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Foundations of a Founding Father

John McCarthy, 24, a University of South Florida student sifts through what is left from the dig site that they believe is George Washington's boyhood home. George Washington moved to Ferry Farm when he was six years old and took over the farm after his father died before moving to Mount Vernon
John McCarthy, 24, a University of South Florida student sifts through what is left from the dig site that they believe is George Washington's boyhood home. George Washington moved to Ferry Farm when he was six years old and took over the farm after his father died before moving to Mount Vernon (Dominic Bracco II -- The Washington Post)

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By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 3, 2008

On a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River, 50 miles south of the capital city that bears his name, archaeologists have unearthed a site that provides what they call the most detailed view into George Washington's formative years: his childhood home and, likely, the objects of his youth.

There are marbles and wig curlers, utensils and dinnerware. A pipe, blackened inside, carries a Masonic crest and dates to when he joined the Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge.

The announcement of the long-sought discovery came yesterday, after seven years of digging and several disappointments.

"What's so great about this dig is that when people talk about Washington, they always talk about his adult life," said David Muraca, director of archaeology for the George Washington Foundation, which owns the Ferry Farm property, where the discovery was made. "So this will expand the knowledge about his early years."

It was always known that Washington grew up on the Stafford County property near Fredericksburg, but until now, no one could locate the remains of the house on the 100-plus acres or unearth the artifacts buried inside.

"It's an amazing time," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said yesterday after addressing a crowd gathered for the public unveiling. "It's a very important site that was thought to have been lost."

The governor predicted that the site crucial to the first president's life will draw tourists.

"This now gives us one more part of the story to tell," Kaine said. "We are a nation now where people want to have heroes."

Washington's family moved to the property in 1738, when he was 6, and he is believed to have lived in a clapboard-covered wooden home until his 20s. It was there that he lost his younger sister, Mildred, then his father, Augustine. And if it were true that the battered bark of a cherry tree was the first test of Washington's honesty, the debated story most people know of his childhood, then that, too, would have happened on this swath of land now speckled with magnolia and pine trees.

"What we have at Ferry Farm for the first time is the ability to look at a text of his childhood," said Philip Levy, an archaeologist and a history professor at the University of South Florida. "This is the only place we're going to get that."

A day before the official announcement, Muraca and Levy stood at the lip of the 50-foot-wide hole of displaced dirt and studied the culmination of their seven-year effort. About a dozen workers, on hands and knees, swept softly at the soil.

Even at this early stage, the men said, previously unknown details of Washington's life have emerged.


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