|Location:||Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, VA, United States|
|Occupation Dates:||Mid-eighteenth century|
|Excavator(s):||Christy Leeson and Thane Harpole, under the direction of Esther White|
|Dates excavated:||February and March 1998|
In early 1998, archaeologists from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association were given a unique opportunity to conduct excavations below the extant floor of the Servants Hall (built in 1775) in conjunction with a project to restore the northeastern outbuilding flanking the mansion’s west front. Part of this project required the removal of the modern floor, at which time archaeologists excavated 5 test units. This work revealed foundations of an earlier generation outbuilding, thought to be the wash house as documented in Lawrence Washington’s 1753 probate inventory (Washington 1753), including the northeastern corner of the building and hearth.
Just north of the northeast corner of the wash house foundation, archaeologists exposed and excavated a small, stratified trash pit in test unit 2. The naturally-formed depression appears to be contemporaneous with the use of the wash house and sealed by the construction of the Servants Hall.
On the eve of the Revolutionary War, George Washington began a major campaign to remodel and expand the mansion and rebuild and reorganize the homelot. Much of this work is documented in correspondence between George Washington and Lund Washington, his plantation manager during his extended absence. Part of this campaign included tearing down the four west-flanking outbuildings that Washington had inherited from his brother, Lawrence, including a kitchen and dairy to the south and a storehouse and wash house to the north. These buildings were to be replaced by four new ones: a new kitchen and storehouse to the south and a servants hall and what is interpreted today as a gardener’s house to the north (Dalzell and Dalzell 1998).
A letter from Lund Washington dated September 29th 1775 indicated that the old wash house was already removed and that work on the foundation of the new outbuilding had already begun. There seemed to have been some confusion about the function of the new outbuilding, however, as Lund referred to it as the new wash house, an assumption shared by Martha Washington who directed the chimneys be built for that specific purpose. George Washington, on the other hand, envisioned the building as temporary quarters for the servants of visiting guests or for a resident manager (Chase 1987:64, 477-478; Dalzell and Dalzell 1998:107).
Little is known about the early wash house. Clues come from digs done in the 1930s by Morley Williams (Mount Vernon’s Director of Research and Restoration), who exposed portions of the foundations of the pre-1775 outbuildings, and from Lawrence Washington’s 1753 probate inventory, which assigns functions to these buildings. Morley Williams’s conjectural map of the early landscape depicts the dairy and the storehouse as sandstone foundations measuring 16 by 16 feet, whereas the kitchen and wash house uncovered by Williams had larger footprints (20 by 30 feet) and brick foundations. Pogue (1988:2-6) hypothesizes that the stone buildings may pre-date the brick ones and, therefore, have been constructed during Augustine Washington’s period of occupation (ca. 1735-1738). This hypothesis is based on the sandstone foundations in the mansion basement assumed to date to Augustine’s construction of the first Mount Vernon. The brick outbuildings may have been added during Lawrence Washington’s lifetime.
The probate inventory taken of Lawrence Washington’s estate provided details on the few things left inside for a total value of about £8. These include items related to laundering like basons, a box iron, and tongs, in addition to evidence that suggests enslaved laborers also used the space as quarters. The inventory includes beds, sheets, rugs, and tables (Washington 1753).
After George Washington’s lease of the plantation began in 1754, he initiated improvements including an enlargement of the mansion. His description of the outbuildings west of the mansion in an account from 1760 provide one of the few references to this early plantation layout; he contracted with Mr. Triplet to build brick walls “from the Great House to the Wash House and Kitchen also” (Jackson and Twohig 1976:258; Pogue 1988:6). This reference and corroborating archaeological evidence suggests the west outbuildings were linked by screening walls to the southwest and northwest corners of the house (Pogue 1988:7). The wall connecting the wash house and storehouse to the dwelling house would have effectively screened the trash pit and other outdoor activity from visitors arriving up the main drive.
Excavation History, Procedure, and Methods
This short-term project, excavated by Christy Leeson and Thane Harpole under the direction of Esther White, took placed in February and March 1998. Test units, including test unit 2 containing the pit, were laid out by triangulating from the interior corners of the Servants Hall foundation.
The basin-shaped pit measured 3.8 by 2.5 feet and was approximately 0.5 feet deep. The pit’s stratigraphy consisted of six layers (E, Y, H, J, L, Z). Layer 2J contained the densest deposit of artifacts. These layers were waterscreened through 1/16th inch mesh with flotation and soil samples taken for each.
One hundred percent of the heavy fraction, fine-screened material is processed and is included in this database. The botanicals and soil chemicals await analysis. The faunal data was catalogued by Joanne Bowen and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation zooarchaeologists, with NISP, MNI, meat weight, and biomass calculated (Bowen et al. 2012). The NISP for 44FX762/35/1 was 4949 with nearly half being fish.
Summary of Research and Analysis
This feature represents a growing body of data contributing to our understanding of the evolution of the Mount Vernon homelot, consumerism within the plantation household in the decades before the Revolutionary War, and a snapshot of diet and foodways during this early period. Related sites in DAACs include the South Grove Midden (ca. 1735-1775) and the House for Families slave quarter (ca. 1759-1793), representing a robust and diverse material culture dataset derived from free and enslaved individuals living at Mount Vernon in the pre-1775 period.
Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens
Things you need to know about the Servants Hall/Wash House site before you use the data:
- This site is referred to as the Servants Hall/Wash House site due to the relationship with both the restoration of Mount Vernon’s extant 1775 Servants Hall as well an earlier wash house location. The architectural footprint and artifacts found through excavation beneath the Servant’s Hall floor are associated with an earlier generation of outbuilding believed to be a wash house.
- In the DAACS database, the Servant’s Hall/Wash House site is designated as Project “1031”. Artifact ID numbers for artifacts associated with the site therefore begin with the 1031 prefix.
- Measurements are in feet and tenths of feet.
- There is no plowzone.
- Mount Vernon excavates stratigraphically using numeric contexts for horizontal control and alphabetical contexts for vertical control, beginning with the letter A.
- The data currently in DAACS represent artifacts and contexts associated with a small trash pit excavated in test unit 2 and not the layers associated with the broader excavation (including test units 1, 3, 4, and 5 inside the Servants Hall/Wash House).
- Dr. Eleanor Breen is a partner in the DAACS Research Consortium (DRC), an Andrew W. Mellon-funded initiative that facilitates collaborative scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, especially in archaeology, across institutional and spatial boundaries.
- Karen Price, Historic Preservation Laboratory Manager at Mount Vernon, was Dr. Breen’s research assistant during the two-year DRC project. Breen and Price cataloged all of the artifacts and context records excavated from the Servant’s Hall/Wash House site.
The original excavators of the Servant’s Hall/Wash House site assigned numbers to individual features. There is currently one Servant’s Hall site feature in DAACS, which has a F-prefix: F1, a trash pit.
|1||Pit, trash||2E, 2H, 2J, 2L, 2Y, 2Z|
DAACS Seriation Method
DAACS staff aim to produce a seriation-based chronology for each site using the same methods (see Neiman, Galle, and Wheeler 2003 for technical details). The use of common methods for all sites in the archive is designed to increase comparability among temporal phases at different sites. The methods they produced are summarized below. Archive users may also use the Mean Ceramic Date queries provided on the Query the Database section of this website to calculate MCDs for individual contexts or features.
DAACS was unable to produce a statistically significant seriation-based chronology for the Servant’s Hall/Wash House site. However, the site-wide Mean Ceramic Date suggests Feature 1, the trash pit associated with the Wash House, was filled with sediment containing ceramics that date to the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Two other measures that are less sensitive to excavation errors and taphonomic processes that might introduce a small amount of anomalously late material into an assemblage were used. They are TPQp90 and TPQp95. The TPQp95 of 1720 provides a robust estimate of the site’s TPQ based on the 95th percentile of the beginning manufacturing dates for all the artifacts comprising it. The TPQp90 of 1720 provides a more robust estimate of the site’s TPQ based on the 90th percentile of the beginning manufacturing dates for all the artifacts comprising it. These measures suggest the secondary refuse dates between the 1720s and 1750s.
Servant’s Hall/Wash House Mean Ceramic Dates and TPQs
|Servant’s Hall/Wash House||1742.9||1746.2||1725||1720||1720||349|
Although the correspondence analysis produced no statistically significant phases, the dimension 1 by BLUE MCD plot compared with the site’s Harris Matrix, clearly indicates that the Feature 1 trash pit was a jumble of secondary refuse dating from the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Note that a stratigraphically higher context (2H) has the earliest date while contexts it seals (stratigraphically lower contexts, 2J, 2L, and 2Z) have later dates.
Servant’s Hall/Wash House Harris Matrix
The Harris Matrix summarizes stratigraphic relationships among excavated contexts and groups of contexts that excavators and DAACS staff have identified as part of the same stratigraphic group. The Servant’s Hall site sample currently in DAACS represents part of one feature: F01, a trash pit. Though the pit was stratified and contained six layers, each context was only comprised of one layer, therefore stratigraphic group assignment was not necessary. The matrix represents the relationships between the contexts. 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).
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.
For a printable version, download the Harris Matrix.
Site plan in DGN format.
Bowen, Joanne , Stephen C. Atkins , Susan Andrews , and Dessa Lightfoot
2012 Wash House Kitchen Pit NISP MNI Meat Weight Biomass., Report to Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mount Vernon, VA, from Zooarchaeologists Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA.
Chase, Philander D.
1987 The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series vol. 2 University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.
Dalzell, Lee Baldwin , and Robert E. Dalzell
1998 George Washington’s Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Jackson, Donald , and Dorothy Twohig
1976 The Papers of George Washington: Diaries vol. 1, 1748-1765. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.
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.
1988 Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon: 1931-1987. Archaeology Department, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mount Vernon, VA.
Pogue, Dennis J.
2005 Restoring the Mount Vernon Servants’ Hall., Restoration Report. Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mount Vernon, VA.
Ramenofsky, Ann , Fraser D. Neiman , and Christopher Pierce
2009 Measuring Time, Population, And Residential Mobility From The Surface at San Marcos Pueblo, North Central New Mexico. American Antiquity, 74(3): 505-530.
1753 An Inventory of the Estate of Lawrence Washington, 7-8 March., Historical Manuscript Collection. Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mount Vernon, VA.