Yesterday had to be one of the most exciting days I have spent in my research of Belle Grove Plantation. I had been invited to a picnic by the King George Historic Society earlier in the month. Being that it is about 2.5 hours from our current home, I decided to take a half day and do some running around in the county while I was there.
Recently I had come across another blog on WordPress by an anthropology student doing her field study at Ferry Farm. Ferry Farm is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia and was the childhood home of George Washington. Recently they had uncovered the foundation of the house on the property and had been doing archaeological digs there. In her blog, Ashley talks about the artifacts she has found during her digs. This caught my interest in many ways.
First they are digging on a property that is very close to our plantation, just about 20 minutes away. And it was a childhood home of one of the founding fathers. With all the artifacts I have been finding on our plantation, I decided to email her and see if she could help me identify some of the artifacts and also give me some suggestion on what we could do to preserve the artifacts we may discover as we are doing the landscaping. One thing Ashley told me was that it was hard to identify artifacts by pictures on an email. So I decided to make use of my extra time and head there to see if they could help me.
When I arrived, the first thing I saw was the students working on their dig site. My heart just leaped. I packed up my bag and headed into the Visitors Center to pay for my admission. The gentleman pointed out the self guided walking tour and things I might want to check out. So I headed out the door and straight across the field to the dig site.
When I walked up, one of the students greeted me and I asked for Ashley. She came over and thanked me warmly for coming. Then she and two other students showed me their finds for the day. One of these finds was a small piece of a wig curler. (You must read about these curlers on her blog!) But I got to hold it and she showed me the small lettering on the end, just like it had shown on her blog. Holding it was a thrill! I then showed them some of my finds from Belle Grove along with some of the pictures I had brought with me. There I was unloading my little zip lock bags of “artifacts” beside the dig site of the home of our first president, in 101 degree sunshine.
Jason, a Lab Assistant to the supervisor suggested that since I had a lot of glass and dishware, I might want to come to the lab and meet one of the resident archaeologists who would be better at identifying these pieces. Jason introduced me to Mara, an expert on glass and dishware. She was excited to see what I had. The first thing I showed her was our pictures and explained what we were doing with this historic property. Then I pulled out the artifacts and the fun began! She went through piece by piece and told me what it was and about what time period it comes from. It was almost like looking at lottery tickets to see if I had a winner! Below are some of the ones that turned out to be great finds and one that was quite a surprise. If you want to see all of them, we are going to start adding our finds to our Facebook page. Please check them out there.
One of the things we talked about was how I wanted to make sure we preserved items as we did the landscaping. She also suggested that I contact a college or university to see if we might be able to put together a field study for students through the college to uncover more of our history. I had mentioned that I wanted to contact James Madison University due to the fact that he was born on the property to see if they might want to do some exploring. I know right now they are working on the project at Montpelier. She gave me a name of someone she knew in the archaeology department that might be able to help us in the future. It won’t happen this year, but soon! One thing I had a little laugh about was watching Jason with our nails. As soon as I pulled the zip lock bag out, he picked it up and started separating them. Then he left and returned with small bags to place them in for me. Then as we pulled out the glass pieces, he would take them to another room and return with them. I wasn’t sure what he was doing until Mara told me that he was checking them for light refraction to help determine their dates and kinds. He was just about as excited as I was I think.
Once we were done, Mara took me downstairs through the inside part of their lab and I got to see some of the projects they were working on. How exciting to see objects that they had recovered and were painstakingly putting back together. One of the objects she picked up and showed me. She placed it in my hand and then told me that it was owned by Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother! I was overwhelmed! To think I was standing there holding something that Mary Washington touched, or that George Washington could have held! As we walked out, Mara made a point to let me know that they would be happy to help us at any time and that I was welcomed to bring anything I find there for them to help me identify them. I really appreciated the time she and Jason had given me to identify the artifacts I had. I was most thankful for Ashley’s blog. If it hadn’t been for her writing about her experiences, I would have never found them! Thank you Ashley!
(Visit Ashley’s Blog and see what she is up to! diganthro.wordpress.com)
(Visit Ferry Farm’s web site! www.kenmore.org)
After I finished at Ferry Farm, I headed back toward King George. I had about one hour till the picnic and headed over to one of my favorite antique stores, McGinnis Barn on King Highway. I had been there two weeks earlier and had found some plates I wanted, but didn’t have the cash on me to purchase them. So Mr. McGinnis had put them aside for me until I could return. I had called him the night before, knowing I would be in the area and asked if I could stop by since he is only open Saturday and Sunday. When I arrived I paid for my plates and found a silver tea pot. When I asked how much, as he always does, he gave me a deal I couldn’t say no to. I went back to the car and to my luck I had just enough cash left to get it. I wasn’t sure before if I wanted to have silver tea pots as well as porcelain pots, but this one was so pretty and has some of the same decorations around the top as some of the cups I have. So home it came with the plates.
With just half an hour left, I made a quick stop at Belle Grove before heading over to the picnic. The picnic was being held at another historic plantation called Cleydael plantation in King George. This plantation has just recently been purchased and is under restoration by the new owners. This plantation is historically important as it was the plantation that John Wilkes Booth and David Harold had stopped at on their way through King George.
This plantation was the summer home of Dr. Richard Stuart. Dr. Stuart was good friends with the Lee Family and had even sheltered Robert E. Lee’s daughters through most of the Civil War. When John Wilkes Booth arrived at the house and asked for assistance, Dr. Stuart refused to treat Booth, but offered both Booth and Harold a meal, which he served them on his back porch just like a common field hand. After they finished their meal, Dr. Stuart asked them to be on their way. From here, Booth and Harold made their way down to the ferry at Port Conway and on to Garrett’s Farm.
The picnic was full of wonderful new faces for me to meet and some others that I have already met. The one thing I do have to say is that King George is very proud of its history, and rightfully so. This group continues to work to preserve that history and to bring it to the attention of others. Maybe soon we can have them at Belle Grove Plantation to help us celebrate the opening.
One last stop on the way out at Belle Grove Plantation. It was a wonder stop. It was just twilight and as I pulled into the long driveway heading to the house, I could see a deer in the field next to the house. I stopped just for a moment to look at her. She stood there and stared at me for a moment. I could see her white tail flicking back and forth. It was so peaceful. Then off she ran toward me and the driveway then across to the woods beside me. I continued up to the house and as I pulled in, two rabbits popped up and hurried away. Then I heard Dolley, our resident osprey. She was sitting up on the nest peering over at me and calling out “Who’s there?” I sat for a moment, not even getting out of the car, but listening through my open window. I listen to the quiet sounds of Belle Grove Plantation and wondered how it might have sounded during the time James Madison or George Washington could have been here. I wondered what “treasures” are we yet to find and what new and exciting people will come and add to the history of this grand plantation. A chill came over me as smiled and knew that the best is yet to come.