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Archaeological Remains of Slave Life at Mount Vernon

Artifacts from the House for Families Slave Quarter at Mount Vernon

These artifacts were unearthed from the cellar of the House for Families slave quarter at Mount Vernon during excavations that took place in 1984 to 1985 and 1988 to 1990. Clockwise from the wine bottle at center are portions of the following objects: a colonoware bowl, a white salt-glazed stoneware teabowl, a pewter spoon, a bone-handled knife, botanical remains, a Chinese export porcelain plate, a tobacco pipe, faunal remains, a Staffordshire slipware dish with oyster shells, and the base of a wine glass. These items, used by members of the enslaved community, were probably obtained through the formal or informal trade economy that existed, or from Washington family members.

Original Author: Mount Vernon Archaeology

Created: ca. 1990

Medium: Ceramics, glass, and bone

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

Colonoware Bowl

This earthenware bowl was excavated from the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of enslaved and free people who lived on the estate. Native Americans and African Americans created this type of ceramic out of local clay that was bound with sand, grit, or shell. Colonoware is not listed in the official household documents at Mount Vernon, but a substantial number of colonoware items were found in the midden, which suggests that in preparing meals the slaves may have preferred using pots they were familiar with. They may also have used small bowls of this type to serve their own food.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Eighteenth century

Medium: Colonoware bowl

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

Buckles Excavated from Mount Vernon Slave Quarters

These decorated copper alloy buckles were excavated from the cellar of the House for Families slave quarter at Mount Vernon, indicating that the items probably belonged to slaves who lived in that dwelling. The slaves may have acquired these items of personal adornment in a number of ways: through the formal or informal trade economy that existed; as part of a slave's official livery; or through the act of handing down of special provisions from Washington family members to the slaves.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Eighteenth century

Medium: Copper alloy buckles

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

Raccoon Baculum

This raccoon baculum was excavated from the cellar beneath the House for Families slave quarter at Mount Vernon. Site archaeologists believe that the bone, which bears an incised groove near the top, may have been strung and worn around the neck as a decorative or a ceremonial item. The male raccoon is known to be sexually aggressive, suggesting its selection as a fertility symbol when suspended around the neck.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Eighteenth century

Medium: Raccoon Baculum

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

Freshwater Catfish Bones

These freshwater catfish bones were unearthed during archaeological excavations at the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of enslaved and free people who lived on the estate. Freshwater catfish was clearly the most abundant fish at Mount Vernon in the years before the Revolutionary War. At least 813 catfish bones have been identified from the earliest archaeological excavations, when Lawrence Washington lived at Mount Vernon (ca. 1735–1758), and 376 bones were found in the early George and Martha Washington period (ca. 1759–1775). 

Slaves who lived and worked near the mansion often fished in the Potomac River and other tributaries where freshwater catfish was abundant. The slaves supplemented their rations of corn, salted herring and shad, and occasional meat with fresh fish. Excavations beneath the cellar of the House for Families slave quarter (ca. 1759–1793) revealed abundant fresh water fish remains.

Created: Eighteenth century

Medium: Fish bones

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

Beads Excavated from Mount Vernon

These red glass beads were excavated from the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of enslaved and free people living on the estate. (The beads were strung after the excavations.) Beads were an adornment used by both African Americans and whites as a means of personal expression. Red beads similar to these were also excavated from the cellar beneath the House for Families slave quarter.

Original Author: Unknown

Created: Eightenth century

Medium: Glass beads

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

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  • Artifacts from the House for Families Slave Quarter at Mount Vernon

    These artifacts were unearthed from the cellar of the House for Families slave quarter at Mount Vernon during excavations that took place in 1984 to 1985 and 1988 to 1990. Clockwise from the wine bottle at center are portions of the following objects: a colonoware bowl, a white salt-glazed stoneware teabowl, a pewter spoon, a bone-handled knife, botanical remains, a Chinese export porcelain plate, a tobacco pipe, faunal remains, a Staffordshire slipware dish with oyster shells, and the base of a wine glass. These items, used by members of the enslaved community, were probably obtained through the formal or informal trade economy that existed, or from Washington family members.

    Original Author: Mount Vernon Archaeology

    Created: ca. 1990

    Medium: Ceramics, glass, and bone

    Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

  • Colonoware Bowl

    This earthenware bowl was excavated from the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of enslaved and free people who lived on the estate. Native Americans and African Americans created this type of ceramic out of local clay that was bound with sand, grit, or shell. Colonoware is not listed in the official household documents at Mount Vernon, but a substantial number of colonoware items were found in the midden, which suggests that in preparing meals the slaves may have preferred using pots they were familiar with. They may also have used small bowls of this type to serve their own food.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Eighteenth century

    Medium: Colonoware bowl

    Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

  • Buckles Excavated from Mount Vernon Slave Quarters

    These decorated copper alloy buckles were excavated from the cellar of the House for Families slave quarter at Mount Vernon, indicating that the items probably belonged to slaves who lived in that dwelling. The slaves may have acquired these items of personal adornment in a number of ways: through the formal or informal trade economy that existed; as part of a slave's official livery; or through the act of handing down of special provisions from Washington family members to the slaves.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Eighteenth century

    Medium: Copper alloy buckles

    Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

  • Raccoon Baculum

    This raccoon baculum was excavated from the cellar beneath the House for Families slave quarter at Mount Vernon. Site archaeologists believe that the bone, which bears an incised groove near the top, may have been strung and worn around the neck as a decorative or a ceremonial item. The male raccoon is known to be sexually aggressive, suggesting its selection as a fertility symbol when suspended around the neck.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Eighteenth century

    Medium: Raccoon Baculum

    Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

  • Freshwater Catfish Bones

    These freshwater catfish bones were unearthed during archaeological excavations at the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of enslaved and free people who lived on the estate. Freshwater catfish was clearly the most abundant fish at Mount Vernon in the years before the Revolutionary War. At least 813 catfish bones have been identified from the earliest archaeological excavations, when Lawrence Washington lived at Mount Vernon (ca. 1735–1758), and 376 bones were found in the early George and Martha Washington period (ca. 1759–1775). 

    Slaves who lived and worked near the mansion often fished in the Potomac River and other tributaries where freshwater catfish was abundant. The slaves supplemented their rations of corn, salted herring and shad, and occasional meat with fresh fish. Excavations beneath the cellar of the House for Families slave quarter (ca. 1759–1793) revealed abundant fresh water fish remains.

    Created: Eighteenth century

    Medium: Fish bones

    Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price

  • Beads Excavated from Mount Vernon

    These red glass beads were excavated from the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of enslaved and free people living on the estate. (The beads were strung after the excavations.) Beads were an adornment used by both African Americans and whites as a means of personal expression. Red beads similar to these were also excavated from the cellar beneath the House for Families slave quarter.

    Original Author: Unknown

    Created: Eightenth century

    Medium: Glass beads

    Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, photograph by Karen Price