35 Bottles of 18th Century Preserves Unearthed at George Washington’s Home.

Archaeologists at George Washington’s Mount Vernon have unearthed an astounding 35 glass bottles from the 18th century in five storage pits in the Mansion cellar of the nation’s first president. Of the 35 bottles, 29 are intact and contain perfectly preserved cherries and berries, likely gooseberries or currants. The contents of each bottle have been carefully extracted, are under refrigeration at Mount Vernon, and will undergo scientific analysis. The bottles are slowly drying in the Mount Vernon archaeology lab and will be sent off-site for conservation.

This discovery follows a recent find in the cellar of two intact European-manufactured 18th-century glass bottles containing liquid, cherries, and pits. These archaeological finds are part of the landmark privately funded $40 million Mansion Revitalization Project at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Photographs and video footage of the bottles’ discovery at Mount Vernon are available here and should be attributed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA).

Mount Vernon Principal Archaeologist Jason Boroughs said, “These extraordinary discoveries continue to astonish us. These perfectly preserved fruits picked and prepared more than 250 years ago provide an incredibly rare opportunity to contribute to our knowledge of the 18th-century environment, plantation foodways, and the origins of American cuisine. The bottles and contents are a testament to the knowledge and skill of the enslaved people who managed the food preparations from tree to table, including Doll, the cook brought to Mount Vernon by Martha Washington in 1759 and charged with oversight of the estate’s kitchen.”

Mount Vernon has partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to analyze the contents of these historic bottles, composed of materials and foodstuffs that are likely 250 years old. While only a small quantity of the samples have been analyzed to date, the findings are significant even at this early stage:

54 cherry pits and 23 stems have been identified thus far, suggesting that the bottles were likely full of cherries before bottling. Cherry pulp is also present.

Microscopy suggests that the cherries may have been harvested by snipping from trees with shears. The stems were neatly cut and purposefully left attached to the fruit before bottling.

The cherries likely are of a tart variety, which has a more acidic composition that may have aided in preservation.

The cherries are likely candidates for DNA extraction, which could be compared against a database of heirloom varieties to determine the precise species.

The pits are undergoing an examination to determine if any are viable for germination. 

The Mansion Revitalization Project is underway because today's highly popular Mansion performs functions it was not designed for. Built as a private residence, it is now a public monument visited by thousands daily, translating to a much heavier traffic flow than the Washingtons could have imagined. That increased visitation causes wear, tear, and strain on the building fabric. Although repairs throughout the Mansion’s 290-year history have been accomplished using the best techniques available at the time, some of those repairs are now more than a century old. Significant advances in preservation technology afford exciting opportunities to improve structural and environmental conditions in the building, preparing it for another century of service.

Some of the earliest interventions completed in the Mansion were “localized” repairs intended to solve specific problems of immediate concern. Though successful, such repairs can have unintended consequences that affect the overall health of the Mansion. With this project, Mount Vernon’s preservation team is proceeding holistically, approaching the Mansion as a complex network of interlocking systems. The primary tasks of the Mansion Revitalization Project include:

  • Repairing sections of the Mansion’s framing and masonry
  • Installing a new heating/ventilation/air conditioning system
  • Improving drainage in and around the Mansion’s cellar
  • Conducting research in rarely accessible spaces

When the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took possession of George Washington’s home in 1860, it faced a monumental restoration challenge. Since then, the MVLA has meticulously restored the Mansion and surrounding outbuildings, turning Mount Vernon into a shining example of historic preservation. After extensive investigation, assessment, research, planning, and design, Mount Vernon is taking proactive steps to ensure the health of the Mansion as it enters its fourth century. The Mansion Revitalization Project is being conducted in four phases and is scheduled for completion in 2026.

Source: www.mountvernon.org


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