The Washingtons kept about ten slaves in the main farmhouse and outbuildings, while another twenty lived at a still-undiscovered nearby site, the historians said.
Trove of Artifacts
The cellars beneath the house held a trove of artifacts, including wig curlers, a Masonic pipe, pottery sherds, fish bones, more than a thousand straight pins, and a mysterious carnelian gem originally from India.
The site also included prehistoric matter that far predated George Washington's house, as well as items from the years since, said Muraca.
The researchers found a pipe, decorated with a carved compass in a square on the inner side of the bowl and columns and other Masonic symbols on the outside.
Records show that Washington first became a Freemason in Fredericksburg, across the Rappahannock River from Ferry Farm. He could have smoked the pipe on the site while studying to advance through the fraternity's hierarchy between 1752 and 1753.
"That pipe was certainly in use during that time," said Muraca, who would not comment further on the possible link to Washington.
John Ferling, a Washington biographer and professor emeritus at the University of West Georgia in Atlanta, noted that Washington was not otherwise known to have smoked tobacco.
Ferling, who is not affiliated with the Ferry Farm excavations and has not seen the artifacts, was intrigued by the inch-long (2.5-centemeter-long), rusty red colored carnelian bead.
Muraca said the semiprecious stone originated in India and was cut into a form popular then in West Africa, where such beads were sold.
It was the centerpiece of a bead necklace, he said, and similar beads were found in slave graves in Barbados.
"This is the first one I know of in the mainland of the U.S.A.," Muraca said.
The Barbados and Virginia beads could be linked, because Washington, in his late teens, had gone to Barbados with his brother, who had tuberculosis and had been advised by a doctor to convalesce there, the historians said.
The Ferry Farm bead may also have been owned by enslaved Africans then living on the site.
"You never know what the discovery of an artifact might lead to," Ferling said. "If they would find any artifact that would tell us anything about Washington's youth, that would be extremely important."
Regardless of their origins, the discoveries will help paint a better picture of the first U.S. president's life, especially since Ferry Farm has achieved almost legendary status.
Civil War soldiers in the area—from both the Union and Confederate armies—wrote home about having visited places of Washington interest, Levy said.
All the soldiers would have been familiar with the anecdotes that still resonate today. It was on this landscape, for instance, that the young Washington is said to have damaged his father's cherry tree and then nobly confess: "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."
That story can't be verified, and Mason Weems, the author of the 1806 biography in which it first appears, has been accused of embellishing stories. Even so, Levy, who is writing a book on the site and its stories, notes that the tale is not all that hard to believe.
"There's nothing implausible about it. It's not a Paul Bunyan style of story," Levy said, referring to an outlandish American myth.
"It is, at its core, a tale of a six-year-old kid with an ax who banged on a tree and then was caught red-handed by his father," he said.
Levy says the veracity of the story ultimately is less important than the story's longstanding centrality in Americans' understanding of Washington.
"To the extent that who George Washington was as a child has an influence on who he is as an adult—we're going to be able to understand that piece of him in a way that we've never been able before," Levy said.
As the excavations continue and the artifacts are cleaned, identified, labeled, and cataloged, the team also will oversee the construction of a replica of the Washington home and its surroundings.
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