Shared Landscapes, Separate Realities

Early in 2010, a new exhibit was opened in the Visitor's Center at Ferry Farm.

In 1743, George Washington’s father Augustine died leaving the family in dire straits. “Gus” Washington left about 60 percent of his estate to his two sons from a previous marriage and the property now known as Ferry Farm to young George. Mary Ball Washington made the decision not to remarry and kept the farm and her family going through several very difficult years. By the mid 1760s, the family’s economic status had improved and Mary continued to live at the farm until 1772 when she moved to a house in town.

Visitors looking at exhibitArchaeological discoveries at Ferry Farm are providing an amazing glimpse into the lives of the Washington family and their slaves during this period. Using these small finds, the Foundation has mounted a new exhibit in the Visitor Center, showing the ways the family dealt with adversity.

The strategies of the family for coping with hardships are evident through such objects as child-sized spurs that testify to the equestrian activities of the Washington boys, for which George was best known. These spurs, and other items such as small thimbles, provide silent witness to Mary’s commitment to schooling her children in the skills they would require as adults.

As their fortune began to change for the better, the family’s possessions attested to this recovery. Sherds from a hand-painted teapot show us Mary’s fashionable taste and her committment to appear to live as gentry in both good times and bad. Enslaved families who lived and worked on the farm were impacted by the ebb and flow of the Washingtons’ financial situation. Many artifacts such as eating utensils, pottery, and farm implements, help show what life was like for the Washingtons’ slaves.