July 2, 2008

George Washington’s Boyhood Home Found

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of George Washington's boyhood home, but have been unable to find any evidence of the fabled "cherry tree" and "rusty hatchet".

The site is located at Ferry Farm, just across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Va., about 50 miles south of Washington.

David Muraca, director of archaeology for The George Washington Foundation, said it was the setting for many important events in Washington's life.

He noted that most biographies offer little detail of the first president's youth, so the discovery may provide insight into Washington's childhood.

"There is evidence that the house was a one-and-a-half-story residence perched on a bluff overlooking the river," said Philip Levy, associate professor of history at the University of South Florida.

The site where the foundations of Washington's home were discovered was built during the first part of the 18th century fit the type of house in which Washington would have lived and also yielded artifacts likely linked to his family.

"If George Washington did indeed chop down a cherry tree, as generations of Americans have believed, this is where it happened," said Levy.

Currently, the researchers said the artifacts they have recovered did not include a hatchet.

"There is little actual documentary evidence of Washington's formative years. What we see at this site is the best available window into the setting that nurtured the father of our country," Levy said.

"Now that we have identified the home, we can begin understanding Washington's childhood, as well as dispel some of the folklore surrounding the president's life," said Muraca.

For instance, the tale of Washington's chopping down the cherry tree with a hatchet and confessing to his father has never actually been proven.

The 113-acre Ferry Farm is a National Historic Landmark and was known as the former home of the Washington family, but previous attempts to locate the house itself had been unsuccessful.

Researchers said most of the wood from the home was reused by builders on other structures or was damaged in the Civil War, and part of the foundation eroded away.

But archaeologists dug through layers of dirt and found two chimney bases and stone-lined cellars and root cellars.

Found within the cellars were pieces of the house's ceilings and painted walls, fragments of 18th century pottery and other ceramics, glass shards, wig curlers and toothbrush handles made of bone.

They also recovered larger objects such as pieces of a tea set that probably belonged to George's mother, Mary Ball Washington; wine bottles, knives, forks and 10 pieces of a group of small figurines that might have stood on a mantle, said Muraca.

A well-used pipe bowl, blackened from smoking and marked with a Masonic crest was also found. Washington joined the Fredericksburg Lodge of the Masons in 1753.

"While we can't say that this was George Washington's pipe, we can wonder about it," Levy said.

Eventually Washington moved to his half-brother's estate at Little Hunting Creek, south of Alexandria, Va., later renamed Mount Vernon.

The National Geographic funded the research with the help of the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Dominion Foundation, the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and many individuals.