Historical Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Greetings from Virginia! Though the #SHA2016 Annual Meeting is some months away, we are assisting the social media committee in presenting the archaeological outlets that the Washington, DC metro area has to offer. Archaeology plays a major role towards interpreting George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and we are pleased to take this opportunity to briefly introduce our program and some of our recent projects.

George Washington called Mount Vernon home for 45 years, and though two wars and a Presidency often called him away from his estate, Mount Vernon was his life’s work. Washington transformed a modest farm house into the mansion we see today, significantly altered the grounds around his homelot to create a formalized ornamental landscape, and successfully farmed an 8,000 acre plantation. A period of estate decline following Washington’s death in 1799 sparked a nation-wide effort to preserve Mount Vernon, spearheaded by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) who bought the mansion house and the surrounding 200 acres in 1858.

View form the Central Passage towards the Potomac. Photo Cred: Karen Price

While archaeological investigations at Mount Vernon have occurred since the 1930s, the majority of collections are from the professional archaeology program established in 1987 and a survey of the property conducted in 1984 and 1985. Excavations have yielded over a million artifacts providing a rich assemblage to study the intertwined lives of the plantation community: enslaved individuals, hired white workers, and Washington family members. Since the department’s inception we have excavated significant sites within Mount Vernon’s historic core including the south grove midden, a large concentration of trash associated with the Washington family from c. 1735–1765, and the House for Families cellar, the main slave dwelling used from c.1760—1793 located at Washington’s Mansion House Farm. Archaeological excavation and research has contributed to the re-discovery and reconstruction of George Washington’s whiskey distillery, a major operation which may have been the largest one of its kind in the United States by the close of the 18th century.

A visitor to the Estate. Photo Cred: Karen Price

Our archeology team is part of the Preservation Division of the larger Mount Vernon Department of Historic Preservation and Collections. Esther White directs our division, with archaeological fieldwork under the supervision of Deputy Director for Archaeology Eleanor Breen and Assistant Director for Archaeological Research Luke Pecoraro. Karen Price is our lab manager and photographer, and Leah Stricker serves as the field crew chief. Within the division is Deputy Director for Architectural History Thomas Reinhart, assisted by his staff of architectural conservator Steve Stuckey, and preservation technicians Elizabeth Rival and Caroline Spurry. Our staff also includes Eric Benson, who manages our GIS and viewshed preservation efforts. With our small staff we work together to fulfill the goals of our department to maintain, research, and manage the valuable historic resources at Mount Vernon.

The Mansion and Bowling Green after snowfall. Photo Cred: Karen Price

Current fieldwork will return us to the south grove this summer to fully investigate the transformation of the space form a work yard to a formal landscaped area, and we will continue an ongoing program of public archaeology in the estate’s slave cemetery. Our survey of the slave cemetery is an attempt to better understand the layout and number of individuals interred in a plot located just 200 feet south of the Washington family tomb. Our field and labwork keeps us busy year-round, and we regularly post updates via our FaceBook page—Historic Preservation at Mount Vernon—and invite you to follow us. An intensive evaluation of the finds from the south grove midden including high-quality artifact photographs was launched in web form recently and can be viewed here: http://www.mountvernonmidden.org/. Our website provides a great resource for these sites and programs in addition to the other activities going on at Mount Vernon: http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/archaeology/.For those of you who want to join us in the field this summer, check out our field school in historic preservation – http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/archaeology/volunteer-or-intern-with-the-archaeology-team/.

 

Famed 19th-century orator Edward Everett once remarked “A visit to the National Capital is but half made unless it includes the home and tomb of Washington.” When you make the trip to attend next year’s annual meeting, we hope that you will take some extra time for a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Links: What’s new in Historical Archaeology

It’s time to see what’s happening in Historical Archaeology once again. This week, our photo is from Valerie Hall, a graduate student at Illinois State University, of her children at SHA’s Public Archaeology Day, looking at the display from the Jefferson Patterson Maryland Archaeology Lab. You can read her post about their visit here! 

But now, it’s on to the links. As always, please share your links in the comments below!

Headlines

Conservators are working to preserve Civil War era graffiti in a former war hospital in Virginia.

The Society for Historical Archaeology was pleased to present Award of Merit to Historic St. Mary’s City this year.

Fiona Reynolds discusses the value and importance of cultural heritage to the economy, and government’s responsibilities to it.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation archaeologists have uncovered the Dyotville Glass Works (nice videos of their excavations).

DePaul students excavate at a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Resources

Looting Heritage is a new website that tracks and maps reported looting sites across the globe.

The Blogs

The Plowzone asks some questions about historical archaeology and New Humanism.

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program has released a new online exhibit.

Middle Savagery describes the physical effects of a long season out in the field.

Mount Vernon’s Mystery Midden’s Luke Pecoraro discusses the importance of clothing, and its representation in the historical and archaeological record.

And finally, a video about the Texas A&M Program in Nautical Archaeology, featuring some graduate research:

Photo Copyright All rights reserved by diggrrl on Flickr.

Friday Links: What’s Happening in Historical Archaeology

CivilWarArch

This week’s Friday Links brings you a new feature: a photo of the week! This week’s photo is of archaeologist Adam Fracchia showing of a ceramic fragment, while a future archaeologist works in a unit.  The excavations were completed this summer in Baltimore, a co-project between Baltimore Heritage and the National Parks Service. Also, please let us know what additional links or blogs you have in the comments so that we can start following you, and share your content with others!

Headlines

DePaul students are excavating a house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Jamestowne Rediscovery was featured on C-SPAN! Watch the video here.

Conferences and Calls

the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training is offering a three day summit on 3D digital documentation for the preservation of cultural heritage.

Resources

At American Antiquarian, you can view their Staffordshire Pottery of John Ridgway collection.

The Blogs

The blogosphere was full of a number of posts recapping the Baltimore conference:

Also, Matt Reeves from Montpelier looks over some of their artifacts from the summer, and shares some photos!
The folks at Colonial Williamsburg are investigating the tin shop! Check out the live web cam to see what they’re up to.

Did you write a post about your time at SHA? Any other headlines that we missed? Share them in the comments!

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