CWL: A Civil War battlefield holds George Washington's childhood home. The location is directly across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. The Ferry Farm is not a part of the National Park Service's military park. From my exploration at the Ferry Farm and my reading of Rable's and O'Reilly's books on the battle, Washington's home is below (southwest) of the railroad trestle and the site of Sumner's crossing.
Text:Washington’s Boyhood Home Is Found, John Noble Wilford, New York Times, July 3, 2008
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 kitchen. 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 ships.
“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 rooms. 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.
Source of Text: New York Times, July 3, 2008
See the slide show on the the archaelogical work.
Illustration: A rendering of George Washington's family house and surrounding land at Ferry Farm in Stafford County, circa 1738. A ferry, which gave the farm its name, crosses the Rappahannock River in the foreground. Illustration by Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects.
Photo of Ferry Farm sign: SimplyFredericksburg.com