It’s in the Trash

Oct. 10th 2012

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.

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.  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!!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 57 Comments »