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.
There truly is a National Day for absolutely everything and even a National Underwear Day! That’s right! Undergarments have their own appreciation day and, to be precise, it was August 5. At first glance, National Underwear Day may seem rather silly but actually we probably don’t give enough thought to the importance of underwear. Before August ends, we want to remedy that by taking a look at underwear from a historical perspective. Have you ever wondered why there are so many names for our various undergarments? It turns out that all the names we have for underwear today are rooted in the past.
Underwear as we know it today didn’t really get its start until the 1800s. Prior to that, people like the Washingtons and the Lewises actually didn’t wear much at all under their numerous layers of clothing. Women wore nothing under their shifts (which were loose-fitting, waistless dresses that acted as the first layer of a woman’s wardrobe and were sometimes the outer layer in hot weather or workday situations). Men’s shirts were initially similar to shifts in that they were all-purpose – base layer, outer layer, sleep shirts, etc. But, men were actually the ones who began the trend toward true undergarments.
In Washington’s day, men wore breeches on the outside, but they also wore a similar lighter weight garment underneath, which came to be known as “drawers.” Why drawers, you ask? The prevailing theory is that the name comes from the fact that early versions of this undergarment were actually two separate legs that had to be “drawn” up and tied in place, hence why we still refer to underwear as “pairs” even though they are single garments now – “a pair of drawers”, “a pair of underwear.”
Eventually, women adopted men’s undergarments for themselves, with some modifications. This is the point where the ubiquitous term “pants” has its beginnings. “Pantaloons”, “pants”, and “panties” all come from the same remarkable origin, a Catholic saint, martyred in the 1st century A.D. named Saint Pantaleon. Now, Saint Pantaleon had nothing to do with pants himself but centuries after his death, he became a focus of religious zealotry in Venice, Italy, where many men wore a peculiar type of breeches that were rather poofy. Because the men who were also a part of the cult of Saint Pantaleon wore these same poofy breeches, they came to be known as “pantalones.” Additionally, because of their rather flamboyant behavior and dress, pantalones became the stereotypical way to depict Venetian characters in comedic plays, which travelled across Europe. Eventually the most distinctive characteristic of these comedic characters, the poofy breeches, became iconic and took on the name “pantaloons.”
Interestingly, pantaloons became a popular fashion accessory among women in France, as an undergarment that was intentionally meant to be seen under slightly shorter dresses. When the fashion reached England, it was primarily among men, and eventually the word “pantaloons” was shortened to “pants” and applied to any outerwear bottoms generally. Among women, they remained undergarments, which got continually shorter and smaller as the centuries passed, and are now referred to with the diminutive “panties.”
And now the term “knickers.” Although this name for both male and female underwear got its start in the United States, its current usage is much more common in Great Britain. In 1809, Washington Irving wrote A History of New York under the pen name Dietrich Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker was depicted in newspaper illustrations wearing loose-fitting, almost baggy, breeches tied or buckled at the knee. This style of knee breeches had become highly fashionable among young men in America, and the press surrounding the book and Knickerbocker himself added to the trend. Eventually, the style became known as “knickerbockers” but the breeches weren’t an undergarment. Men wore them to play sports (one of the first professional baseball teams was called the New York Knickerbockers, and knickerbockers were standard baseball uniforms well into the 20th century) and for casual wear.
Once again, though, women saw a handy piece of clothing, and altered it for their own purposes. At this point in women’s fashion, hoops and cages were being used to hold skirts out and add volume. Things were a bit drafty under those cages, and knickerbockers seemed like the perfect solution. In order to capitalize on this trend, manufacturers had to differentiate the bottoms that men were wearing for manly pursuits from the bottoms that ladies were wearing under their hoop skirts, and so “knickers” were born. Much like pantaloons, knickers kept getting shorter and smaller until they were basically the same thing as panties.
And there you have our brief history of underwear for National Underwear Day!
Meghan Budinger, Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations
Each January, Historic Kenmore presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation that imagines the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis spent in their newly built home. The play is set in January 1776 and that year is not a time for the usual celebration. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.
The 2019 edition of Twelfth Night at Kenmore took place January 11 and 12. Here are a few photos from the performances.
It’s the 32nd year of a a long-standing holiday tradition: the Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm! This year’s theme is “Cartoon Adventures.”
Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of these festive creations displayed at Ferry Farm! Ferry Farm’s hours are Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Ferry Farm is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The gingerbread exhibit ends on December 30. General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $9 adults, $4.50 students, under 6 free while admission to the exhibit only is $4.50 adults, $2.25 students, under 6 free.
For more information, call (540) 370-0732 x24 or email email@example.com.
Old, crushed, and rusted food cans in and of themselves aren’t terribly interesting, at least not to me. But when the can contains 150-year-old bullets, it becomes very interesting indeed. Recently, while going through our artifact collection database, I came across an item excavated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm nearly 20 years ago and simply listed as a ‘can’. Wanting to know the exact nature of this can (Was it a food can? Was it a paint can?), I looked at the database’s comments section, which sometimes describes an artifact in more detail. The comment read: “Smashed can containing Minié balls.” Now this can had my full attention! I had the can pulled from artifact storage and was not disappointed. It was, as advertised, a flattened can with at least 3 visible Minié balls lodged inside. Furthermore, there was something not visible rattling around inside of it. Because it had simply been cataloged as a ‘can’, it escaped the notice of our crack team of research archaeologists for two decades. I began investigating!
First, I wanted to know the age of the can. I knew the Minié balls dated to a little over 150 years ago when Union soldiers were stationed at Ferry Farm during the Civil War. The can, however, may have been from a later date. In oral histories, people who lived at Ferry Farm in the 20th century have mentioned collecting Civil War bullets in cans so my initial assumption was that this was the forgotten treasure of a relic hunter. The next step was to examine the other artifacts recovered with the can at the same time and in the same spot on the Ferry Farm landscape. All of these artifacts were from the mid-19th century. Furthermore, the can was excavated from smack dab in the middle of a Civil War trench that runs across Ferry Farm. So the can and the bullets were from the same time period.
But the can didn’t look anything like a typical cartridge box. It looked like a run of the mill tinned food can and what was rattling around inside? It was time to do some science! I took the can to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources where their awesome conservator Katherine Ridgway was kind enough to x-ray the can. The x-rays proved the can was a food can and that the rattling object inside was another Minié ball.
While we now know a lot more about our can now, one mystery still remains. Why did a soldier store some of his bullets in a can? What we do know is that, at some point, the can was abandoned or forgotten at the bottom of the trench and then crushed either under a boot or by the weight of the dirt once the trench was filled in after the war. A 150 year old moment in time captured in the archaeological record.
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Archaeology Lab Supervisor
Archaeological excavations at George Washington’s Ferry Farm have occurred nearly every summer since The George Washington Foundation purchased the property in 1996. The summer of 2017, when the majority of the replica Washington house construction was underway, was the major exception. The archaeological site was proved too close to ongoing construction so excavations were put on hold until the summer of 2018.
This year, a five person crew consisting of a field director Steve Lenik, assistant field director Elyse Adams, and interns Reagan Andersen, Cheyenne Johnson, and Aileen Kelly worked from April to July on the Ferry Farm property. For five weeks, an additional seven students from Georgia Southern University and the University of South Florida came to Ferry Farm for a field school, to learn the basics of excavation and lab work.
The North Yard
We investigated two areas. The first, an area at the crest of the ridge to the north of the replica house, was the North Yard. This yard lies between the Washington House and a slave quarter that was completely excavated in previous years. The purpose of digging in this area was to find evidence about who controlled this space. Was it the domain of those who lived in the Washington House or of the enslaved population who lived in the quarter?
Excavations are not yet complete in this area, but we discovered that this space was relatively clean compared to the Work Yard and areas immediately behind the Washington house, where a lot of trash and debris from daily 18th century activities were found during past excavations. The lack of trash and debris in the North Yard was likely because, in colonial times, this was part of the property visible from Fredericksburg and therefore was well-kept A public space like this one would have likely fallen under the control of those who lived in the Washington house.
We were also looking for evidence of any other outbuildings and gardens, in order to accurately recreate the landscape of the farm as it was in the 1700s. We discovered evidence of large trees that lived on the landscape during the 18th century in this area. This discovery will allow archaeologists to look even closer into the use of this space with the goal of re-creating it as it was in the time of the Washingtons.
The Work Yard
The second area we investigated during this summer’s dig was behind the Washington house in the Work Yard, which is exactly what it sounds like—a space for work to be done on a farm in the 1700s. This space is special to our research here at Ferry Farm. Much of this space was excavated already in past years, yielded a treasure trove of artifacts and information, and was then filled back in once excavations were complete.
One small area just behind the house was left to excavate, however, and that’s where we worked this summer. We discovered large stains in the soil, very deep in the ground. They were made during the colonial era but, as yet, we do not know why. This area was originally thought to be a cellar, but as excavations continued, we began to notice a series of pits instead. Analysis is still ongoing and artifacts excavated in this space are still being processed so we don’t have answers to any of our questions yet.
Nevertheless, our minds were racing with possible explanations of these pits and we couldn’t help but wonder if they were somehow related to Ferry Farm’s collection of at least 215 wig curlers—very unusual finds for a Virginia farm—that were excavated above or around this space.
It’s far too soon to tell, we don’t have any complete answers, and we still aren’t finished excavating the Work Yard, but this area already is proving important to the Ferry Farm story. Once we understand the landscape and complete the Work Yard excavations, the 18th century outbuildings that have been identified and that once stood in this space will be replicated just like the main house.
Future excavations will continue to yield the information we need to replicate the entire boyhood landscape of George Washington’s home. Every bit of information, no matter how small the tree root or how tiny the artifact, is pertinent to the understanding and accurate interpretation of this important landscape, and to understanding the lives of all who have lived and worked here. We look forward to many more years of discovery, and many more summers of digging into the history of the Washington Farm.
Elyse Adams, Archaeologist
Assistant Field Director
Sunny days. Blue skies. Blooming flowers. Spring at Historic Kenmore is a beautiful time!
To plan your next visit to Kenmore, go to kenmore.org/visiting.