|Location:||Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, VA, United States|
|Occupation Dates:||Second half of the 18th century. Phasing and mean ceramic dates can be found on the Chronology page.|
|Excavator(s):||The Virginia Research Center for Archaeology (1984-1985) and The Mount Vernon Ladies Association Archaeology Department under the direction of Dennis Pogue (1989-1990).|
|Dates excavated:||1984-1985 and 1989-1990.|
The surviving portion of a refuse-filled cellar located within the footprint of the 18th-century “House for Families” slave quarter was partially excavated in 1984-85 by the Virginia Research Center for Archaeology under contract with the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Staff of the MVLA Archaeology Department completed excavation of the feature in 1989-90. The cellar remnant, which was intruded by modern construction, is brick-lined and is roughly 6×6 feet-square; the height of the surviving walls is approximately four feet. Documentary data indicate that the associated quarter ceased to be occupied by 1793 and it is hypothesized that the excavated artifacts were deposited between 1759 and 1793.
Excavation history, procedure and methods
Initial fieldwork at the site was conducted in 1984-85 by archaeologists working for the Virginia Research Center for Archaeology under contract with the MVLA. The northern portion of the cellar fill was excavated, extending up to a cross-section that bisected the feature approximately one foot from the south cellar wall. Upon completion of that work, the cellar was backfilled and recovered with brick paving. In the winter of 1989-90, archaeologists employed by the MVLA reopened the site and completed excavating the feature. Unfortunately, during the removal of the backfill, a substantial portion of the cross-section collapsed. Those soils (47DELTA) were processed as a single mixed provenience, and were waterscreened through one-quarter-inch wire mesh. The remaining intact portion of the fill was excavated stratigraphically, with all soils removed and subjected to flotation off-site.
Summary of research and analysis
While the collapse of the cross-section made it impossible to completely re-examine the profile recorded in 1985, a considerable portion survived, enabling a relatively detailed re-evaluation of much of the stratigraphic sequence. This resulted in the interpretation that the previous investigators combined a number of what appeared to be separate strata, especially those comprising the middle section of the profile. More precisely, soils excavated as five layers in 1984-85 were reinterpreted in 1989 as actually comprising sixteen strata – all of the surviving portions of which were excavated separately at that time. The mixing of the strata during the earlier excavation hinders intra-feature analyses, but at least four separate depositional phases (dating between 1759 and 1793) are suggested based primarily on seriating the ceramics according to ware types. Artifact analysis proceeded by examining each of the assemblages according to the four depositional/temporal phases. The great majority of artifacts were found to originate in one of the phases. Artifact samples recovered from the other phases were determined to be too small to yield dependable results. Therefore, final analysis considered all artifacts from the four phases as comprising a single unit.
Documentary sources indicate that the quarter was demolished either in late 1792 or early 1793 following completion of the new slave quarter wings attached to the nearby greenhouse. A stratum comprised mainly of brick and mortar rubble, with nails, plaster, and domestic materials, constituted the uppermost layer of cellar fill and appears to derive from the destruction of the building. Below that layer, several strata that include coal, slag, ash, and iron fragments seem to represent the deposition of waste from the nearby North Grove blacksmith shop. That shop was in operation throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. The lower three feet of cellar fill is comprised primarily of numerous thin layers of mixed silty loam, suggesting that the space was filled in multiple discrete episodes during occupation of the structure above. Numerous large mendable ceramic fragments were recovered along with a number of large and relatively intact objects, such as pewter spoons and an iron hoe. Many fragile bones were also found, including several complete fish skeletons. Taken together, this evidence suggests that these layers represent primary trash deposition.
Interpretation of the House for Families artifact assemblage has focused on the correlation of what appears to be a relatively rich material culture with slaves who are hypothesized as enjoying a position of preferment due to their proximity to and presumed intimacy with the Washington household. The high quality of domestic materials provides additional evidence that slaves living near the planter’s household benefited from that proximity by receiving second-hand items. Analysis of the faunal materials (over 24,000 bones representing 53 taxa) suggests a diet that was more diverse than may have been the norm.
Dennis J. Pogue
Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens
Things you need to know about the House for Families site before you use the data:
- The House for Families site consists of a 6-by-6 foot, brick-lined cellar remnant, which was intruded by modern construction. No additional architectural or landscape features related to this quarter survive.
- The House for Families cellar was excavated in two field seasons, each run by different principal investigators. Each excavator employed their own sampling strategy. Contexts excavated by the Virginia Research Center for Archaeology (1984-1985), identified as “40,” were waterscreened through 1/4 inch mesh. The remaining feature contexts excavated by archaeologists employed by the MVLA were labelled “47” and were floated and waterscreened. During the removal of the backfill from the 1984-1985 excavations, a substantial portion of the cellar cross-section collapsed. Those sediments were processed as a single mixed provenience (47DELTA) and were waterscreened through one-quarter-inch wire mesh. The remaining intact portion of the fill was excavated stratigraphically, with all sediments removed and subjected to flotation off-site.
The original excavators of the House for Families site did not assign numbers to individual features. DAACS staff has assigned feature numbers using the original excavation records. Feature Numbers assigned by DAACS have a F-prefix, which precedes the number (i.e. F01 equals Feature 1).
Excavated contexts that belong to the same depositional basin (e.g. a posthole and postmold or the layers in a single pit) have been assigned a single feature number. In addition, single contexts have been given feature numbers when the original field records indicate that the excavators recognized a context’s spatial distinctiveness from surrounding contexts.
Feature groups are sets of features whose spatial arrangements indicate they were part of a single structure (e.g. structural postholes, subfloor pits, and hearth) or landscape element (e.g. postholes that comprise a fenceline). Feature Groups assigned by DAACS have a FG-prefix, which precedes the number (i.e. FG01 equals Feature Group 1).
|F01||Cellar||47DELTA, 40A, 40B, 40C, 47X, 40Y, 40G, 40BB, 47A, 47B, 47C, 47D, 47G, 47J, 47L, 47N, 47W, 40LL, 40N, 40M, 40P, 40R, 40S, 40PP, 40RR, 40DD, 40J, 40X, 40W, 40MM, 40E, 40KK, 40HH, 40Z, 47H, 47M, 47P, 47S, 47T, 47BB, 40K, 40F, 40D, 40H, 40L, 40U, 40CC, 40EE, 40GG, 40NN, 40FF, 47E, 47F, 47K, 47R, 47Y, 47AA|
DAACS Seriation Method
This page summarizes a frequency-seriation based chronology for the House for Families cellar that was developed by DAACS (see Neiman, Galle, and Wheeler 2003 for technical details). DAACS seriated ceramic assemblages, with more than five sherds, from individual excavated contexts and from stratigraphic groups — groups of contexts that field records indicate were part of a single stratigraphic layer or deposit. Stratigraphic groups have a SG-prefix, which precedes the group number (e.g. SG01 equals Stratigraphic Group 1). DAACS used stratigraphic groups to integrate stratification as recorded in 1985 by excavators from the Virginia Research Center for Archaeology and in 1990 by a team from Mount Vernon. In some cases, Mount Vernon made finer-grained stratigraphic distinctions than did VRCA. Hence the VRCA contexts were the basis of our stratigraphic groups and the finer-grained Mount Vernon contexts were assigned to them. For example, the sediment that the VRCA excavated as context 40E was excavated by Mount Vernon in four contexts: 47E, 47F, 47G, and 47H. DAACS combined them all into a single stratigraphic group: SG04.
DAACS chose to base the seriation chronology for the House for Families site on ceramic assemblages aggregated at the level of contexts and stratigraphic groups. All the contexts and stratigraphic groups belong to the same feature: the brick-lined cellar (F01).
DAACS computed the frequency of mean-ceramic-date (MCD) types in stratigraphic groups and in individual contexts, when those contexts had no stratigraphic group assignment. The seriation chronology is derived from a correspondence analysis of these MCD-type frequencies. Seriated assemblages were assigned to phases. Phases are groups of assemblages that have similar correspondence-analysis scores and are therefore inferred to be broadly contemporary. Phases assigned by DAACS have a P-prefix that precedes the phase number (e.g. P01 equals Phase 1).
The stratigraphic relationships among stratigraphic groups and unassigned contexts are summarized in the Harris Matrix for the site. Phase assignments from the seriation are shown on the Harris Matrix in color, facilitating comparison of the seriation chronology and the stratigraphic chronology of the site.
House for Families Phases
Based on the correspondence analysis, DAACS divided the assemblages from the House for Families layers into three phases. The bulk of the assemblage from the cellar belongs to Phase 1, most of which predates the American Revolution. Phases 2 and 3 postdate the Revolution. The phases hint that the cellar was filled in two or perhaps three discrete episodes that took place for several decades, an inference made by the original excavators (Pogue and White 1991). As might be expected, the seriation placed the assemblage of ceramics recovered from a portion of a cross-section through the cellar that collapsed during excavation (47DELTA) intermediate between Phase 1 and 2.
A Seriation Chronology for the House for Families Site
The following table presents a seriation chronology for House for Families. We use the indefinite article to signify that it is not the only chronology possible, nor even the best one possible. DAACS encourages users of Archive data to help explore improvements.
House for Families Harris Matrix
The Harris Matrix summarizes stratigraphic relationships among excavated contexts and groups of contexts that DAACS staff has identified as part of the same stratigraphic group. Stratigraphic groups and contexts are represented as boxes, while lines connecting them represent temporal relationships implied by the site’s stratification, as recorded by the site’s excavators (Harris 1979).
Stratigraphic groups, which represent multiple contexts, are identified on the diagram by their numeric designations (e.g. SG06) followed by the original excavator’s descriptions of them (e.g. “Black ash lens”). Contexts that could not be assigned to stratigraphic groups are identified by their individual context numbers (e.g. 40KK).
Boxes with color fill represent contexts and stratigraphic groups with ceramic assemblages large enough to be included in the DAACS seriation of the site (see Chronology). Their seriation-based phase assignments are denoted by different colors to facilitate evaluation of the agreement between the stratigraphic and seriation chronologies. Grey boxes represent contexts that were not included in the seriation because of small ceramic samples.
This Harris Matrix is based on data on stratigraphic relationships recorded among contexts in the DAACS database. It was drawn with the ArchEd application. See http://www.ads.tuwien.ac.at/arched/index.html.
See House for Families Chronology for stratigraphic and phase information.
For a printable version, download the Harris Matrix [143.95 KB PDF].
PDF of excavator's plan compiled by DAACS from original field drawings.
CAD site plan in .dgn format.
Arendt, Beatrix , Fraser D. Neiman , and Jillian E. Galle
2003 Model Consumers? Clues to Ceramic Acquisition at Slave Quarter Sites in the Greater Chesapeake. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On file at the Department of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Atkins, Stephen C.
1994 An Archaeological Perspective on the African-American Slave Diet at Mount Vernon. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia.
1993 Faunal Remains from the House for Families Cellar. Prepared for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Archaeology Department, Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Harris, Edward C.
1979 Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy. Academic Press, London, England.
Neiman, Fraser D., Jillian E. Galle , and Derek Wheeler
2003 Chronological Inference and DAACS. Unpublished paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Providence, Rhode Island. On file at the Department of Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Pogue, Dennis J.
2001 Slave Lifeways at Mount Vernon: An Archaeological Perspective., Slavery at the Home of George Washington In Slavery at the Home of George Washington, edited by Philip J. Schwarz, pp. 111-129. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Pogue, Dennis J.
2003 The Domestic Architecture of Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon., Winterthur Portfolio In Winterthur Portfolio 37(1): 3-22.
White, Esther C., and Dennis J. Pogue
1991 Summary Report on the “House for Families” Slave Quarter Site (44FX762/40-47), Mount Vernon Plantation, Mount Vernon, Virginia., Archeological Society of Virginia Quarterly Bulletin In Archeological Society of Virginia Quarterly Bulletin 46(4): 189-206.