Photos: The Fourth of July at Ferry Farm 2017

Scenes from last week’s Independence Day celebration at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

Video: Building George’s House – Timber Framing

The timber framing of the Washington house is complete. In this video, we get a close-up view of the construction of the house’s timber frame. For a timelapse view of the timber framing, watch this video. To see how the beams in the frame were fashioned, watch this video.

Learn more about the Washington House here and view other videos, photos, and blog posts about the project here.

Top 5 “Lives & Legacies” Posts of 2015

This December marks the one-year anniversary of Lives & Legacies: Stories from George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore. As we bring the blog’s first year to a close, we thought it might be worthwhile to share once again several of our most read entries from 2015. We hope you enjoy reading them for the first time or reading them again as we move into 2016 and year two of Lives & Legacies.

Here are our Top 5 Most Read Posts of 2015:

#5… Nancy Hallam: America’s First Celebrity Actress tells the story of the the earliest known acting troupe in the colonies and that troupe’s close connection to Virginia.  At the center of this story was a young actress named Nancy Hallam, whose talent was greatly praised at the time and who probably performed for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Her renown was such that she was even painted by Charles Willson Peale.

#4… What is this Artifact? is one of many entries during the year focused on one particular artifact recovered by archaeologists at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.  As is often the case with archaeology, the artifact presented a mystery to solve.  A variety of alterations to an 18th century leaded glass base from a cup or mug raised the possibility that the resulting glass disc may have been a homemade toy top.

#3… George Toasts George? investigates the political meanings found in Westerwald stoneware recovered at Ferry Farm.   The presence of these artifacts celebrating the British Crown at George Washington’s boyhood home show that until the Revolution the Washington family, like most Americans, viewed themselves as loyal subjects of the king.  It is indeed intriguing to picture a young George Washington drinking heartily from a ‘G.R.’ mug and toasting a king against whom he would lead a revolution.

#2… After Digging: What Happens in the Archaeology Lab?  reveals that archaeology is far more than just digging for artifacts. In fact, generally, archaeologists spend 3 days in the lab cleaning, cataloging, labeling, and analyzing objects discovered for every 1 day spent digging them up. This post explains the process artifacts go through in the lab after being excavated from an archaeological site.

#1… Perukes, Pomade, and Powder: Hair Care in the 1700s begins with the fact that archaeologists at Ferry Farm have recovered a variety of hair care artifacts, including over 200 wig hair curlers.  These baked clay curlers were used exclusively to curl wigs, or ‘perukes’, and formed part of the Washington family’s regimen of wig maintenance.  The regimen included wearing wigs made from human hair, styling those wigs using pomades made from animal fats, and powdering them with flour or clay.  The post also discusses why powdered wigs were highly fashionable among gentlemen of the 1700s.

A Secret Society and a Historical Mystery

Occasionally, archaeologists uncover an artifact which raises more questions than it answers.  Recent re-examination of artifacts recovered from Historic Kenmore revealed a number of ceramic sherds with an elaborate but unidentified crest. Determining the ware and vessel type was a snap, it was clearly a creamware pitcher with olive over-the-glaze printing.  The glaze may have originally been black but, because it was not glazed over, the decoration degraded after burial.

Mystery Sherds

The perplexing ceramic fragments recovered during archaeological excavations at Historic Kenmore.

But what of the mysterious crest?  Did it belong to a family or a specific city?  Thankfully, it was a fairly distinctive crest with a multitude of phrases written on it including “Industry Produceth Wealth”, “We Obey”, “Be Merry And Wise”, “Freedom With Innocence” and “Unanimity Is The Strength Of Society”.  In archaeology terms we would call it ‘talky’.  Unfortunately, nowhere on the pitcher did it state a family’s name, a city’s name, or clearly indicate the identity of the crest in any other way. Talk about frustrating!

One of the problems lay in the popularity of drinking vessels emblazoned with similar motifs during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.   Ceramic vessels such as punch bowls, mugs, and pitchers printed with scenes or crests proclaiming the political views, the patriotism, or the private affiliations of the owner were quite common.  After many hours of pouring over books and the Internet later, we discovered the identity of the mysterious crest.  It belonged to an organization called The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Bucks.

Crest 01

The crest of The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Bucks as it would have appeared on the complete pitcher.

The Society of Bucks was a somewhat obscure secret fraternal organization (sort of like the Masons) that claimed it descended from Nimrod, a Mesopotamian king figuring in several Biblical stories.  Despite these allegedly lofty origins, in reality, the society was more of a gentlemen’s drinking club known for its rowdy parties.  A member of the society in the 1770s – a man known to history only as “Hurle” – left the group after becoming disgusted with their behavior. In 1781, he founded another fraternal order known as the Ancient Order of Druids, which forbade its members from using profanity or discussing politics.  Apparently, the Society of Bucks had quite a reputation.

Joseph Highmore's A Club of Gentlemen

“A Club of Gentlemen” by Joseph Highmore, circa 1730. Public domain.

The Society existed in Britain from the 1720s through the 1820s.  It’s heyday seems to have been in the 1760s and 1770s.  The fragments found at Kenmore showing the Bucks crest indicate the vessel dates to sometime after 1757.  The Society’s crest had a different appearance before that year, when John Sadler published a print of a new version of the crest.

While these fragments indicate the presence of a very specific piece that we can now set about acquiring for display in Kenmore, they have also opened a window on a completely new possibility in our knowledge of Fielding Lewis’s life.

Fielding was a Mason, having joined the Fredericksburg Lodge in 1754, but his level of involvement in the organization has always been unknown.  Masonry at the time was as much about secret vows and handshakes as it was about social status and business connections.  It also had a heavy political component, as many of the leaders of the colonial revolutionary movement were Masons.  It is unknown which aspect appealed most to young Fielding.  As with most things in his life, we are left with very few clues as to his thoughts and motivations, especially from his own hand.

One fact that we thought we had firmly nailed down was the surprising notion that he had never been to England, or even left Virginia.  For a man of his status, and of his family’s status during his childhood, it is rather unusual that Fielding had never visited England, whether for business or education.  But no historical document makes mention of such a trip, and in the timeline of his life it is hard to find a window in which such a lengthy voyage could have taken place.  The discovery of the Society of Bucks fragments at Kenmore raises some intriguing possibilities.

First, the society originated in Liverpool, the city in which most of Fielding’s trade relationships existed.  It apparently never made the leap across the Atlantic to the New World, as no indications of the Society of Bucks being present in the colonies has ever been found.  If Fielding could never have encountered the Society of Bucks in Virginia, and he never travelled to the city with which he did so much business, how did he come to own these vessels? Is it possible that he did in fact visit Liverpool at some point? While there, did he perhaps join the local fraternal society as a way to network with local businessmen, much as he did with the Masons in Fredericksburg? Were these vessels perhaps a gift from members of the Society? Whatever the case, the archaeological fragments found at Kenmore continue to call into question some long-held beliefs about Fielding Lewis’s life and remind us again that history is a dynamic and ever-changing story.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

Lives & Legacies: An Introduction

Lives and legacies fascinate. How people lived and shaped the world in which we live today are what many find most compelling about the past.

Lives and legacies are on our minds daily at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore. Indeed, the mission of The George Washington Foundation, which operates these two historic sites in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is to enhance the public understanding and appreciation of the lives, values, and legacies of George Washington, Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, and their families.

Foundation of the Washington family home at Ferry Farm, where George Washington spent his boyhood. The photo shows the foundation in 2008 when it was discovered by archaeologists.

Foundation of the Washington family home at Ferry Farm, where George Washington spent his boyhood. The photo shows the foundation in 2008 when it was discovered by archaeologists.

George Washington lived on the land now known as Ferry Farm from the age of six until he was grown. It is here, under guidance from his mother Mary Ball Washington, that he developed the traits and skills that would propel him to greatness. The life he lived as a boy on this ground proved pivotal to his legacy as commanding general of the Continental Army and first president of a new nation.

Historic Kenmore, home of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, on a foggy December morning.

Historic Kenmore, home of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, on a foggy December morning.

George’s sister Betty Washington and her husband Fielding Lewis built Historic Kenmore in 1775, just as the American Colonies began their war of independence from England. Kenmore stands today as a fine example of an 18th-century, Georgian-style house and boasts some of the most elaborate plasterwork from colonial America. More than architecture and plaster, however, the house was the Lewis family’s home where they lived a life of happiness and then, with the onset of war, a life of sacrifice.

The lives and legacies of George Washington, Betty Washington, Fielding Lewis and their families are not the only ones with which we are concerned. Enslaved people, neighbors, Civil War soldiers, residents after the Washingtons, and Native Americans before the Washingtons all have valuable and fascinating lives and legacies to discover.

All of these people are why we have titled this blog “Lives & Legacies.” On this blog, we will share stories about their lives and explore the impact of their legacies down to the present day. We’ll examine archaeological artifacts uncovered during digs at Ferry Farm and historic objects on display at Historic Kenmore. We’ll discover how these artifacts and objects were used by people in the past and what they can tell us about their daily lives. We’ll delve into the role of nature and landscape in shaping lives and legacies and give you updates about native plants in Ferry Farm’s woods and what’s growing in Kenmore’s gardens. We’ll share thoughts and updates from our archaeologists, curators, and educators about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into our research and preservation efforts. Lastly, we’ll provide insight into our exhibits, programs, and special events.

Click the Follow button in the sidebar on the right (below The George Washington Foundation logo) and sign-up to receive an email whenever a new post goes up. You also might like to follow “The Rooms at Kenmore” blog, which documents the ongoing refurnishing of Historic Kenmore, at http://www.kenmore.org/wordpress. In the meantime, you can visit http://www.kenmore.org for a wealth of historic information about the lives and legacies of the Washingtons, Lewises, and more.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs