Archaeology at George Washington's Ferry Farm

Archaeology continues to reveal a wealth of new information about the rich history of Ferry Farm. For more than 12,000 years the property’s strategic location and natural resources have nurtured a variety of inhabitants, including George Washington and his family. Augustine Washington moved his family to Ferry Farm in 1738, when George was six years old, and the property was home to the Washington family until 1772.

Aerial view of the dig site at Ferry FarmIn 1996 Ferry Farm was purchased by The George Washington Foundation to save it from retail development, and the Foundation now owns the 113-acre tract encompassing the entire original river frontage, the core of the farm’s original domestic and farming operations, and the colonial ferry sites. Since acquisition, the Foundation’s goal has been to uncover the house and outbuildings on the Washington farm in order to allow for reconstruction on the landscape, interpretation for the general public, and study by scholars.

Full-scale archaeological excavation began in 2003 in the area yielding the oldest artifacts. The dig site is now the second largest in Virginia (after Jamestown) and yields, on average, more than 1,000 artifacts each day. These artifacts span the period of time from prehistoric times through the colonial era and the Civil War to the present.

Significant progress has been made since 2003, when the archaeology team found the earliest house (1690–1725) on the property (the Washingtons’ was the second of five). In 2004 and 2005, the team located the Washington kitchen, a Washington slave quarter, and several 19th-century structures. The team discovered a large structure in 2006. Its size, location and artifact mix suggested that it might be the 1741 home renovated by Augustine Washington.

Foundation archaeologist examining artifacts found in the Ferry Farm digFoundation staff focused on excavation of this structure in 2007 and discovered a number of previously unknown cellars filled with thousands of artifacts and architectural elements of the house. These artifacts will be fully analyzed over the coming years. In 2008, Foundation archaeologists formally announced the discovery of the Washington house.

A new Visitor's Center exhibit titled Shared Landscapes, Shared Realities, showcases some of the small finds that relate to the Washington family's time at Ferry Farm.