It’s in the Trash

Ferry Farm, Boyhood Home of George Washington
Fredericksburg, Virginia

I recently went to Ferry Farm, boyhood home of George Washington to visit my favorite archeologist, Mara. When we first started finding artifacts around Belle Grove Plantation, I came to her for help in identifying and dating the pieces. We have had found some really nice dish shards and other pieces that dated as far back as the late 1700s.

Mara
Archeologist at Ferry Farm

On one of our recent trips to Belle Grove, the caretaker surprised us with a bag of “finds” he had found on the grounds. This bag was filled with lots of glass and dish pieces. Once I got it home, I carefully cleaned and separated the pieces into groups that matched or at least looked like each other. I placed them into sandwich zip bags and packed them to take to Mara.

I have shown you the pieces before, but now we have a better idea of what we are looking at. I need to confirm this, but I seem to remember a past conversation about these being found together in one area. In looking at them, Mara confirmed what I was thinking; these items could be from a trash pit.

As you know, they didn’t have trash pickup or waste dumps to carry their trash to. So in the past, they would dig a hole and fill it up with trash and then bury it. These are wonderful for archeological digs because it is like a time capsule with what they used and what they ate.

Our possible trash pit with these pieces looks to date to the mid to late 1800s. So it would have been used during the Civil War or just after! Can you image? Who used these pieces? Who ate from the plates or drank for them cups? Who handled the pieces? Was it the family? Was it a slave? Was it a Union or Confederate soldier or officer? It just really makes you wonder.

Here are the pieces again with the new information:

This is an Iron Fork. A very cheaply made fork. Mara says that the family would not have used it. It would have been for use by a soldier or slave.

These are White Ball Clay Pipe Stems.

These are pieces of leather and a Shoe Heel. The Shoe Heel has wooden pegs in them. Could this have been a child’s shoe?

This the base of a stoneware crock. It would have been open on the top and used for food storage.

These are Prosser or “China Buttons”. They are made of dust pressed porcelain. Dated around 1840 to 1960.Β  The white ones would have been used on under clothing or for a slave’s clothing. The brown one is a painted button and would have been used on the clothing of the family.

This plate would have been a Muffin Plate. On the back we were about to make out the makers mark. It is Greenwood China from Trenton, NJ. Dated around 1861 – 1886. It’s not in this picture, but as Mara and I were looking through other pieces of plate shards, we came across a piece of this plate and were able to fit it back.

These are animal bones. Remember I said we can find out what they ate? Here we have a Pig’s bone (the largest) Pig’s tooth (smallest just above it) Chicken Bone (short bone to the far left) and a Goose’s bone (long and thin).

This is a beer or wine bottle. It was hand blown into a mold by the glass maker.

These are Patient Medicine Bottles.

This is a Wine Bottle. It would have been hand blown into a mold.

This could be a Wine Bottle or a Mineral Water Bottle. Can you believe that? Mara tells me that back around the Civil War, bottled water was really popular! Who knew??

This is a two part piece. The large piece is part of a mirror. The smaller piece is the mouth of a wine or liquor bottle. It has a hand applied finish and would date no later than 1825!

This is an interesting find. These are pieces of Condiment Bottles! Yes, like ketchup and sauces or pickled items. Mara says that Condiments were very popular during this time and it was one of the first forms of marketing. She also showed me one piece that you could make out the shoulder on the glass. She said that it could have been a ketchup bottle. She knew this because ketchup bottle styles haven’t changed much over the years.

This pieces was pretty exciting. This the hand crimped chimney top of a kerosene lamp date some time between 1870 – 1885.

This one was cool and kind of creepy all in one. This is an Iron Nail that has need curled on purpose. Mara says it was more than likely done by a slave. She said that when the slaves came over from Africa, they brought with them their spiritual beliefs. She said that this could be part of the Hoodoo belief. She said that to them Iron was sacred and by curling it and then burying it in front of a door or window, they could keep evil out of their homes. This is really something! Just to think that a slave that once lived and served this plantation made this. What a wonderful find!!

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57 thoughts on “It’s in the Trash

  1. suzicate says:

    Awesome finds. How fun and interesting to fit the pieces of the puzzle. My hubby is an engineer and a few years back they removed cobblestone streets to put in a mall…oh, what interesting things that were found. He obtained an old map with the street layout and it explained many of the finds.

  2. terry1954 says:

    oh you lucky lady. I love those buttons!!!! i have dug in yards like that. I have always had the urges to dig peoples back yards in the country because everyone had a trash pit!!! i love digging!!! i think somewhere in time in the past, we must have known each others hearts and souls. i can always feel the excitement from your pages, as I read each one…….

  3. Myrna says:

    Amazing that so much can learned from trash! Your posts are always so interesting.

  4. mizqui says:

    GREAT FINDS. Ironically, thats the way I feel about your blog: a GREAT FIND. )))HUGS((( Awesome post!

  5. They are very interesting finds, esp. the slave iron and info.
    When Montpelier was first being explored by the Nat’l. Trust for Historic Preservation., they had all these additions in different time periods to decide how to progress with. (That was in 1991 that I first went there and in 1992 again. I need to go back now to see what they did.)

    One question, are you going to do the interior decorating, etc.to the Civil War era or another time period? Or both?

    • virginiaplantation says:

      We have been to Montpelier many times and will be there again next week. I have even spent some time in the archeology lab talking about our finds. You really need to go back. They do so much with their finds!

      We are going to decorate in several periods. Belle Grove covers so many time periods it would be wrong to not do all of them. We named the rooms after the families that live there. So we are going use their time period to determine what style to use for that room. The rest of the house we will do in Hepplewhite or something around that time with a mix of other periods. Just as if the family had collected over the years. But it will be comfortable, not too museum like.

  6. Josy says:

    This is so cool!

    Sometimes I find old trash-pit old glass around NJβ€” and it’s always exciting to speculate about its originsβ€” but it only dates to the early 20th century, and it’s not from a specific historical place that’s near and dear to my heart. Your finds spin such a neat story about Belle Grove!

    • virginiaplantation says:

      I bet that is fun though finding something old. I just get so excited when a new piece comes up! Thank you!

      • Josy says:

        It’s much MORE exciting if you can actually hazard an educated guess on how that piece in your hands came to be in your hands. I’m a little jealous of your trash! πŸ™‚

      • virginiaplantation says:

        Well, I will tell you that once we get things going at the plantation, we are hoping to get a college to do a summer field study that we can get other involved in. Might be a great chance to come and dig around the plantation!

  7. What great answers you received on these artifacts! Thanks for sharing!

    • virginiaplantation says:

      You are so welcome! It was really cool to hear what period they come from!

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  8. vanbraman says:

    You are just adding fuel to the fire of my desire to go on an archaeological dig. Thanks for posting what you found out about the items.

    • virginiaplantation says:

      You are so welcome! It was a joy to find out! We are hoping to have a field study through a local college one day after we get this up and going. You should join in on the fun if we do!

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  9. Love the artifacts part. So intriguing!

  10. gooseyanne says:

    Interesting post; I can remember the joy of going through a very old rubbish dump when I was a child – priceless finds (to me) were unearthed!

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Thank you! You know “treasures” is truly in the eyes of the beholder!

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  11. colmel says:

    I guess that’s why privy diving is so popular. People have found all kinds of wonderful things in old (extinct)privies (including diamond rings, complete bottles, silver, china, etc.) I guess you just have to get past the idea that you are digging in someone’s – er – toilet.

    • virginiaplantation says:

      I have heard about that kind of dig! I don’t know where ours were, but when we get started on the landscaping, I am sure we will find it. I hope we will find some of those wonderful treasures!

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  12. Jane Sadek says:

    I couldn’t help but think how these folks would be appalled at our trash. Look at how much you throw away in a week. They didn’t do that. Things didn’t come home in clever packaging. You didn’t have a recycling bin – you recycled your own stuff and kept recycling it until it was gone. Very humbling.

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Very true! But think about the future generations who might dig through our trash! What “treasures” they might find! Plastic water bottles, frozen food boxes,… πŸ˜‰

  13. I don’t know what’s more interesting: the items that you’ve found, or the research that’s enabled you to discover the history behind each.

    It’s curious, though, how many modern US dimes were uncovered, too. At least that’s the impression I get from looking at your photos. πŸ˜‰

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Oh well, I am not too sure how many dimes turned up, but I hope one day we might find at least one Indian head coin! πŸ˜‰

      I have to say I love the whole process! It is just so hard not to look at the ground the whole time I am at the plantation!

  14. Pat says:

    Hi Michelle,what wonderful History,it’s amazing! I noticed the dime on each piece what was that about? Keep digging looking forward to more good finds πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€
    Love you

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Thank you Pat! The dime is to give you a good idea the size of the item. Something to compare it to. We are looking forward to finding more!!

      Love you!

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  15. Seriously cool! It is stepping back in time. Blessings – Patty

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Thank you! It is just so cool to know that someone during the Civil War held it at one time!!

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  16. Amazing! Trash heaps are fascinating. Looks like you got a pretty awesome haul. Are you planning on displaying your finds at Belle Grove somewhere?

    This also made me think of something I heard on NPR. Did you ever hear that Radiolab show on ancient trash heaps? Apparently they are full of broken sandals (ha!) and porn (haha!).

    http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/10/the-greatest-hits-of-ancient-garbage/

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Wow, I don’t know if I want to do a dumpster dive that kind of trash heap! Thank you for the link!

      Yes, we are going to use the Summer Kitchen once we get it restored and preserved as a small museum. The kitchen half will be the Plantation and families who owned it and the other half will be dedicated to the Slaves of Belle Grove. That is why we are having the Silent Auction. To raise funds to restore it.

      Michelle
      Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

  17. belocchio says:

    It has been a never ending delight of discoveries. How absolutely wonderful to find these artifacts. Virginia

  18. Mara Kaktins says:

    Glad I could help, Michelle! It’s an honor to know I’m your favorite archaeologist, too πŸ™‚ Keep the finds coming, we love helping out the community at Ferry Farm (And us ‘president people’ need to stick together!)

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Thank you Mara! (Hey everyone! This is Mara our favorite archaeologist!) We “president” people do work well together, don’t we! πŸ˜‰

  19. Love the last one! Indeed a special find!

    • virginiaplantation says:

      Thank you! I am sure there is more to come once we start doing the landscape.

      • TinCanTraveler says:

        So much more interesting than reading a book about it. Thanks so much. This is bringing Americana Archaeology to life!

      • virginiaplantation says:

        Thank you! I am glad we are able to bring it to life for our readers! It has been so much fun and we really enjoy sharing this journey with everyone!

  20. Love it! great idea to post – I may do the same although my property is far less compelling… and my blogging is very nascent. Back Yard Anthropology, indeed!

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