Great New Finds at the Plantation!

Nov. 21st 2013

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Over that past few weeks, we have come across a couple more artifact finds at the plantation. Just our luck, Mara, the archaeologist from Ferry Farm (George Washington’s boyhood home) paid us a visit yesterday. Little did I know that these finds would end up being so special!

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The first piece I showed her was a very small shard of dishware. It is green in color and has some texture to it. It was found around the garage, which we think is the location of the Conway period homes. The home that James Madison was born in, his grandmother’s home was thought to have burn down, but we haven’t been able to prove or disprove that information. We were told that three of our beams in the basement look to be from the old Conway home time period and could have been taken from the old home when the 1791 section was built. But they show no burn marks.

Mara looked at this piece and gave us a date around 1775 to 1790, which means it could have been from the Conway period, knowing where we found it. But was so interesting about this piece is that she says it shows signs of burning!! Just adds to that mystery we will have to keep trying to solve.

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The second piece was a bigger surprise. When we found it, we thought it was a Naive American arrowhead. This isn’t unusual for this area. There has been many Native American Tribes that have called this place home. Most tribes were from the Powhattan Nation. But what she had to tell us really blew our socks off!

This isn’t an arrowhead, it is a spearhead. Mara sent a photo of it to another archaeologist to get a better idea of the date. Turns out this is a Halifax point from the Archaic Period around 3,000 BC! This spearhead is 5,000 years old!

The Archaic stage or “Meso-Indian period” was the second period of human occupation in the Americas, from around 8,000 to 2,000 BC. These hunter-gathers societies were people who exploited wetland resources, creating large shell middens. Shell middens or kitchen middens are a heap of clam, oyster, whelk, or mussel shells, obviously, but unlike other types of sites it is the result of a clearly recognizable single-activity event. Other kinds of sites, such as camp sites, villages, farmsteads and rockshelters, have their attractions, but a shell midden was created by and large for one purpose: dinner.    Middens developed along rivers, but there is limited evidence of Archaic peoples along coastlines prior to 3000 BC.

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This spearhead is now the oldest artifact piece we have found to date!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 6 Comments »

A New Design

May. 18th 2013

If you have been following along with us on Facebook, you know that we have posed some questions to help us make some of the burning decisions we have to make. One of those questions was around whether to us a coffee mug or tea cup at breakfast. Several of you stated that you would like to have mugs available. Even more suggested that we consider having a special mug designed just for Belle Grove Plantation.

We want to announce that we now have a new design for our coffee mugs at Belle Grove Plantation!

Our mugs are creations of Hannah Janney

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An artist and potter from Colonial Beach, Virginia

She and I worked together to come up with a design that would reflex the history at Belle Grove Plantation. We spent an afternoon together as I watched her mold different designs. She and I discussed old pottery and glazes and what might have been at the plantation. I described piece of broken pottery I had found. And after several tries, she was able to create what I feel reflexes the history of the plantation.

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We now have six mugs completed with several more coming. Each mug is hand-made by Hannah and while still the same basic design; each has a character of its own, just as the families did at Belle Grove Plantation. Just like one of our recent files at Belle Grove, this mug is glazed in a salt glaze with a beautiful blue and nature color. The handles are also special with a small curl at the base.

We will have these mugs available at the plantation when you come and will offer them on our website once we launch!

To see more items we have purchase

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 20 Comments »

New Finds

May. 3rd 2013

As we work towards opening Belle Grove Plantation, discoveries keep showing up at our door steps! As we have cleared the debris of the three trees we recently cut down, we have found some really nice artifacts! We have taken them to Ferry Farms to be reviewed by Mara. Here is what we found out!

Thimble Date unknown

Date unknown

Decorative handle, thin metal Date unknown

Decorative handle, thin metal
Date unknown

Hatchet Head, no handle Date unknown

Hatchet Head, no handle
Date unknown

Mara : Hatchet head is a carpenter’s or roofer’s hatchet:  They are fairly common and still in use today.  The notch was for tearing out nails.  No date on this, could be 19th century or from modern era.  I would say it has not been in the ground long, though, given that the wood is still present in the hole where it was hafted.

Library Head Large Copper One Cent Piece -Front Dated 1826

Liberty Head Large Copper One Cent Piece -Front
Dated 1826

Library Head Large Copper One Cent Piece - Back Dated 1826

Liberty Head Large Copper One Cent Piece – Back
Dated 1826

This is the second Large Copper One Cent Piece we have found at the plantation. The first was dated 1817 which is still our earliest artifact.

Lead Pieces Date Unknown

Lead Pieces
Date Unknown

As we are uncovering information around the Civil War and the Union Army’s encampment in and around Belle Grove and Port Conway, we are beginning to believe a lot of these lead pieces we are finding could be those that were carried by soldiers to make their own lead shots.

Unsure of artifact  Date Unknown

Unsure of artifact
Date Unknown

Looking at this piece, we are thinking it might be part of a spoon. But the one piece that has us stumped is there is a hallmark on it. It looks like a willow tree with a circle around it. We will need to do more research to find out what it truly is.

Pottery and Blue Plate Shard Dated from 1816 to 1860

Pottery and Blue Plate Shard
Dated from 1816 to 1860

Mara: Ceramic shard with blue transfer print:  Blue print on early whiteware.  Dates to between 1815 and 1860.  Likely flatware.

Pocket Watch - Front Dated after 1916

Pocket Watch – Front
Dated after 1916

Pocket Watch - Back Dated after 1916

Pocket Watch – Back
Dated after 1916

Mara: Pocket watch with plastic crystal (watch cover:  Plastic crystals made their appearance in 1916 so this watch post-dates that.  The motif appears to be art deco so one can assume it predates WWII, after which time Art Deco as a style dies out. 

Can you guess what this is?

Can you guess what this is?

This one I wanted to see if anyone could guess what it is. Make your best guess than go to our Facebook Fan Page and look at our Artifact Album to see if you are right!

On a different front, we received a new map from Elizabeth, curator of the King George History Museum. It is a survey map of our area (Belle Grove and Port Conway) in 1856. What is so exciting about it is that it places the enslaved quarters for us! I have long thought that the enslaved quarters ran along the road way leading to what use to be a barn. Now it is confirmed! These quarters were later turned into tenant farmer houses. You can also see in the field at least two more enslaved homes. This is something we have always heard, that there were homes in the field.

1856 Rappahannock Survey003 (1)

1856 Rappahannock Survey Close up of Belle Grove and Port Conway

1856 Rappahannock Survey
Close up of Belle Grove and Port Conway

In 1856, Carolinus Turner owned Belle Grove. According to a Federal Census in 1860, he owned 92 slaves. This is the largest number of enslaved people we have been able to confirm on the plantation.

To see more artifacts we have discovered and to find out if you know what the mystery artifact is

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

You will find them in our Albums under Artifacts

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History | 26 Comments »

Pieces of the Past

Sep. 19th 2012

Belle Grove Plantation
during the restoration process
1997- 2003

When Belle Grove went through the restoration process between 1997 to 2003, the manor house was taken apart and restored piece by piece. The construction crew took off the slate roof that was crushing the house and took the house down to the studs. While they were working they discovered two pieces of paper. These pieces of paper look to date back to the Turner family (1839 – 1900).

The first piece of paper is a small section of an envelope. You can’t make out the full address, return address or post mark. From what we can see, it looks to be addressed to S.A. There was only one S.A. during the Turner family’s time. Susan Augusta Rose Turner, wife of Carolinus Turner. Could this have been for her?

The second piece of paper looks to be an advertising card for “Mourning Dyeing”  “A Specialty”. The company was established in 1868. The card is for “R.C. Douglas” and the address is for 1336 14th St. Bet. N St. and R.I. Ave. I have looked for this company or the representative, but I haven’t been very successful. But this isn’t the best part of the paper.

Written across this piece of paper seems to be some kind of note. Who it is written to or the exact message is unclear. There are missing bits of paper and some of the writing is too faint to read. Here is what I can make out of the writing:

“If you _____________________ you _________

knife can cut in too.

Kiss me quick and kiss me ____________ (looks like curr ?)

ing (looks like a carry over from the last word) I think I hear my mother (or could be brother)


Hear I sta (could be stand) ____________ little ________ (looks like knife)

come and ____________ little ________

lifes. Dear little _________________ sweat

as a rose you ___________________

no body.”

My thought is that since this card is dated around 1868, could this be a note to Carrie from the unknown person “Vanderburgh” whose name appears in the window with Carrie’s? Could this be a note from Carrie to “Vanderburgh”? Or could it not be a love note at all, but a note of distress? Maybe a note contemplating suicide? Maybe it could be Carrie writing of her sadness after losing “Vanderburgh”.

Etching in the Window
“Carrie Turner
W (or M) Van der burgh
May 18, 1869″

I guess we have another mystery to add to the writing in the window!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 47 Comments »