In this video, curator Meghan Budinger and archaeologist Laura Galke discuss how small things like eating utensils recovered archaeologically reveal big things about the Washington family.
On Tuesday, May 21, 2019, Dave Muraca, Director of Archaeology at The George Washington Foundation, presented “The Social Role of Garbage in Colonial Virginia,” the final talk in this year’s annual lecture series. Dave presented three case studies in 18th century garbage disposal at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, Colonial Williamsburg, and Historic Kenmore.
Thanks to the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia for hosting the series once again this year. To learn about other events and happenings, visit kenmore.org.
On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, Park Ranger Deborah Lawton of George Washington Birthplace National Monument presented a lecture titled “Foodways in the 18th Century” that explored the new dishes and changing tastes of the time.
Join us on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 for “The Social Role of Garbage in Colonial Virginia” with Dave Muraca, Director of Archaeology at The George Washington Foundation. Dave will explore some of the aspects of colonial waste disposal and put these practices into a larger context that in turn may make modern persons question their own sense of normalcy. Talk begins at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is FREE and hosted at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. To learn more, visit kenmore.org.
On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Archaeologist Mara Kaktins, Ceramics & Glass Specialist at The George Washington Foundation, presented a lecture titled “Drinking with the Washingtons: Archaeological Evidence of Colonial Imbibing at Ferry Farm.” Mara explored a wide variety of beverage-related artifacts from teawares to punch bowls and discussed how cups and glasses reflected efforts by Mary Washington to demonstrate the family’s economic status and refinement.
Join us on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 for “Food in the Eighteenth Century” when Deborah Lawton, Park Ranger at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, will explore the new dishes and changing tastes that marked the foodways of the eighteenth century. Talk begins at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is FREE and hosted at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. To learn more, visit http://www.kenmore.org.
With hindsight, the events of history often seem inevitable. America was destined for independence from Britain. All colonists were patriots who saw themselves as a nation and a people separate from the mother country. This was absolutely not the case. Colonists’ views on the appropriateness of independence evolved with events. Over time, British identity gave way to American identity.
We have written several blog posts about how colonists, including members of the Washington family, clung to their Englishness. They expressed this identity through Westerwald mugs emblazoned with ‘G.R.’ for Georgius Rex in homage to three British kings named George, including George III who would be the foe of the American independence movement. They expressed their English identity through pipe bowls emblazoned with the British royal coat of arms. Even as protests against their lack of representation in Parliament increased, colonists still hung onto their English roots through, in the Washingtons’ case, wearing cuff links emblazoned with an image of King William III, who “came to represent the right of subjects to resist a king who was abusing power.”
The shift from a British identity to an American identity took time as colonists gave up aspects of British culture while they resisted, first, governmental overreach and, then, ultimately embraced full national independence.
Tea was one aspect of English culture given up as a political act to protest British rule and to show support for the American cause. Abstention from tea drinking began with the Tea Act of 1773. Parliament passed the Tea Act to bailout the financially troubled East India Company (EIC). The government told the Company that it could ship tea directly to the colonies, duty-free. The EIC could get rid of loads of tea piling up in their London storerooms. Colonists could get tea that was cheaper than the illegal stuff smuggled in. Everyone should have been happy. But everyone wasn’t. The tea the Company sold to the colonists was to be taxed under the Townshend Acts. If colonists purchased it, they indirectly accepted Parliament’s right to tax them without representation.
Tea became an emblem of British oppression and a boycott of the drink became a revolutionary act. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that “Tea must be universally renounced and I must be weaned, and the sooner the better.” Rejecting British culture, patriotic associations gave less than hospitable “tea parties” in Boston and Yorktown for merchants who continued to sell the politically incorrect brew. Less well-known was a tea party of sorts organized by the women of Edenton, North Carolina, who came together on October 25, 1774 and pledged to boycott tea and other British goods. Whether politicians or housewives, Americans up and down the colonies joined these protests and vowed to never serve tea in their homes.
By at least May of 1774, Virginians near Fredericksburg had given up their tea. Philip Vickers Fithian, tutor to the Carter family at Nomini Hall, visited some neighbors on May 19 and noted in his diary that he “Drank Coffee at four, they are now too patriotic to use tea.” Indeed, as Fithan indicates and as we’ve previously explored in this post, coffee became Americans’ go-to substitute for tea.
Fithian did not seem all that enthusiastic about the tea boycott, however. A few months later, he got very excited when “Something in our palace this Evening, very merry happened—Mrs Carter made a dish of Tea. At Coffee, she sent me a dish—& the Colonel both ignorant—He smelt, sipt—look’d—At last with great gravity he asks what’s this?—Do you ask Sir—Poh!—And out he throws it splash a sacrifice to Vulcan” [meaning the Roman god of fire, of course, and not Spock’s homeworld on Star Trek]. While “the Colonel” Robert Carter III “did not volunteer for political or military service during the Revolution. He did, however, sign the Virginia loyalty oath and supported the non-importation agreements drawn up by the First Continental Congress.” He patriotically did not partake of the British beverage but Fithian clearly missed his tea.
For those who disliked coffee or simply still wanted tea, there was a black market to provide one with British tea but there were also American-grown substitutes that adhered to the boycott and came to be known as “Liberty Teas.” Dr. Leonard Perry, extension professor at the University of Vermont, provides an excellent summary of tea substitutes used by early Americans during their tea boycotts…
“One of the most common substitutes was the native American shrub New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), also known then as Indian tea or Walpole tea. Leaves of raspberry also were commonly used for these colonial teas, as were sweet fern and spicebush. Bark from some trees such as sassafras and willow were used.
Common flowers used for the Liberty teas were sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora), red clover, chamomile, and violets. Leaves of herbaceous plants such as bergamot (bee balm or Oswego tea), lemon balm, and mints were brewed as many are today. Many herbs were brewed in the 18th century including parsley, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, and sage. Native Americans introduced the colonists to many of these plants which they often brewed to use medicinally. Even some fruits were used in colonial teas, including those of dried strawberries, blueberries and apples. Rosehips, rich in vitamin C and used today in teas, were used then as well. “Indian lemonade tea” was made from boiling the berries of the red sumac.
Often ingredients were combined, such as a common tea recipe of that time including equal parts sweet goldenrod, betony, clover, and New Jersey tea.”
Tea would return to American tables following the successful War for Independence. There are several receipts from the 1790s that show Betty Washington Lewis purchasing tea, including a type of imported Chinese green tea, at Kenmore. But, for the most part, these imported teas as well as the herbal liberty teas were ultimately eclipsed by coffee, which became, like tea for the British, the drink synonymous with American culture.
Visit Historic Kenmore on Saturday, May 4 for “Tea and Tour: The Ladies of Kenmore” focusing on the many generations of ladies who have called Kenmore home! Enjoy Kenmore tea and gingerbread while experiencing eighteenth-century tea service first hand. See the first floor of the mansion, learning the history of the grand 1775 home through vignettes, and meet a few of the extraordinary ladies of Kenmore along the way as part of this dramatic tour.
Event admission is $20 Adults and $10 under 17. Reservations required and there are only a very few spaces left. For more information and reservations, please call (540) 370-0732 ext. 24 or email email@example.com.
Manager of Educational Programs
 Breen, T. H., The Marketplace of Revolution, Oxford: University Press, 2004: 298-301.
 Breen, 235-239.
 Clark, F, “Chocolate and other Colonial Beverages” in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, 2009 (eds L. E. Grivetti and H.-Y. Shapiro), John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ: 276.
 Root, Waverly et al., Eating in America, New York: Ecco, 1981: 127
 Diary entry, May 19 1774 by Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1943, 147.
 Diary entry, September 26, 1774 by Fithian, 257.
The holiday season has arrived at Historic Kenmore, bringing with it our annual display in the house of colonial wintry traditions from greenery to lovely desserts. Two years ago, I explored the mysterious origin of Betty Lewis’s hedgehog cake and even made a pretty passable replica. This year, there is another dessert on our table at Kenmore that I have been eager to talk about and even taste, syllabub.
Syllabub is no longer the favorite staple dessert it once was two hundred years ago. I decided to investigate this fluffy confection to learn its history and to attempt to recreate it. You may find that it’s worth reviving this old classic for your upcoming holiday celebrations!
One of the earliest references to this frothy treat is from a 16th century Tudor drama called Thersytes, when a character states, “You and I…muste walke to him and eate a solybubbe!” It continued to be mentioned through the 17th and 18th century in plays, poetry, art, diaries and cookbooks. From poet laureate Ben Jonson to famous diarist Samuel Pepys to pioneers in household management like Hannah Woolley, Eliza Smith, and Hannah Glasse, they all knew and appreciated this sweet treat.
Through the centuries, syllabub evolved to suit changing taste and convenience.
One of the oldest and most legendary syllabub recipes was informally known as “under the cow”. To make it, a poor dairymaid was supposed to milk a cow directly over a bowl of sugar, sack (a white fortified wine), brandy, and cider to create a “fine frothy top.” Then she was to let it sit for a few hours in a cool place. It sounds simple, rustic, and even pretty tasty. However, this recipe was more fantasy than reality and incredibly impractical. Despite being unsanitary, it doesn’t seem to work and splits the milk in a most unappetizing way.
If you don’t have a live cow, another syllabub recipe, also rather dubious, was the so-called “Poured or Teapot” approach. This method called for the maker to fill a container with milk and then, from a substantial height, pour it into a bowl of sugar, wine, cider or bandy, and a bit of lemon to create a light and frothy mixture. This could actually work, if the maker used a heavily enriched cream (similar to modern heavy whipping cream). Otherwise, it also tended to create an unpleasant curdle. 
The two former methods, if they worked, were supposed to create a syllabub that was more of a drink and that was pretty heavy on the spirits. By the 18th century, however, the “Whipt syllabub” became the most popular style of syllabub. It contained less alcohol and was used as a topping instead of as a drink. The recipe called for the whipping of cream, wine, lemon juice, sugar, and sometimes egg whites. As the froth started to develop, the maker spooned it off into a sieve and let it dry. After drying, the maker placed the little clouds of froth on top of a glass of sweet wine or jelly.
I decided to try this fourth style and used a recipe for my experiment called an “Everlasting syllabub” found on page 276 of Mrs. Eliza Smith’s cookbook The compleat housewife, or Accomplished gentlewoman’s companion, published in 1773. Betty Washington Lewis owned this book, which is listed on the 1781 probate inventory of Kenmore. Additionally, I picked this recipe because I don’t have access to a cow, didn’t want to create too much of a mess, and wanted to create a dessert rather than a liquor-infused drink.
18th century recipe
To make Lemon Syllabubs
Take a quart of cream, half a pound of sugar, a pint of white wine, the juice of two or three lemons, the peel of one grated; mix all these, and put them in an earthen pot, and milk it up as fast as you can till it is thick, then pour it in your glasses, and let them stand five or six hours; you may make them overnight.
Recipe using modern measurements and a mixer and that makes less syllabub:
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 cup white sugar
½ cup white wine or apple juice for non-alcoholic
¼ cup of lemon juice
2 tsp of grated lemon zest
Nutmeg to sprinkle on top
Whip the cream and sugar (slowly tbsp. at a time) in a bowl until the cream begins to thicken. Add white wine, lemon juice and zest and continue to whip until light and fluffy and just holds a peak. Make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and does not give the syllabub a grainy texture. Serve chilled with a dash of nutmeg or lemon zest. Makes 12 servings.
Syllabub can sit in the fridge for a few hours but you may get some separation of the wine and cream.
Everlasting syllabub creates a fluffier mousse that is great on its own or as a topping on jellies and trifles. The recipe is quite simple and requires heavy cream, white wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar. This is all beaten together until it is almost the texture of modern whipped cream. The ingredients are relatively inexpensive and it took less than 15 minutes to create and serve.
After taste-testing my refreshing treat with several colleagues, we arrived at a consensus that this indeed is a dessert that needs revived for our holiday celebrations. It is light, fluffy, and citrusy and would be a great palate cleanser after a heavy dinner or a nice change from dense baked goods. For families with children, a non-alcoholic version can be made by replacing the wine with apple juice.
Our experiment was a success and many of you may now have a new dessert gracing your holiday table, if you can keep from eating it all yourself.
 “Syllabub.” The Foods of England Project, http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/syllabuboldtype.htm.
 Day, Ivan. “Further Musings on Syllabub, or Why Not ‘Jumble it a pritie while’?” Historic Food, https://www.historicfood.com/Syllabubs%20Essay.pdf; Pepys, Samuel. “Sunday 3 August 1662.” The Diary of Samuel Pepys, https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1662/08/03/; Woolley, Hannah. The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet Stored With All Manner Of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying And Cookery. Very Pleasant And Beneficial To All Ingenious Persons Of The Female Sex. Duck Lane near West Smithfield, Richard Lowndes, 1672. J. Buckland, et al. 1773, pg 114; Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. London, Company of Bookfellers, 1747, pg 218.
 MacDonell, Anne. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London, Philip Lee Warner, 1910, pg 120.
 Nott, John. The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: Or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion. London, C. Rivington, 1723.
 Smith, Eliza. The Complete Housewife: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion. London, J. Buckland, et al. 1773, pg 276.
Twenty years ago, archaeologists digging at George Washington’s Ferry Farm unearthed the remains of a mid-eighteenth century kitchen. It was immediately obvious from the state of the artifacts that this kitchen had not simply fallen into to ruin and been abandoned – it had burned down. While this is fairly interesting in and of itself, a reexamination of the kitchen fire artifacts this year revealed surprising information about the intensity of the fire.
What first struck us was the sheer density of artifacts in this kitchen. We recovered A LOT of artifacts. Furthermore, these broken sherds could be mended to form almost whole bottles, crocks, jugs, pans, and such. The number of artifacts and the fact they could be put together to form entire objects tell us that the Washington family and their slaves did not have much, if any, time to salvage what was inside the burning kitchen. Food, wine bottles, food storage and preparation vessels and utensils, furniture, and more all destroyed exactly where they stood. Think of this kitchen as a mini Pompeii or Titanic. Just about everything that the Washington’s had in their kitchen went down with the ship and was still there, just squished and burned.
A preserved moment in time like this fire is a great opportunity for archaeologists to study the Washingtons but it comes with one big problem—most of the artifacts were totally cooked and absolutely toasted beyond recognition in some cases. Soft metal artifacts made from lead and copper, for example, were reduced to melted blobs by the fire. Ceramic vessels appear to have exploded from the heat and were reduced to blackened sherds. Some of the glass bottles survived with a minimal amount of warping from heat but the majority were melted or even burned in a process called ‘devitrification’. And oddly enough there was very little animal bone, which is usually ubiquitous in kitchens found archaeologically.
To put the intensity of this kitchen fire in context here are some quick statistics (in Fahrenheit):
- Lead melts at 621.4 degrees.
- According to the National Institute of Fire and Safety Training, the average modern house fire tops out at around 1,100 degrees.
- 1,400-1,800 degrees is the temperature at which bone will be destroyed
- Copper melts at 1,984 degrees
- Glass melts between 2,600 and 2,800 degrees.
Since the Washington kitchen fire was hot enough to actually burn glass, not just melt it, we’re looking at a fire that likely exceeded 2,800 degrees. That’s incredible! It also explains why there was so little animal bone recovered. Most bone was probably completely destroyed by the flames.
So, how on earth did the fire get that hot? We’ll probably never know, unfortunately. Some possible explanations may be the environmental conditions at the time of the blaze – a hot dry day with high winds could produce a perfect storm for a wooden kitchen to turn into an inferno. The fire also may have started at night when few people were awake to notice and try to put it out, although presumably the kitchen housed enslaved people, as was common for that time period. Another culprit may have been what was kept in the kitchen. There were dozens of wine bottles in there. While we call them ‘wine’ bottles today, they were actually all-purpose vessels that held any kind of spirituous liquid including harder alcohol like gin, whiskey, and rum, which are highly combustible. Animal products such as lard, tallow, beeswax, and even whale oil for lamps were likely stored in the kitchen and all burn quite well for long periods of time.
Regardless of the fire’s cause, it is clear from archaeological evidence that it happened quickly because not much within the structure could be saved, if anything. We also know that it burned extremely hot and for a sustained period of time in order to have caused so much damage to the items within.
Finally, perhaps, the last and the biggest mystery is where the replacement kitchen was located. Kitchens were almost all outbuildings because, as you may have deduced, they tended to catch on fire easily. A colonial household absolutely required a kitchen, however, and another would have been built almost immediately. Somewhere on the landscape at Ferry Farm, there is another kitchen waiting to be discovered archaeologically.
In the meantime, The George Washington Foundation plans to reconstruct the original Washington era kitchen so visitors can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of an eighteenth century kitchen, minus the blazing inferno, of course.
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Supervisor
Ceramics & Glass Specialist