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Digging for clues, by George
Discovering more about the Ferry Farm that George Washington knew in the 1740s is the goal of archaeologists this summer in southern Stafford.

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Date published: 3/17/2004


SPRING will arrive at Ferry Farm in a few weeks in much the same way it has since young George Washington grew to manhood there during the mid-1700s.

Cherry trees blushing with pink and white blossoms will brighten the landscape along with the lavender blooms of redbud trees.

Early risers--including deer, turkeys, groundhogs and an occasional fox--will be greeted by songbirds offering their own cheerful commentary on another sunrise.

Except for the steady hum of traffic on nearby State Route 3, the sounds, sights and smells along the Rappahannock River at Ferry Farm probably have changed little during the past 300 years.

One thing that has changed, however, is that "spring digging" no longer means preparing the ground for crops. These days, all the digging is directed by David Muraca, the chief archaeologist for George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation.

More than 500 exploratory holes have been dug at Ferry Farm during the past five years and about 60,000 artifacts have been uncovered--all helping in some little way to shed light on life before, during and after the Washington family lived there in the 1740s.

During a recent presentation to the Stafford County Historical Society, Muraca said some of those artifacts date to prehistoric times. Others reflect American Indian culture, the Colonial era or the Union army's occupation of Stafford County during the Civil War.

The Washington family moved to Ferry Farm in 1738, when George was 6 years old. He spent his formative years there until about age 16, and it was his inheritance in his father's will.

Muraca said this year's dig, which will begin in early May and run through the end of August, will focus on the house where young George lived during most of his time at Ferry Farm.

"This year, we begin the search for the house and outbuildings constructed by Augustine Washington in 1740," Muraca said.

"This is the house that George's mother and her children lived in after the death of Augustine in 1743. And this is the main Washington-period component of the archaeology site."

Muraca said that Colonial plantations from the 18th century are poorly understood and that this year's excavation at Ferry Farm will help researchers better understand an important period in our history.

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