenmore.org/events to learn more and purchase pass.
Meghan Budinger Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations