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tv   Reassessing George Washingtons Birthplace  CSPAN  July 3, 2017 12:00am-1:35am EDT

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anniversary of washington's birth in 2032 imposes a sense of urgency to determine exactly where he was born. the george washington birthplace national monument hosted this program. it is an hour and a half. >> good afternoon, welcome to george washington birthplace national monument. i'm the chief of interpretation here at this park and our sister park over in southern maryland. it is a pleasure today to introduce our guest speaker to the audience. dr. philip levy is a professor of history at the university of south florida, where he holds appointments in the department of anthropology and the department of global
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sustainability. he received his phd from the college of william and mary. in 2008 he gained international attention as part of the team that found the remains of george washington's childhood farm at ferry farm. he recounted it in his 2013 book "where the cherry tree grew: the story of ferry farm, george washington's boyhood home." his 2015 book, which i have right here in my hand, is called "george washington written upon the land." we have three copies in the bookstore if you're interested in purchasing one of them later. this book explores the many retellings of washington's much fabled childhood and covers things ranging from biography to archaeology to environmental history. he is currently writing "the archaeology of george washington: a survey of all the washington-related sites and their stories." he has also conducted a reassessment of the 1930's archaeological record at george washington's birthplace. he says this site is one of the most intriguing and misunderstood archaeological sites.
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he says it is time to fully make sense of the birthplace, archaeologically speaking, the last place of the puzzle. he will be speaking on the finding of his 2013 reassessment of the site's archaeology and will highlight the things generations have gotten right and wrong. he argues, since the anniversary of the birth is fast approaching, those of us who are committed to the landscape will want it to speak loudly and clearly about the momentous event that took place nearly 300 years ago. the world will be watching. without further ado, please welcome dr. philip levy. [applause] dr. levy: thanks, everyone, thanks for coming out here. let's get everything set up. thanks for being here. thank you, scott, for the introduction and to the superintendent for helping pull this together. can you hear me ok?
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i'm not sure what you can hear. i have got two mikes. i can talk really loudly, so maybe i will just ignore the microphones and talk at a higher volume, which is pretty normal. the microphones will have to sort of do their balance game and we will see where we end up. the introduction gave little bit of a tip of things i'm going to talk about and give away one of my punchlines, but that's ok. i like to put these up because this contextualizes why i'm the one talking about this. for the past decade or more, i have been interested in washington's childhood and the landscapes of his childhood. that means that my field of study has become washington memory, the way that washington is used as a figure another discussions. it is in some ways inspired by archaeology. when you dig a site, you have the layers you are most interested in, the period you
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are trying to get at, but you also have responsibility for every other period along the way. i approached this landscape study in a similar way. it is about washington in the 1930's, 1960's, 1860's, these different areas where washington is used in different ways. this has become very important to me and it stems from an archaeological beginning. i'm an archaeologist as well as a historian. i like to look at the sites and work from them, using the sites as my framework. i put the number 2032 up. why? can anybody guess what is special about the number? this is probably the worst audience to ask this question because you know. you know what is coming next. this. does this clarify a little of what you already knew i was
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talking about? this is an essential thing we have to keep in mind. we are, in planning terms -- 2032 is 10 minutes away. it takes a very long time to organize the kind of scale of event that will have to happen. washington's bicentennial, which was central in the creation of this park, was an event that was planned for about 20 years. by the point we are at in relation to the tricentenniary, the president had already said there would be an event. we want to beat the drums on this a little bit. all of you can help by being loyal to the landscape and helping spread the idea there has to be something. there will be something. somebody will figure out that 2032 is coming upon us, it is just a question of when. hopefully we can get this in
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mind so we can get something solid and powerful and focused on this landscape that brings people and resources to the community that is a benefit to everybody. we can do it well or poorly. i think we can do it well, but we have to recognize this is happening and we want to turn the 300 anniversary into something interesting and substantive. the bicentennial was crucial in the formation of this landscape, not in a geological sense, but the preservation movements born in the 1920's here became -- all came together and became a crucial piece of the making of the park here in 1932. the federal projects, the federal government had involvement, but it produced an enormous amount of literature, art, and public awareness about washington, which is still studyable. it is a fascinating record. it is central to the story here. the park is one major outcome. this is a community i don't need
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to use this map with, but it is still worth highlighting. i used this map at a talk overseas wants. that was pretty pointless. the potomac river. does not always work. we know where we are, halfway up the potomac. we are in the core of old settlement. one of the things emerging in the broader scholarship are the differences between the virginia region. instead of a single virginia colony, we are getting better at thinking about how some regions function. we are seeing the potomac with maryland on one side and virginia on the other as a region. this is the landscape we will focus in on, the landscape that came into focus in the 1920's and 1930's. this is a satellite photo. do i have a pointer? i can use this.
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there we go. the point of land here. this all should be pieces you are familiar with. the memorial house, curved walkway, outline of building x, reconstructed outbuildings. we can't really see the visitors center, but somewhere down here close to where we are. there is a third point of land further down, the day, and the potomac beyond. this is our landscape where we are going to focus and talk about the way this place has been understood and misunderstood. as background, as we approach 2032, a lot of different discussions began. five years ago, one of them was about the need to understand the archaeological record here under the previous superintendent, who understood the importance. we were able to find the money to do a reassessment of the 1930's archaeological record. that is the first step. before anything else, we need to understand what that record looks like. the 1930's, as many of you know, is a considerably long time ago, and much of the world has changed. we don't operate archaeologically the same way we did in the 1930's. a lot of the conclusions we
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would come to now. some of the most fundamental pieces of the way archaeologically works are radically different. we have ceramic dating down to a science in the way they did not. they can define people, define sites, define things that bring up from the ground as colonial era china. we can get very precise dates for when ceramics are first manufactured, precise information about when they entered american market. we are able to treat ceramics as a diagnostic tool, something to help us date our sites with a degree of precision unavailable in the 1930's. architecturally, you would not think this, but we know more about colonial architecture now than they did in the 1930's. there are classes of buildings they were unaware that existed. it has taken archaeology of the 1970's and 1980's to look at them. we have changed our understanding radically. the people who were doing excavating in the 1930's, the best knowledge they had did not know that post in ground buildings existed. they know there can be farmed buildings, but they did not know anything about post in ground dwelling.
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they did not have any way to identify them. they're not excavating sites in a way that will let them find them. the only way they know how to find them are bricks in situ, bricks in the ground. they can do that really well, but they don't have the ability or document set, data set, to be able to bring much to bear on that. they can identify buildings, but don't have the acumen to understand them. that is both a good and bad thing and part of why it is so important to do this reassessment and begin a discussion of what this site actually says. the bad part would be there is a lot of uncertainty about the archaeological record. that happens over time. the good part is that a lot of the site, the bulk of the site, is largely unexcavated. there is a lot we don't know about. it is waiting for a time when we have digital methods at our disposal to be able to do minimal impact to understand what is on the ground. in many ways, it has worked out well.
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it is almost like they're waiting for the 300th anniversary to come along. that is a pretty exciting thing when you start to take apart this site, and you will see why by the time i'm done. i'm going to show you different slides and imagery, some of which is fairly technical, but i have chosen some small examples and i think i can talk you through them. i want to highlight one other thing you need to keep in mind when understanding the story of this place. many of you know the story. there is a lot written about it and you can track it down without much effort. in the 1930's, there are competing groups of people are
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arguing people are doing different things about this landscape. each side is making its case, and they are focused on 19th century data in order to make that case. there also were people in the public ether who were arguing this was not the birthplace site at all. that argument does not really get traction but it appears in the washington post, the new york times. there are people arguing in that period that both groups that are arguing -- the wakefield association and ultimately national park service -- and they are both wrong and it is not here at all. that debate is not a debate. we have absolute certainty. it would be impossible to imagine this is not the right landscape. but they were nervous in that time period that it might not be, so some of the defensiveness you see in the debates in the 1920's and 1930's is because other people are arguing, you are both wrong. you see politics emerging in the discussion. another thing to keep in mind --
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i am laying out these pillars so we have a handle on why the changes i'm talking about are part of this and why they fit together -- these days, the average undergraduate history student has access to literally thousands more documents 24 hours a day than the best american historian had in 1925. that is an astounding thing to keep in mind. when people were doing their histories in the 1930's, they had the material they had in front of them, but that is what they had. it was difficult to get more. you do find people who are very thorough, but thorough does not look the same then as now. we have the ability through digital media and collections work over the past century, we have access to an incredibly large amount of information that we are able to bring to bear that they simply could not. i spent a lot of time for my last book reading washington biographies and working my way through them. when you read a lot of them, you realize that what you did in 1900 when you wrote a biography, you read three previous
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biographies and took your best stab. you get the same information processed over and over again. when they were doing research for the park here in the 1920's, there was no published selection of washington's papers to speak of. the papers were still disparate. they were being collected. the bicentennial actually led to a collection effort. it was happening at the time, but wasn't published. today if you want to do work on washington, you can go to any library and have the printed washington papers, annotated, so there are footnotes. the university of virginia has been putting this out for decades. there is still doing it, still records they are coming out with being published. much of that is now online. you can go to their website and find documents and transcriptions of documents and get a password and have absolute access to the whole thing. and it is searchable. anybody can do this, anybody can spend hours with washington's papers. it was not like that when they were writing biography is the
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1900, very few people had access to this information. we don't have to feel too indebted to the analyses that took place in those periods. those periods are fascinating for what those analyses say about the period. they are part of this story and there are pieces worth paying attention to, but we can do a broader job and understand more. we don't have to worry too much about the kinds of conclusions they came to. we are in a different place. let's build a little bit of the story so we can get to some of the findings i want to share. odd place to begin the story,
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but i always begin it here. you see the earthworks in the foreground of washington? if you look to your right -- no, your left, same as mine -- you will see the navy yard burning right there. where is it? you see all these little earthworks, fortifications with the cannon smoke? somewhere in there presumably is george washington parke custis. he got to fire the cannon ceremonially. he was the adopted great-grandson and revolutionary war veteran. they invited him to participate. i begin with this because, as many of you know, the parke custises are central to the story. he is the one who starts the process of washington commemoration. in 1815 -- not an accidental time. the british had been up the river, burned the city of washington, the fleet had stopped there and went up through maryland. it was not lost on anybody living on this river that it had been traumatized by this war. what parke custis did with a few
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revolutionary war veterans was to come to this site to commemorate washington as a rededication of the republic in the wake of the destruction of the city. that memory builds itself into this period of commemoration. as many of you know, he placed a stone. they brought the stone downriver. over time, the stone got lost, farmers moved it. when they got to the landscape, it was two years -- when he arrived here, parke custis -- two years after the last
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washington family member who owns the property, george corbyn washington had sold the property off. he was sort of distancing himself. there were still family stories about the land, but getting fewer. the washingtons themselves were living more distantly, further away. it is sort of a retreat. there wasn't a lot on the land to recall where the buildings were. chimneys, we were told there was a cellar hole visible into the 19th century, but also there are a lot of buildings. when you look at the distribution of habitation, there are people all over the place. not every building needs to be associated with the person you are looking for. it starts a process, this game of commemoration, looking for sites. it leads ultimately to the memorial obelisk at the circle, having been moved. i have just recently learned its base has been trimmed. the flamboyant base in the 1890's was trimmed down a bit. it led to a lot of art. this is one of my favorite topics. when mason locke weems wrote his famous stories of washington in his cherry tree edition of his life of washington, he talked about the home at ferry farm on the rappahannock and described it as a low front of faded red, an aging building overlooking the river. he said people come there still
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and say, here the great washington was born. he immediately said, they were wrong because he was born in westmoreland county in another site. that is the confusion in 1807 that carries on through the history of these two places. they are always confused one for the other. this was a wonderful example of that confusion, a drawing and etching. it says it is the birthplace of washington, although it is hard to reconcile the landscape as the mirror of the landscape. this would have to be the other side of pope's creek if this is supposed to be pope's creek on the left. the building itself is a rendering of ferry farm that gets drawn again and again. they have taken the ferry farm home and popped it on the imaginative pope's creek rendering. this conflation happens all over the place.
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people can be forgiven. you have to pay a lot of attention to understand that. this culminates with the memorial house. i won't go into its story. you can still look at it. a very reasonable facsimile of a colonial home at this period, a little more hulking than we would expect. there are plenty of houses in virginia that look like this, so it fits the bill in that way. this was the argument of one faction who had the ability to render their argument in brick and mortar on the land. excavations play a crucial role. there weren't excavations at the memorial home, but the remains they found are very odd and look like strange outbuildings. they were destroyed to make way for the memorial house. other excavations began in the 1930's and that is what we will focus on. you can see the landscape, the
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cars, the road stretching out. this road dates back to the 1890's, put there so you could drive or ride up to see the obelisk, the one that has been moved. it was originally where the memorial house was. this road is leading you into the area. without going into too much detail, they realized there were other features in the area. that cellar seems to be somewhere in this area, so they started to do exploratory digs. it is not the tiniest excavation. i have seen this before, but we don't take photographs in those days. we like to clean up a little before we start to take the photographs. this is a good workshop. you can see our friends standing midway there for scale. their model is the same model that colonial williamsburg is using.
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james knight, an architect and pioneering archaeologist at colonial williamsburg, developed a method of looking up the blocks of the city and digging trenches at 45 degree angles. what that lets you do is bang into brick foundations. the reason being if you go with the block, you may pass the foundation. it is an effective way to find a brick foundation. you will find objects as you encounter them. you won't find earthen features, cellars, post holes, fence lines. you are just trying to bang into bricks. when you find them, you do what we see here, trench around them, trace their outline, then you have your building. that is the technique they are bringing to bear. in 1930, they locate what gets called building x. in 1936, they excavated. they brought ccc workers up from west moreland state park. i think it is sp17. those guys are building the park, they bring those laborers up.
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they do work for a couple of weeks and head back to the park. they are retrieving artifacts, putting stuff in bags. it is never clear to me from the record exactly what their system is. these days at minimum, we would use a quarter inch mesh screen, run all the soil through it and retain artifacts and use finer mesh and water screening and flotation for areas we wanted to be more careful with. they are not using a screen. they are gathering. this looks nice, i will put it in a bag. it is difficult for me to know what their retention method is. we do have a collection method from them, but that is one of the foibles built into the record. this is the 1940 map that shows what we end up having. i gives you an idea the extent of the excavation in the 1940's. i was not joking when i said very little of the site has been
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excavated. they are taking guesses as to where things might be. you can see the trenches. they have some interesting intervals, sort of being creative. i'm not sure what this represents, it is an interesting choice. i like the staggering, it gives it a pleasing houndstooth quality, checkerboard work. you have the memorial house here. these excavations go back to the 1880's and 1890's, the memorial house sitting on top of it. building x is over here. you can see the channeling they did when they first found it, then dug around it, but that is all. a few other areas here, and that is it, and a little thing here. they are finding stuff, going after it, concentrating in that area. later, what is called the colonial garden excavated in the 1970's and a post in ground building was spotted, as well as some other features. that will matter in a little while. you get the idea of what they're doing, concentrated on one area and removing everything associated with the building. this is what they produced. i have adjusted this. i use color coding on these maps
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a lot. a few things to keep in mind about these, and a few things i want to say about northington's excavation. it was extremely sophisticated for his day. he had good mentors and followed the procedure. he gridded the area very carefully. he used strings suspended in air, so he knows what five foot by five foot unit he is in so that when he puts his artifacts in bags, he is close to where they are. we were able to put that back together. what happens over time, every time the features were drawn -- by features i mean the bricks, the things that cannot be removed from the ground. every time they drew these bricks, they sort of simplified them, made all the warts go away. each drawing makes it looks more and more regular, to the point where it is like they are convincing themselves this can
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work as a building. this is the way it gets talked about, broken into rooms, which is itself an assumption. i am presuming i'm looking at a single building that has rooms. so a, b, c, d, and e. e i'm not going to talk about because it does not make much sense at all, does not correspond to the building and is much more ephemeral than the drawings make it look like. it is barely there. more wishful thinking than anything else. we don't have assemblages for it because it was not enough of a space for them to get the assemblages. it is a strange looking object and has always been recognized as a strange looking object. the excavators said it was multiple buildings. they thought it was a sequence of buildings rather than a single building. it is only later we started talking about it as a single
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building. they are not that great at identifying stuff yet. they're doing the best they can, but they don't have that much information to go on. let me step back and say one thing about the record. northington collected this stuff, it belongs to the park service, stored it and cared for it. this is before computers and uniform record collecting. they had to invent a record collecting system. his system had flaws. the main one was he blocked out big areas and gave them a number. big area with a number, big area with a number, and then he subdivided inside of those big areas and gave each of those a number. seems reasonable, but if you do that and i say 100, 101, area 23, subarea 101, that is fine. what ends up happening is i call that area 100 over here, and i have area 25 and i say 100, 101, 102, you end up with two things that say 101 or 102.
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he fell into the trap of using repeat numbers, a train wreck for trying to put together a substantive record. if you take nothing else away from today, when you make a large record, use nonrepeating numbers. start with 00001 and you will probably be safe. 00321 is only that and nothing else. he had a repeating record, which was an interesting problem we had to rectify. use that system to connect to the artifacts. the book carried the information and had all tags like this. his report on the left top about what he is doing day-to-day. he has a corresponding system so that he can refer in his notes to things found in particular areas, go back and paper bags and find those artifacts. and then time moved on and this stuff became part of a larger connection and there were different needs. in the 1970's, the collection
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was re-catalogued. and again in the 1990's, it was re-catalogued. for larger purposes, to be able to do different things. the later catalog is a much more efficient catalog, much better system than the one northington had, but can you see the problem? they are disconnected. the impulse behind the catalog that exists now is not necessarily an archaeological impulse. it was very difficult to work with. when we walked into this, the first thing we had to do was basically play a game of rosetta stone. we have got one group of language, another group of language, but i need a third group so i can translate one to the other. we had to go back and marry the different records, make them speak one to the other. part of our plan to make sure we
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got it right was to build in 50 different checks after the fact so we could say, i want to find the subject, it should be in x context, let's see if we were right. we were playing games to see of our system worked correctly. we used excel, changed the numbers to nonrepeating numbers, and off we went. we created a massive catalog of all the objects found but one we could start to ask questions of. the first thing was to make the record talk. that matters, if nothing else, because since northington's excavation until today, no one could have worked with that record. it is not just that people didn't, you couldn't have worked with that record. it would have been extremely difficult, taken a lot of time to marry those things across. the record has been left alone. not only did northington map, but he also recorded profile views. this was basically looking at the soil layers from the side. she did not do as many as we would do now. if we were doing this, we would be mapping and photographing every unit we excavated. he did them over broad units.
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you can see what i mean about the numbers, 340, 330, those refer to the five by five units. the unit that was excavated to get this or is that the unit over there? it is hard to tell. we had to put all this together. he gave us enough that we could start to make sense out of this. this is what happened. this is where gets a little bit technicaly. what we did was re-created the stratigraphy. he did arbitrary layers. he did not look at it and say, i
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see a change here, i see a change there -- he imposed changes on it. four to 22, 10 to 16, 16 to 22, creating arbitrary layers. we went through and cut from his notes what those layers were and corresponded with other layers to say what is in those layers. it is a little tricky. there won't be a test, but you do get to see what our numbering system look like. 107301. we took the area number and connected it permanently to the subarea number. 107301 does not repeat itself. an awkward number but it works. if i were starting again, this is not the numbering system i would use, but we don't have to worry about expanding on this excavation. we had three different rooms that had substantive layering. the three of them, b, a, and d, you will notice quickly that what is happening inside of them -- the deposition inside of them, deposition representing the end of a building's life -- we only get to see in detail two
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moments of the building's life, a lot about when it is built and a lot about what it ends. what we want to see is what is happening in between. that is often the diciest stuff. if we find the right features, we can find where they dug the holes to build the building. we are looking at the end of the habitation, its demise, no longer lived in by the time the stuff is collecting. if you look at the distributions, the charts, they don't really correspond. it is not a uniform thing happening across all three of these areas. that is an interesting thing to think about. that would suggest to me two different possibilities. one is that they are each open at different times and are filled at different times, meaning each of these three are completely separate constructions that have their own stories. and it could be some combination of the two. or there is just an unevenness
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in the filling, things are piling in as they pile in. this is an open pit for a while and things are coming in gradually. garbage gets dumped over there, other garbage over there. we can be fairly certain there is habitation happening nearby. people are here dumping their garbage, it is not just an open hole. people from another home are taking their stuff in wheelbarrows, chimney waste and so on and dumping it in there. that helps fill the hole. anybody with land knows you don't want to leave the hole open. that is what we see happening. in contrast, take a look at the change here -- we are not going to this, so hold your hats -- you can see how these three vary. now let's look at c. it is completely different. the three we saw are different one from another but only in degrees. c is a completely different thing. it has a very big layer of black soil at the top with light artifacts and yellow gray soil beneath that down to the bottom.
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the artifacts are early. what that tells us is this thing called c was not open when the other three were. it was already a filled object before these other things came in. did the other three exist at the same time? hard to tell, but the way the film of this one works says this was not open at the same time, certainly was not being filled at the same time. as they were being filled, this was already filled with something else. right away, this a, b, c, d, e numbering thing starts to be problematic. if c is filled before a and b, it can't be later than a. it has to be an earlier thing from some other set of activities.
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when we started to put this together, that is when we started to say we have to consider the possibility before separate structures or one is a separate structure and two are one thing. we have to move in that direction, which does a lot of damage to the argument that this was a single structure. the archaeology just with the soil stratigraphy is telling us this does not work as a single structure, four rooms with a history as one thing. they look separate. that is one datastream. let's look at the artifacts themselves. i have given you a couple of pictures to contextualize. there are a lot of artifacts we can talk about. at the top, we have use wares, the type of thing used in utility preparation, stewing pots, serving platters. they're not table service, they are things found in the kitchen. at the bottom, we have a punch bowl we got from ferry farm. i use that picture every chance i get. and a white stoneware plate on the right.
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these are table settings. this is a world, we have to remember in the 18th century, where people did not have a lot of stuff. even wealthy people did not have a lot of stuff. i like to point out to my undergraduates, if you have a home today and you have lived in that home for, say, a decade, two decades, and you have been gradually collecting things we all do as consumers in the period of time you have been living in that house, you own more stuff than the king of sweden did in 1650. that house has more stuff than he had. we have more material. they have a lot less. it helps us to keep that in mind because when things get broken and left, where they land really does tell us about where they were used. the location of different types of ceramics is an important clue as to what is happening in different parts of the site, and it works pretty uniformly. you find where there are
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utilitarian ceramics, things used in preparation of food. table service, be it plates or punch bowls or forks and knives or glasses, wineglasses, that stuff is withheld. that stuff tends to divide fairly easily. let's look at the artifact little bit. what we did for this is took the 1930 excavation and 1936 excavation, both of which created artifact collections. my chart shows you in color a, b, c, d. each represents a number. i have at the bottom different ceramic types, some have a date. what i'm interested in showing is what types of ceramics are clustering where. what you start to see is there is a disproportionate amount of coarse earthenware, utility wares in this structure. they are not high on table wares. i think the breakdown was
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roughly 50/50, in some sections higher for the earthenware. we see a greater amount of food preparation ware, not table ware. all that would suggest we are looking at outbuildings. it is not absolutely positive. if we were looking at a poor family, we might think differently, because poor people are going to have less and utilitarian wares are cheaper. we are dealing with the family in the top 10% of virginians in wealth. they would not have a enormous amount of utilitarian wares on their table. if we are seeing the high quantity of use wares, we are looking at something not a residence, we are looking at something probably more about preparation of food than consumption. let's look at this again, pulling up the 1936 data, sort of the same thing going on,
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although we do get a spike in white glazed stoneware in one area. we are getting an interesting break. this is a little technical, but let's look at it briefly. this gives you totals. notice the high quantity we have of buckley, one of the pieces i showed you before. this is a utilitarian ware. if this was the 17th century, tin enamel ware is fancy stuff. in 18th century, it is pretty much some chamber pots and storage jars. that we are seeing this stuff is suggesting we are not dealing with a domestic assemblage, we are dealing with an assemblage associated with the production of food and labor rather than the place where the master family would be eating. that matters quite a bit. because if we already have the layers from the features suggesting something is not
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quite right in them all existing at the same time, now we have artifacts telling us we might be looking at something utilitarian. that's fine because we expect those buildings to be smaller, shorter lived. if we are getting a series of buildings existing in the same area, it make sense there would be a series of outbuildings that come and go with awareness of one another. anyone who built a hole there to build a building knows there was another building there. they use the bricks to build the next one. let's talk about fires for a minute. fire plays a prominent role in the story of washington's homes. i have written about this a little bit and still don't quite have it. it is a really strange thing, but every washington home is associated with a fire, and many of them were christmas fires.
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that is an important thing. we have one letter from the 1790's that associates the ferry farm with a christmas fire, but in the 1790's that is a little dubious. we have a letter in the 1740's that comes from england addressed to a washington that says, sorry about your late calamity by fire. we think we have identified that fire at ferry farm. the 1790 letters suggests that would be there also. washington never commented on this stuff, but when david humphreys was writing his biography, he commented on humphreys' work with annotated marks. one of his annotations as he was adding information, he said, my father's house burned, talking about his childhood. that is not great. there are a lot of his father's houses, hard to tell which one, but it is confirmation there was a fire. the fire takes on a life. the property next to mount vernon, that burned. we have all sorts of fires. the christmas thing comes in later and adds an interesting dimension. there is a fire story associated with this landscape and we need to talk about it for a minute. we have excavated buildings that
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had fires, burned down buildings is a fact of life. this is one i have a small involvement with i got to see when i was in graduate school. this is an amazing site that in some respects, the time wasn't there to really spend with it. this building instantly entered the canon of virginia buildings. this building gets referred to all the time, the john page house. just an amazing building. this building burned down in the 1720's. it had a fire one night. when you have a fire one night -- hopefully none of you have experienced this -- you have a house full of stuff of domestic life. it is all there. then there is a fire. when a house burns down catastrophically, that stuff burns.
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once it is burned, it is useless. it helps fill the cellar hole that you fill with dirt. in this cellar, there were sacks of grain that had burned. there were shelves with wine bottles that burned and collapsed onto one another. there was no mistaking this was a calamitous fire and all the domestic chit was inside the house when this fire happened. let's return to our site and ask about the burn. where is the burn? that is a pretty interesting thing. when you look at just rooms b and a, you can see what is happening. wood is 100% burned, fine. i don't know that is necessarily true because a certain amount of rotting wood looks just like burned wood, so you have to assess it carefully. i can tell you why burned wood is in a trash pit. that is not going to surprise you, and burned wood will survive better than raw wood. we don't have to lose too much sleep over the burned wood. i want to know about the ceramics and glass. look at those percentages.
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at the upper level, the ceramics in room a, 1% of this remix were burned. deeper end, 16% burned, at the bottom, 50%. how do you have a calamitous house fire that burns only 50% of the ceramics? then the house is abandoned. these percentages are extremely inconsistent, layer by layer. we are not seeing the percentages we would expect. we don't see anywhere where we have the right kind of percentages of burn to look like a calamitous fire. it does not mean there can't be a less calamitous house fire. that certainly can still be possible. the idea that a house burns down and leaves this inconsistent record -- it does not work that way. we don't have to think about the house burning down. houses can be damaged by fire to the point where they are abandoned.
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that can happen. that leaves a different kind of record. we may be seeing something that is damaged by burn and abandoned, but the layering is tricky and does not quite work that way. we will talk about that more later perhaps. i think the photographs of the building itself can talk about that. it does not really support that story. what we have instead is at the bottom of both of these areas, we don't have burn, we have silt. the only way that can get in there is if there weren't walls. what that suggests is an abandoned building and burn on top of that. that burn looks like stuff being dumped in from somewhere else rather than being part of the building. fires are happening, but this building is not showing the evidence one would expect. same problem here, percentages are strange. this one had a chimney, so it is hard to tell what we are looking at in terms of burn. i want to talk about maps for a minute. the burn segues into a landscape story. this is samuel lampkin's story. when george corbin was selling
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the land in 1813, he had a local surveyor do the work. he charted out the bounds of the land. he was only interested in the borders, does not care about what is inside. he does not point out anything, that is not his job. the borders happen to include this line here, which may have some berm trenches right next to it. he points out ruins on the land south of the border. you can see the point of the land right there. that is the creek, we are over here. the washington home is presumably somewhere in that area. there is a milll somewhere down here. i highlighted this because this
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is the part i want to call your attention to. there is a fork in the road on the other side of the creek. this is the road to the burned house that swings up this way, and then you have the road to washington's mill south. that is pretty interesting. if you look at that, that tells us in 1813 there is a burned house on the land, not a surprise, we know there were ruins on the land. there is a burned house and ruins. we have at least two remnants of former habitation, and there is a mill somewhere. let's look at another map. this is 1879. the army discovered during the civil war it was really fun to draw maps. you get a lot of federal impulses to draw maps afterward. these mapmakers are not local people. they are professionals who were sent down and they just ask local people. all the names reflect local understanding. i have colorized this so we can get a better handle on what is happening. this is pope's creek, never really quite that blue, is it? the marshland, i have tried to
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highlight in green so you get a sense of what is high and what is low. that calls to attention the run of what we might call little pope's creek, where the ice pond is. if you cross the bridge from the duck hall area, you are looking into where this water runs. that was wet enough that when it made its way up to here, if you were coming in by cart or horse, it forced you to choose one side of the creek or the other. the ground gets wet and you got to pick which side you are going to go on, so the road forks. all these road features always follow the natural topography. they always follow what it is like to be on the land. even though things get dammed and water gets drained, the roads are still there, telling you there is a reason the road had to fork there. you go either on the northward
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swing and go on the road to the burned house, which if you follow it through, it goes to the granary. you can see those buildings still or the inheritors of those buildings. the barns are on the road to the cemetery. you can't go up the road here because it is private property. but either this or this is where the burned house was. this road swings up and goes to the burned house, forcing you onto the north side of this little creek. if you go toward washington mill, you go down through what was the wilson property. wilson appears in a lot of these documents. he is an informant, tells people who come about the landscape. this road swings you up to where the washington home was. in the 18th century when you are coming in, you come in on this road, or to the right, and that is how you get to the washington property. if you go north, you go to wherever this burned house was. you could be here, could be up there. what tends to happen with these older roads is when they get to
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intersections, their name changes. the road to the burned house is often just this stretch. the word house does not have to mean a dwelling, in the way that a chicken house is not necessarily a house. there are alternative uses that could be at work. we will figure this out another time perhaps, but that road is forcing you away from the washington property. this notion of the burned house -- i can't go into too much detail -- but the story takes on a life of its own. by the 1880's, you get people referencing it. you get people in the time of the bicentennial who are absolutely inventing stories. we have in one case a forger who plays a prominent role in feeding stories to a historian, but he has a washington family association even though he is a forger. there is a famous story about him, but he was a washington family descendent and everything
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he said was taken as gospel because he had the right genealogy. but he was making stuff up at a lot of different levels. there is no reason to take what he said at face value. they accepted it because of genealogy. we don't have to do that. remember how narrow the world of information was for these folks. notice here that this map has called it burned house point. that is what people are calling it. but if you go back -- i put these together so you can clarify my thinking -- this was the lampkin map of 1813 during the fork. here is the map of the 1870's. it is the same piece of road. both maps show it in relation to the creek. the next project is to get out there and start to find these things on the ground and get them into computer databases so we can overlay the landscape in interesting ways. this was lampkin's full survey.
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if you look over here, there is the point. i want to play a little trick with you, zoom in and lighten it. now turn it upside down so you can read it. see what it is called? good point. in 1813, when the washingtons are still there, when we are closer to the memory of what happened, that piece of land is called good point, nobody is calling it burned house point. it is not in the discourse of the time. that tradition is invented in a later period of time and reflects a different stream of information. it is how this stuff works. when you spend time with landscape, you see this all the time. i presented this to colleagues in britain and people who deal with this over centuries.
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they wanted to know what it was called before, what it was called after, because they look for turnover in names like this every 75 years or so. they can do a really long track and watch how a memory of it being abbott's house -- the way these things filter through the landscape and you get vestigial forms of the remembrance in the land. what is great about sites like this is because of washington, because of the ongoing interest in washington, we have a trail of data. this is happening with all sorts of landscapes, but we don't have the data to put them back together. here, because people come back again and again, we can start to understand how a virginia landscape changes its meaning over time. good point, as this was called at the time -- as i mentioned, the fire stories start to become fast and furious. mrs. roger a. pryor wrote about mary washington. i won't read her quote, but you get the idea. people have very little compunction in this period in making stuff up. it is remarkable. there are many books out there that simply put dialogue in people's mouths. you can pick up books that look like any other book that tell
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you the conversations that lawrence, that george and lawrence are having as they sit around mount vernon. it is all just made up. there is a business of doing this. unfortunately, it converges. in a world where information was limited in the 1930's, people see these things and have a hard time sorting out. that is why people get so agitated. most of us don't really care whether williams was telling the truth or not about the cherry tree story. it is interesting, but we are not agitated. read what they are writing at the turn-of-the-century. they're angry at that guy. they want to hunt him down and hit him with a stick of cherrywood. they are mad at him about mixing fiction with truth. that is because their endeavor is so uncertain, so fraught with peril that when they can see somebody making something up, that makes them nervous, because they know they are susceptible to all sorts of fiction because
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of the nature of the work they do. when we start to talk about the building, we get to think about the landscape and not just assume that just because a story is there, that is the way it works. when we look at the documents, we see there is almost nothing supporting this stuff. it comes into existence expediently at a particular moment. the architecture is the trickiest one of all. you can see northington's strings sort of faintly. he has done a great job checking this stuff out. i will highlight some of the tension we have. this is a strange happening. this is a corner that is not knitted into itself. these two pieces of wall were not made at the same time. a mason would interlock. there is a dry course at the bottom of the one on the left, but there is not one on the right. that doesn't mean much. it is an example of the kind of curious mismatches you find.
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this one is much more problematic. i would love to be able to see exactly what's happening here. on the left, you have got a construction. you can see a clear theme between whatever is on the left and whatever is on the right. at the bottom on the right, something is very well mortared. somebody put a lot of time and energy into that mortar. that comes up and stops, then there is something behind it with soil, packed dirt, some of which has been dug out, presumably by the excavators. on top of that is another wall. that is not a single construction. that is, at minimum, a building that was abandoned or taken apart and dirt was building and another building on top of it. when you look at the plan, the map, none of this stuff was taken into consideration when you draw clean lines.
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when you start to get into the actual architecture, it starts to look very strange. this was a chimney fall over. this accounts for a lot of the burn. we looked at these ceramics, and the ceramics are lightly burned. we don't have conflagration ware where the ceramics are really transformed. we don't see evidence of intense fire. this stuff we see looks like kitchen refuse burning. nobody knew that at the time. they did not have a data set to know that kitchens are often full of burned ceramics. this is a great one. what is going on here? bring the masons in. on the left, you have got a wall that appears to have something built into it and has been robbed out. that is interesting robbing. not to say it can't happen. look what happens is you get to the bottom of it. there is a dry course at the very bottom, then another footer under the dry course.
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that suggest there was something here, it went away, this came in, then this went away, then this came in. or this was connected and something chalked it out. i don't have an explanation. i have three data sets. stratigraphy, artifacts, and the architecture, but all i have of the architecture are these photographs, maybe a handful more. until we are able to actually interrogate this on foot, this was a mystery zone. when you look at it, it is not very convincing for working as a bunch of pieces of a single building. it is arguing very loudly it is something else.
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what it is, very hard to say. lots of possibilities i can make up, about nine or 10 different ones, all of which could fit into the story of developments on the landscape. what it probably is not is ever a single building.
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