1776-L ArchivesArchiver > 1776 > 2008-07 > 1215089623
Subject:  Fwd: Washington’s Boyhood Home Is Found
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008 08:53:43 -0400
HISTORIC HOMESITE IS FOUND BY ARCHAEOLOGISTS
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From: Julia A. Krutilla <>
Date: Jul 3, 2008 8:34 AM
Subject: [WVBROOKE] Washington's Boyhood Home Is Found
To: "HANCOCK CO., WV Mailing List" <>, "BROOKE CO., WV
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Washington's Boyhood Home Is Found
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
Researchers announced Wednesday that remains
excavated in the last three years were those of
the long-sought dwelling, on the old family farm
in Virginia 50 miles south of Washington. The
house stood on a terrace overlooking the
Rappahannock River, where legend has it the boy
threw a stone or a coin across to Fredericksburg.
On the subject of legend, the archaeologists who
made the discovery could no more tell a lie than
young George. No, there was not a single cherry
tree anywhere around, not even a stump or a rusty
hatchet. The tale of the boy owning up to
whacking his father's prized cherry tree, the one
thing most people think they know of Washington's
youth, has long since been discredited as apocryphal.
But finding the house, archaeologists and
historians say, may yield insights into the
circumstances in which Washington grew up. Actual
documentary evidence of his formative years is scant.
"What we see at this site is the best available
window into the setting that nurtured the father
of our country," Philip Levy, an archaeologist
and associate professor of history at the
University of South Florida, said in an announcement of the discovery.
Dr. Levy and other members of the excavation team
said the foundations, stone-lined cellars and
other remains suggested that this was far from
being the rustic cottage of common perception,
but instead one befitting a family of the local
gentry. It was a much larger one-and-a-half-story
residence, with perhaps eight rooms and an adjacent structure for the
David Muraca, director of archaeology for the
George Washington Foundation, said the size,
characteristics and location of the structure, as
well as many artifacts from the time of
Washington's youth, had led experts to conclude
that this was indeed the house they were looking
for. "This is it," Mr. Muraca said firmly.
The announcement was made by the foundation,
owner of the National Historic Landmark site
called Ferry Farm. Archaeologists described the
excavations in a telephone news conference
arranged by the National Geographic Society, a supporter of the research.
George was 6 when the family moved to the farm in
1738. His father, Augustine, had bought the farm,
which then covered 600 acres, to be closer to an
iron furnace that he managed. The father and his
second wife, Mary Ball Washington, and their six
children occupied a house that had been built earlier in the century.
Among the few things known of that period are the
death of a baby sister, a house fire on Christmas
Eve 1740 and the death of Augustine, in 1743.
George eventually inherited the farm and lived in
the house until his early 20s, though he took to
spending more time with his half-brother Lawrence
at another family property, later known as Mount Vernon.
Washington's mother lived in the house until
1772, when she moved to Fredericksburg, and the
farm was sold five years later. The house was
demolished sometime in the early 19th century; an
1833 painting shows its ruins. Other old
buildings and newer ones were destroyed, their
timber probably burned as fuel, when the farm was
occupied by Union soldiers in the Civil War.
The search for anything left of the boyhood home
began in earnest seven years ago. Three likely
sites were excavated, Mr. Muraca said. At the
first, two years of work turned up ruins from the
17th century. The second set of ruins proved to
be from a house built in the mid-19th century.
For the last three years, the research team
sometimes as many as 50 workers in the field and
laboratories turned over the stones and soil at
the remaining site. "If we didn't hit here, we
had no other place to look," Mr. Muraca said.
From sections of foundation stones, the bases of
two chimneys and remains of four cellars, the
archaeologists determined the dimensions of the
main house, a rectangle 53 by 37 feet, not
counting the separate kitchen. Other evidence
from debris indicated that the house had a
clapboard facade and wooden roof shingles.
Mark Wenger, an architectural historian for Ferry
Farm, said the house appeared to have had a
central hallway with front rooms and back rooms
on each side and possibly three rooms upstairs
under the slope of the roof. The front rooms
faced on the river, which in those days was navigable to large sailing
"It was a very nice gentry house," Mr. Wenger
said, at a time when most people made do with houses of only one or two
The team found some charred ruins from the
documented fire, but they seemed to be confined
to one small area of the house. So stories that
the family was forced out into the cold winter to
live in outbuildings are suspect, the researchers said.
By the end of last year, Mr. Muraca said, "all
our data lined up, and we felt that beyond a
doubt we had found the Washington house."
Artifacts from the Washington period were
crucial. These included wine bottles, knives and
forks, pieces of small figurines, wig curlers,
bone toothbrush handles and a clay pipe with a
Masonic crest that just possibly was George's.
Fragments of an elaborate Wedgwood tea set,
presumably belonging to Mary Washington, showed
that the family's fortunes had revived after the
hardships immediately following the father's death.
The Washington foundation said archaeologists
would continue the search for other buildings and
gardens at Ferry Farm. The ultimate goal is to
reconstruct the house young George grew up in.
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