for National Geographic News
The foundations of George Washington's childhood house have been found at Ferry Farm in Virginia, the setting of the legendary cherry tree story.
Wig curlers, a carnelian bead and a half million other artifacts were also part of the discovery, which will help scholars fill in large gaps in the story of the first U.S. president's early life. (See pictures from the site.)
"When you look at the normal biographies of Washington, they start when he's 23," said David Muraca, who oversaw the excavation as director of archaeology at the George Washington Foundation, which owns Ferry Farm.
"This piece of the story is very difficult for historians to get their hands around," he said. "This dig will let us start our stories much earlier."
Washington was always known to have grown up at Ferry Farm. But scholars did not know where exactly his house was located on the property, which he sold in 1774, after he had already moved to Mount Vernon, Virginia, some 40 miles (65 kilometers) away.
Many of the stones used in the Ferry Farm house were later reused to construct other buildings and houses on the property, which starts at the banks of the Rappahannock River in Stafford County.
Still, after a seven-year search, the team was able to identify the floor plan of the house the Washington family inhabited, beginning in 1738, when George was six years old.
The archaeological data—cornerstones, hearths, and several cellars—matched information from a tax inspection after Washington's father died in 1743, said Philip Levy, a University of South Florida historian and archaeologist who also oversaw the excavation.
(Levy has been funded by the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration, which has supported the Ferry Farm excavation project along with the Dominion Foundation and others. The Society owns National Geographic News.)
The house—"a fairly common English building with some regional variations"—was one and a half stories, the "half" being a furnished attic with dormer windows, Levy said, describing the Washingtons as "county-level gentry."
"This was a very, very nice house," said Mark Wenger, an architectural historian at Ferry Farm, "a very elaborate house for this time and place."
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