In this video, we see the flooring in the Washington house being installed and talk with Project Manager John Jeanes about the flooring materials and installation process.
As work continues on the reconstructed Washington family home at Ferry Farm, we archaeologists are continuing to identify items that were owned by the Washingtons so we can eventually fill the reconstructed house with plates, bowls, glasses, and many other objects based on artifacts we’ve discovered. Our latest mending project towards this goal involves glass tablewares. Piecing together thousands of fragments of clear tableglass is a special kind of agony but a wonderful amount of data has been collected from this painstaking exercise. And we’re not even close to being done yet! In this post, I’ve written about three of the glasswares we have identified in our study thus far.
LEAD GLASS BOTTLE
This particular fragment likely belonged to a small decanter or carafe. It could also possibly be part of a scent bottle, meant to hold perfumes. It was created using a pattern mold. The craftsman would have blown the glass into a simple mold with a ribbed pattern and then twisted it to get this diagonal line effect. He would finish the bottle by adding a separate piece of glass to create the delightful ‘ruffle’ on the neck. Below is an example of what the whole vessel may have looked like. Hopefully, we’ll find more fragments and know precisely what this piece is soon!
If you google ‘flip cup’, the first image result is a large red plastic cup commonly associated with college parties. The original flip cups were far more aesthetically pleasing. However, they too were used to enjoy recreational beverages. The drink called flip was the original cocktail and needed its own fancy glassware. Colonists loved flip and made it by combining a bizarre (by our modern standards) mixture of beer, hard liquor, spices such as nutmeg, a raw egg (a not uncommon ingredient in eighteenth century drinks), and then immersing a hot iron poker into the concoction. This resulted in a delightfully lukewarm eggy, boozy beverage that was then decanted into a decorative tumbler – the flip cup. While these cups were not only used for flip, the name has stuck. They are delicate and were often engraved with elaborate designs or scenes using a copper wheel. At Ferry Farm, we have a number of archaeological fragments of flip cups. Our examples are made of soda lime glass, not leaded glass, which is common.
This fragment represents what may be the fanciest glassware owned by the Washington family during their time at Ferry Farm. It is a piece of a pincered and buttressed handle that belonged on a vessel such as the beautiful goblet pictured below. Although the sherd may appear unassuming, it is likely part of an elaborate hand-blown Venetian piece made of finely crafted colorless soda lime glass with a barely visible bead of opaque glass running through the center. This would certainly have been a show piece and displayed prominently within the house.
Follow Lives & Legacies for updates on the Washington family’s glasswares we are identifying at Ferry Farm. More discoveries await!
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist
A few weeks ago at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, painters finished painting the exterior of the Washington house. They used a red color known as “Spanish brown.” The paint is linseed oil-based and actually behaves more like a stain. Modern oil-based paint can, in a way, be thought of as a plastic that laying atop the surface and coating the wood. The historic pigment we used actually seeps into the wood itself and essentially stains the wood the deep red.
In the 18th century, the pigment came from clay mixed with red lead, an iron oxide. The paint was “made by grinding the earth into a very fine powered consistency that would then be added to the linseed oil and turpentine – the content of the dirt and the amount used ultimately determined the color” which could range from “burnt orange through reds and into browns.”
Why did we choose Spanish brown as the Washington house’s exterior paint? Well, we have evidence, both documentary and archaeologically, that suggests the original Washington home was this very color.
First, our archaeologists recovered fragments of plaster with Spanish brown on them, which demonstrates the color was available and used at Ferry Farm.
Second, Mason Locke Weems wrote “The house in which he lived is still to be seen. It lifts its low and modest front of faded red, over the turbid waters of the Rappahannock.” (Page 11) While Weems included myths about Washington, his biography was published in 1800 meaning the house could certainly have still been standing for either him to visit or for persons who had seen the house to describe it too him. We know the house became a ruin just after 1830.
Finally, when paint analysis of colonial houses is done, Spanish brown is frequently encountered. The color was extremely popular during the 1700s. Here in Virginia paint analysis found it used at William Randolph’s Tuckahoe and in Williamsburg at Nathaniel Walthoe’s storehouse, Bruton Parish Church, and, most notably, the Peyton Randolph House.
Spanish brown was also popular beyond Virginia. It adorned the Palmer-Marsh House in North Carolina and Sotterley Plantation in Maryland. A survey of advertisements for Rhode Island paint shops between 1760 and 1819 found it offered “in nearly every ad.”
Spanish brown was “the ubiquitous color of colonial America” and “was cheap, probably the cheapest available – dirt cheap because it was dirt.” Its inexpensiveness did not prevent it from being popular among the gentry class. If possible, the Washingtons and their fellow gentry would have preferred homes of brick that symbolized “dominance, prosperity, and social status.” With this desire in mind, “red paint in its various shades can be seen as an attempt to give otherwise well-finished frame buildings the same aura of permanence that brickwork offered.”
Manager of Educational Programs
 Susan Buck and Willie Graham, Chap. 15 “Paint” in The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg, ed. by Cary Carson and Carl R. Lounsbury, Raleigh, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 364.
The roof of the rebuilt Washington house at Ferry Farm was recently completed. The work was done by tradesmen using a mix of 18th century building methods and 21st century equipment. The roofing was done by Peter Post Restorations.
Painters recently finished painting the exterior of the Washington house at Ferry Farm. The house was painted a red color common to the 18th century and known as “Spanish brown.” The paint was linseed oil-based just as it would have been in the 1700s. We’ll have a more detailed blog post in a few weeks explaining how we came to choose Spanish brown as the color to use. In the meantime, here are a few photos of the painters working as well as of the finished job.
Over the last week on Lives & Legacies, we’ve been talking a lot about the Washington house corner cupboard! We’re obviously excited because not only is the cupboard beautiful and a beautifully-made piece but because it also represents a shift from building the structure of the Washington house itself to an increased focus on the interior details as well as the start of the furnishing process.
As you learned in last week’s video and written post, talented joiners from Colonial Williamsburg built the corner cupboard. They also painted it and, recently, shared a quick timelapse video of the painting on the Historic Trades & Skills of Colonial Williamsburg Facebook page. We wanted to share the video too!