This summer, I had the pleasure of working with the George Washington Foundation on a Phase 3 archaeological investigation at Ferry Farm. Three recent UMW HISP alumni were also working on the project with me: Mason Schultz, Sam Melvin, and Danielle Arens.
George Washington’s Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm has been the site of archaeological investigations since the early 2000s, and it will continue as such for the foreseeable future. The ultimate goal of the GW Foundation is to reconstruct the property to the way it was when the Washington’s lived there from 1738 to 1772 and interpret it to the public. We spent our 11 weeks this summer uncovering the structural outline of a Washington-era outbuilding. Additionally, post-excavation analysis of the artifacts we found will be carried out in order to determine the function of the outbuilding.
We found a large number of architectural artifacts: various types of nails, window glass, and brick fragments; but we also uncovered quite a few ceramics and the occasional animal bone. One thing I learned at the beginning of the dig is that there was a wig-upkeep “business” at Ferry Farm during Mary Washington’s occupancy at the farm, likely employing the labor of the enslaved people that lived there. Thus, we were constantly on the lookout for ceramic wig curlers, which were made of white ball clay and would have been used to style the wigs of visitors.
In addition to artifacts, we were also looking for features, or remnants of past activities such as post holes (for structures) and pits. These manifested most often through a spot of darker and differently textured soil. The building, a post-in-ground structure, would have left staining in the soil from the hole dug (a post hole) and from the actual post itself rotting in the ground over time or being removed (a post mold). Previous field seasons had already found a line of 4 post holes, placed exactly 10 feet apart, so this summer we were looking for the other half of the building: a parallel line of post holes to complete the structure. The first sign we found what we were looking for, however, was actually not a post hole! We found a massive flat stone at a right angle and ten feet away from the end post hole of the previous digs. With the help of research archaeologists and architectural historians, it was determined that this stone would have been placed there as either repair or proper support for this structure. This stone was the first clue that we were digging in the right spot and had found the southern wall of our outbuilding. Throughout the rest of the dig, we were able to find and excavate two more post holes along the same line as the stone. Overall, my experience at Ferry Farm was incredible, and I gained equal parts muscle and experience.