Welcome to the South Grove Midden gallery. This gallery presents just a sample of objects excavated by archaeologists from the eighteenth-century South Grove Midden located at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia plantation on the Potomac River. This is the most significant collection excavated to date relating to the domestic worlds of the Washington families and the enslaved individuals living and working around the Mansion. An analysis of the assemblage facilitates research into themes of consumerism, gentility, and plantation labor.
You made read about the site, excavation methods, view chronologies and stratigraphy, and read about current research on the South Grove site page: http://www.daacs.org.
You can access complete artifact and context data from the site through the DAACS queries. Simply choose the query you would like, select the South Grove site and other search parameters, and hit Submit. You data will be returned ready for browsing or downloading. Access the DAACS queries here: http://www.daacs.org/querydatabase/
This gallery is curated by Eleanor Breen, Deputy Director of Archaeology, Mount Vernon.
Artifact photographs in this gallery by Karen E. Price, George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Chinese Export Porcelain Plate with Grape, Bamboo, and Squirrel Pattern
- Press Molded
- ca. 1730-1760
- Length: 195 mm; Height: 24 mm; Width: 170 mm
This partially reconstructed Chinese export porcelain plate is one of seven excavated from the South Grove Midden, painted in a style known as Grape, Bamboo, and Squirrel. Visible in the center of the plate are small creatures–possibly squirrels or tree shrews, the Chinese equivalent–perched among the bamboo. Around the rim, the creatures eye bunches of grapes. These scenes are repeated around the plate, interspersed with a floral decoration called an hua, a nearly invisible decoration created by making a series of shallow incisions into the fabric of the porcelain before it is fired. Finally, encircling the central motif is a blue trellis border with the alternating Chinese symbols of the conch shell and the jade gong (or stone chime) within cartouches. Simple reeds or branches mark the underside of the rim.
Archaeologists often refer to cargoes associated with shipwrecks to aid in dating artifacts. There are many similarities between the South Grove Midden porcelain assemblage and that found on the 1745 Swedish shipwreck of the Gotheborg. The ship ran into an underwater rock on her return trip from China to Gothenburg, Sweden, carrying tea, silk, spices, and, of course, porcelain. The an hua motif is seen on multiple vessels and squirrels and grapes encircle the outside of teabowls found aboard the ship.
This matching set of plates, 9 inches in diameter, was probably used for more formal family dinners, as porcelain was among the most expensive ware types in the mid-eighteenth century. However, Chinese porcelains have been found in contexts associated with smaller plantation owners and slaves. This suggests that by mid-century, matching sets of dinner and tea services served as markers of distinction between upper and lower classes, as opposed to how mere presence and absence indicated status a century before. Deposited primarily in Phase 1 of the midden (ca. 1735-1758), these plates were most likely originally purchased and used by the Lawrence Washington household and discarded after his death in 1752.
Leaded glass decanter with copper-wheel engraved decoration
- Free Blown
- ca. 1755 to 1775
- Length: 65 mm; Height: 200 mm; Width: 80mm
This nearly complete glass decanter, or serving bottle, would have been a featured piece at the dining table. The interior neck of the decanter was intentionally ground, a routine stage of manufacture by 1745, for a stopper. The elongated shape, gently sloping shoulders, and tapering from shoulder to base suggests this decanter dates from ca. 1755 to 1775. This shape was not in favor for long, probably because of their instability due to the narrow base.
A chain of tulips above oval facets encircles the wine glass just below the rim. This Neo-Classical design is engraved using a copper wheel. Neo-Classical designs replaced the whimsy and asymmetry of Rococo at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Neo-Classical glasswares often feature cut, geometric decorations. This decoration is also present on a wine glass in the midden assemblage, suggesting that it was once part of a matched set of drinking wares. The earliest known matched set of decanter and wine glasses dates to ca. 1750. Both the decanter and the wine glass were excavated from Phase 2 of the midden (ca. 1759-1775).
Much like the teapot at a morning or afternoon tea service, the decanter played a central role in the ritual of wine service. Decanting, or the gentle pouring of wine from a cask or bottle into a serving vessel so as not to disturb the sediment, allowed the drinkers to consider the color of the wine and appreciate its attributes, instead of simply pouring straight from an undecorated dark green wine bottle into the glass. In the seventeenth century, wine or beer was transferred from cellar to table using a ceramic jug, but by the mid-eighteenth century, clear glass vessels became preferred by elite drinkers. Wine consumption offered an unparalleled opportunity to display wealth and status, from the purchase of finer products like Madeira to the use of specialized vessels like decanters. All classes consumed wine at some level, but the ability to enhance the process with proper accoutrements, conversation topics, and toasts, raised wine drinking from the everyday to the ceremonial in genteel homes.
"TR"-Marked Pewter Shoe Buckle
- 18th century
- 34.19 mm x 17.29 mm
The size of this small pewter buckle and the style of chape, or part that secures the buckle in place, suggests this is a shoe buckle from before ca. 1720. Men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes in the eighteenth century were often secured with buckles as opposed to laces. The artifact has a stud chape with an iron tongue. On the stud chape are cast the letters “TR,” most likely those of the unknown maker. The frame is decorated with a geometric design.
This buckle is very similar to a silver pair worn by Elizabeth Paschall on her wedding day, May 11, 1721. Those bear the mark (FR in a heart) of Francis Richardson (1681-1729), a Quaker goldsmith of Philadelphia.
Buckles served to fasten myriad articles of clothing, apparel, and horse-related items. They secured shoes, the knees of breeches, men’s stocks (neckcloths), hats, boots, garters, girdles, spurs, and even swords. Most buckles encountered on mid-eighteenth century archaeological sites were imported, though colonial blacksmiths had the technology to make them as well. Buckles ranged from the most fashionable, made of precious metals with elaborate decoration, to utilitarian, made of undecorated iron.
Rusticated White Salt-Glazed Stoneware Mug
- Wheel Thrown
- Length: 145mm; Width: 125mm; Height: 145mm
This object is a nearly complete and very large white salt-glazed stoneware mug, though most of its handle is missing. The mug held about a pint-and-a-half of drink, probably cider or beer. The vessel is decorated with bands of rustication, also called bread crumb, made with small, hardened pieces of clay. The clay bits were pressed into the body of the mug in its leather-hard state and secured in place by firing and glazing. This decorative attribute is also seen on a Nottingham stoneware mug in the assemblage (2577). The first documented shipment of white salt-glazed stoneware arrived at Mount Vernon in 1757; however, Lawrence Washington did own some pieces of this fashionable yet affordable ware type, as recorded in his estate inventory of 1753.
White Salt-Glazed Stoneware Coffee or Chocolate Cup
- Slip Cast
- Length: 40mm; Width: 44mm
Though this coffee or chocolate cup no longer has its base or handle, its intricate molded decoration tells a fascinating story. The cup is made of white salt-glazed stoneware and the decoration was produced using a technique called slip-casting, wherein liquid clay was poured into a plaster of Paris mold, creating contours of design visible on the exterior and interior surface. The decorative panels each depict a different Aesop fable–here, “The Fox and the Stork” and “The Fox and the Eagle.” In the eighteenth century, these fables were told to impart lessons of morality and were popular designs on tea and coffeewares made in Staffordshire, England, in the 1740s and 1750s. Discarded in Phase 2 of the midden (ca. 1759-1775), this cup could have served coffee and morals to both the Lawrence and early George and Martha Washington households. In fact, there were two copies of Aesop’s fables at Mount Vernon in 1764, one owned by George Washington and the other inherited by John Parke Custis from his father, Daniel, Martha’s first husband.
Manners, morality, and respectable behavior were crucial components of a genteel style of life sought after by George Washington and his peers. “The Fox and the Stork” fable taught members of the Washington households that one bad turn deserves another, while the moral of “The Fox and the Eagle” instructed that a tyrant is never safe from those whom he oppresses. Even at an early age, Washington had become highly attuned to the requirements of respectable behavior. Before he turned 16, Washington devoted time to copying by hand the 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. With rules like “bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak” and “Put not another bit into your Mouth til the former be Swallowed,” we glimpse Washington’s desire to display the proper etiquette and genteel manners of the Virginia gentry. One’s ability to exhibit these good manners during the tea ceremony, using vessels that reminded the tea-takers of their moral duties as well, is a classic example of eighteenth-century gentility.
Nottingham Stoneware Tea Pot
- Wheel Thrown
- Length: 115mm; Width: 65mm; Height: 75mm
This globular teapot featuring a paneled spout is made of Nottingham stoneware. Though Chinese porcelain is most commonly associated with colonial teawares, evidence from the South Grove Midden suggests that the genteel ritual of tea-taking could be expressed with other ware types as well, such as refined redware, white salt-glazed, and Nottingham stoneware. Found in the first phase of the midden (ca. 1735-1758), however, this brown teapot may have been purchased by Lawrence Washington, only to be cast aside when George Washington purchased more fashionable versions. Brown stone teawares are rare both in the archaeological record and in museum collections. Despite its modest appearance, the significance of this teapot cannot be overstated as an example of a form largely unknown in this material.
The pinnacle of eighteenth-century gentility required not only the proper items and accompanying manners to carry out an elegant tea service, but also an array of accoutrements that distinguished households by rank and status. By this period, tea bowls, saucers, and teapots were common household goods owned by individuals across the socio-economic spectrum. Less common and restricted to the gentry, like Lawrence and George Washington, was ownership of a complete tea set, which included things like tea tables, creamers, and slop bowls to make the tea ceremony more elaborate. Individuals of this stature also could afford multiple services of varying quality. The stoneware set might have served more informal teas, while the Chinese export porcelains were reserved for high-style affairs.
Colonoware Vessel with Scalloped Edge
- 18th century
- United State
- Length: 130mm; Width: 176mm; Height: 116mm
This oval-shaped colonoware bowl has a straight rim on the long axis and a crimped or scalloped rim on the short axis. Colonoware is fired at a low temperature, often smoothed or burnished, and hand-built from local clays, rather than thrown on a potter’s wheel. Colonoware often contains sand, grit, or shell temper to help bind the clay. This vessel is burnished and tempered with sand and quartz. What makes this vessel unique is the rim treatment on the short axis of the vessel and the intentionally formed hole below the rim. These unique features – the oval form, partially scalloped rim, and hole – have no precedent at Mount Vernon or any other archaeological site that we are aware of. We have speculated that the missing half of the bowl would have a mirrored short axis with additional scalloping. We also think that there was an opposing hole, possibly for a rope to hang the vessel like a basket, a plug handle to protect hands from a hot dish, or just for a finger-hold for ease of transportation. The scalloped rim is reminiscent of white salt-glazed stoneware porringer handles (for example, 2565) and earthenwares with pie-crust rims (for example, 2656).
Archaeologists believe that colonoware was made by Native Americans and African Americans in forms that sometimes mimicked their English counterparts and sometimes drew inspiration from Indian or African forms. This ware type is often excavated on archaeological sites associated with the enslaved. Colonoware offers an excellent example of the cultural complexity of eighteenth-century Virginia – a mix of native-born individuals and immigrants (bonded and free) from African, Indian, and European heritage. Inhabitants at Mount Vernon from ca. 1735 to 1758 (when this pot was deposited) were of both African and European heritage. As these individuals spent their days in close contact, cultures began to creolize by borrowing traditions from each other and creating new ones to suit a new world.
The extensive colonoware assemblage excavated from the South Grove Midden suggests its use in cooking, preparing, and consuming meals. Although slaves working in the kitchens of large plantations were trained in European styles of cooking, they may have done so in the clay pots with which they were more familiar. Additionally, smaller bowls may have dished out single servings of stews or other liquid-based meals to household slaves. There are no documentary traces of colonoware at Mount Vernon; very little was ever written down about the ware in colonial Virginia, and we have yet to find evidence of its manufacture here. Perhaps colonoware is evidence of an informal economy – bartered or sold at local markets or peddled from plantation to plantation. Though the ware type is more prevalent on sites in the lower tidewater region of Virginia near Williamsburg, there is a growing body of evidence of its important role in households both enslaved and free in the upper Potomac River region near Mount Vernon.
Faceted Colorless Glass-Inset Sleeve Button
- 18th century
- Length: 11.22mm; Width: 1.10mm; Height: 7.71mm
This small button has a faceted clear glass inset and a decorative copper alloy setting and once served as a pair of cufflinks, known in the eighteenth century as sleeve buttons. The button was linked to another identical sleeve button with a copper alloy link. This type of shirt sleeve closure was popular in the eighteenth century and their diverse shapes and decorative attributes made them fashionable, versatile consumer choices. Documentary and archaeological evidence suggests that men, women, and children sported sleeve buttons, which were also sometimes used to secure necklines or waistcoats in the absence of laces. Their affordability also made them attractive accessories for all classes. Unlike sew-on buttons, cufflinks represented a more temporary closure-type that could keep up with fashion trends.
Tubular Red Glass Bead
- 18th century
- Length: 10.23mm; Width: 4.26mm; Height: 4.26mm
This complete red glass bead with a green core could have adorned the clothing, apparel, or jewelry of Washington household members or the enslaved community. Beads are multi-functional artifacts that could have been, for example, strung together to make necklaces, dangled from earrings, or sewn onto shoes or pockets. This bead’s long tubular shape allows us to easily envision it being strung on a necklace. By the mid-eighteenth century, archaeologically recovered beads generally were made more simply and therefore possess less of the decorative flair seen in those of the seventeenth or early eighteenth century. This bead was made using a technique of drawing the glass into long tubes, breaking it into sections, and then reheating the sections to round the edges. Beads of this size, over 6mm, are variously referred to as “standard” or “big” beads.
Tobacco Pipe Bowl Marked with a Cartouche
- Length: 30.81mm; Width: 7.81mm
This tobacco pipe bowl is marked with the letters “CB” inside a circular cartouche on the right side of the bowl. These letters are the initials of the pipe maker. Tobacco pipe maker’s marks assist archaeologists in dating sites, based on periods of manufacture, and uncovering trade routes, based on place of manufacture. Tobacco pipe bowls marked in this style are typical of pipe makers in Bristol, England. Based on the date and location where this pipe was likely manufactured, the suggested maker is Charles Buckler, who worked in Bristol after he was freed from his apprenticeship in 1713 until his death in 1729. This period of manufacture falls well within the date suggested by the bowl type, 1700 to 1770. CB-marked pipes are by far the most abundant type excavated from the midden.
Fragments of tobacco pipes are frequently found on historic archaeological sites in the colonial Atlantic world. Smoking was a common practice in which everyone from young children to grown women and men participated. Clay tobacco pipes were fragile, but inexpensive, and when they inevitably broke, their fragments were discarded in trash pits like the South Grove Midden. Nearly all of the clay tobacco pipe fragments recovered from the midden were manufactured in England and imported to America.
Copper Alloy Trunk Plate Engraved with "Gen: Washington"
- United States
- Length: 82.5mm; Width: 50.66mm; Height: 2.81mm
This oval copper alloy plate, engraved “Gen: Washington,” is identical to a plate affixed to a trunk in the Mount Vernon collection which George Washington is known to have purchased secondhand on April 4, 1776, in Boston, soon after he took up his duties as general of the Continental Army. The plate on the trunk was placed over the initials of the previous owner, a Boston merchant named John Head. Throughout the Revolutionary War, the security of his official correspondence and orders was a perpetual concern for General George Washington. In the intervening weeks between the British evacuation of Boston and his departure to defend Manhattan, Washington obtained the travelling trunk to contain the increasing number of official papers in his possession. The trunk was part of General Washington’s baggage throughout the war, returning with him to Mount Vernon when he retired from military service in 1783. Given the similarity of the two specimens, the excavated plate almost surely had the same origin. The original trunk was made of rawhide, wood, leather and lined with linen. Only the metal hardware (tacks, hinges, and this plate) would survive archaeologically.
This is one of the few artifacts that we have found with George Washington’s name engraved upon it. The other object excavated from the South Grove Midden that can be linked directly back to Washington is the fragment of a silver scabbard collar engraved with part of his monogram (2696). Wine bottle seals with the crest, name, or initials of their past owners are encountered in the archaeological record at Mount Vernon and on other historic sites of the colonial period; however, it appears that George Washington did not have his own. The significance of these formally marked objects relates to an expression of gentility and status. For example, pewter dishes were widely available in the eighteenth century to consumers. However, a simple pewter plate could be elevated and distinguished with the placement of a family crest, as George Washington requested be done on a set of 96 pewter dishes in 1759.