Maurice Clark Site (44ST174)

Introduction

The Maurice Clark site (44ST174) is the dwelling associated with a small, 150-acre plantation located at what is today called Ferry Farm in Stafford County, Virginia. The Maurice Clark site overlooks the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg and was excavated as part of an initiative to locate George Washington's childhood farmhouse.

Maurice (or Morris) Clark had acquired the property by 1710, building two structures (one a dwelling) and then dying within six months. While Clark was not married, he did own the indenture of a white servant named Dennis Linsy. Clark held no title or office, but he did own two tracts of land, livestock, and at least two horses by the time of his death.

Clark left his dwelling plantation to Peter Waterson, but little is known about him or his household. Sometime before 1727, Thomas Harwood and his wife, Margaret, acquired the property. That year, they conveyed the property to William Strother. Both families included households with women and children, and these families were of the same station in life as Clark and Waterson. By the time that William Strother died in 1733, the property comprised "a very handsome dwelling house, 3 Store houses, several other convenient Outhouses and a ferry belonging to it" (Muraca et al. 2011).

Ferry Farm, or the Home Farm as it was called then, was occupied by the Washington family beginning in 1738 and was occupied by the family until 1772, when Mary Washington moved to Fredericksburg. The property was sold in 1776 to Hugh Mercer, who died the following year. The plantation was then rented out to Chatham Plantation until it was sold to Chatham's owner, Judge John Coalter, in 1829. Ownership of Ferry Farm changed hands several more times before returning to Chatham Plantation in 1847.

Archaeological Investigations

Schnitting subsoil, Maurice Clark site (The George Washington Foundation)

The Maurice Clark site was excavated in 2002 and 2003 as part of an effort to identify George Washington's boyhood home. A second series of excavations was undertaken in 2006 and 2007. These investigations revealed that the Maurice Clark site, which dates ca. 1700–1730, pre-dated the Washingtons' arrival at the property.

The aims of this research were multipronged, with particular emphasis placed on understanding the landscape and material culture of small planters at the turn of the 18th century. Archaeologists used USGS coordinates to establish a grid. Using 5-by-5 foot excavation units, the 2002 field team excavated a 1,275-square-foot block. During the 2003 season, an additional 2,000 square foot block was excavated by flat shovel. A total of 131 5-by-5 foot excavation units were dug during these two seasons. Soils were either dry-screened through ΒΌ-inch mesh or water-screened through window mesh. Samples from plowed soils and feature fill were taken for flotation and submitted for soil chemistry and phytolith analysis.

The written and archaeological records suggest that the dwelling was built ca. 1700 and underwent substantial renovation ca. 1720. The site appears to have been demolished and abandoned not long after that renovation. The site includes two post-in-ground structures and several sealed contexts.

Features

The eight post holes that outline the roughly rectangular perimeter of the dwelling indicate that its measurements were 20-by-30 feet. This frame structure would have been sheathed with clapboard, and would have included two ground floor rooms, a wattle and daub fireplace and chimney at its south end, a loft, and several cellars.

Maurice Clark dwelling (The George Washington Foundation)
Root cellar, Maurice Clark site (The George Washington Foundation)
Cellar, Maurice Clark site (The George Washington Foundation)
Cellar excavation, Maurice Clark site (The George Washington Foundation)

One 4.5-by-6.5 foot root cellar was located 10 feet north of the hearth in the 20-by-20 foot large south room. This feature was the original root cellar, measuring 2.0 feet below subsoil at its deepest. This pit appears not to have failed but rather to have been abandoned soon after it was built. It was likely intentionally filled, perhaps during the building's renovation ca. 1720.

Two discernible soil strata were recorded in this original root cellar. The first or top layer included clay deposits containing "small flecks of brick and daub, fish bones and scales, pipe stems, eggshells, pewter, and burnt oyster shell," while the second layer was a yellow brown sandy loam containing mainly charcoal and brick flecks. Excavators also recovered daub, "fish scales and bones, eggshell, burnt oyster shell, pipe stems, pipe bowl fragments, straight pins, lead casting waste, lead shot, and ceramics" (Muraca et al. 2011).

After this cellar was filled, it appears that a 5-foot-deep, bowl-shaped pit was dug in its filled-in center. This bowl was filled with charred wood, brick, and sandstone associated with the chimney.

This now-filled south room cellar was replaced by a second, shallower root cellar built just north of it. This square cellar measured 5.1 feet across and 1.0 feet below the base of plow zone at its deepest. Excavations of this cellar uncovered two distinct layers of soil and a number of artifacts post-dating 1720. These include "early ceramics, window glass, wine bottle glass, nails, and lithics" in the first or top layer and a large number of charcoal and burnt faunal remains in the second (Muraca et al. 2011).

The previously noted wattle and daub chimney in the south room, like the nearby cellar, failed rapidly and was replaced by a more efficient model. The base of this stone chimney was erected atop the filled cellar. However, these renovations did not last long, as the entire structure was demolished under William Strother's ownership sometime after 1727.

A third and deeper root cellar measuring 13-by-10 feet across and 5 feet deep was located in the smaller north room (itself measuring 20-by-10 feet). This cellar was likely used for storage in a room used as a workspace. The north room cellar, however, failed rapidly after initial construction, as evidenced by its severely eroded walls.

One 1.3-by-1.0 foot large structural posthole was uncovered on the north side of this third cellar. According to Muraca et al. (2011), this post was likely installed to support a structural sill. Its contents included yellow brown silty loam fill and "tobacco pipe stems, bottle glass, animal bones, plaster and mortar." The artifacts recovered from the post hole suggest a construction date of post-1670. The post mold, measuring 1.0-by-0.9 feet and composed of a dark brown sandy silt fill, contained "bottle glass, white salt-glazed stoneware (TPQ 1720) and mortar" (Muraca et al. 2011).

An additional eight structural post holes were recorded and excavated during this season, although only one contained artifacts. These holes were evenly spaced at 9.5 foot intervals and appear to comprise the structure's outline. Muraca et al. (2011) concluded that, given the spacing of the holes, their mostly rectangular plan shape, and their similar depths, the builders used the pre-assembled sidewall construction technique to raise the structure.

Artifacts

In total, 52,094 artifacts were recovered from the features and 131 excavation units at the Maurice Clark site. Lithic debitage made up the majority of this number, followed closely by bone fragments. A total of 4,373 ceramic sherds and 3,045 tobacco pipe fragments were also recovered. Of the ceramic sherds, 39 distinct ware types were identified. At 746 sherds, creamware was ubiquitous, followed by white salt-glazed stoneware (n=471), tin-glazed earthenware (n=403), pearlware (n=365), whiteware (n=181), Rhenish blue and gray stoneware (n=164), slipware (n=123), and porcelain (n=102). The refined earthenwares, including the creamware, pearlware, whiteware, and other post-1730 materials are associated with a Washington period slave quarter located just south of the Maurice Clark house, and not with the Maurice Clark house.

Small finds include 4 beads, 1 curtain ring, 30 pieces of daub, 3 hinges, 3 keys, 9 locks, 25 nails, 28 tacks, 46 ammunition, 4 gunflint, 3 knives, 58 projectile points, 1 tool, 51 buttons, 10 cufflinks, 9 curlers, 4 horse bits, 9 horse buckles, 8 horseshoes, 2 leather horse ornaments, 1 horse ring, 1 spur and 1 stirrup, 1 snuffer, 1 book hinge, 1 figurine, 12 pieces of hardware, 2 ornaments, 2 pots/pans, 1 seed, 3 toys, 6 lithic tools, 41 Native ceramic sherds, 122 sewing pins, 2 sewing scissors, 3 thimbles, 4 tobacco pipe sherds, 3 bottle seals, 6 European ceramic tableware sherds, 36 glass tableware sherds, 1 dead eye, 1 fish hook, 1 bale seal, 5 coins, 8 forks, 9 knives, and 4 spoons. Additional architectural artifacts associated with the early 18th-century structure include one "large and sturdy lock," "hinges, pintles, and clenched nails," a small number of window glass sherds, and plaster. A child's thimble was also recovered, indicating that Clark or one of the following property tenants likely had at least one daughter and a wife.

Analysis of faunal remains revealed that 4,393 bones associated with the 18th-century occupation of the Maurice Clark site were recovered during the first two field seasons (Hatch 2012). This analysis further revealed that domestic species comprised 79% of the assemblage, while wild game accounted for 21%. The species most commonly consumed were cattle (Bos taurus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and chicken (Gallus gallus). These are just four of the 22 distinct species represented in the Maurice Clark site faunal assemblage.

A total of 2,708 bone fragments were recovered from the pre-renovation features. This is considerably more than the number of fragments (n=836) recovered from the post-renovation features, suggesting yet again that the structure was not occupied for long after it was renovated.

References

Hatch, D Brad. 2012. A Report on the Faunal Remains from the Maurice Clark Site (44ST174). On file, George Washington Foundation, Fredericksburg, VA.

Muraca, David, Paul Nasca, and Phil Levy. 2011. Report on the Excavation of the Washington Farm: The 2002 and 2003 Field Seasons. On file, George Washington Foundation, Fredericksburg, VA.

Further Information on the Colleciton

The Maurice Clark collection is owned by George Washington Foundation in Fredericksburg. For more information about the collection and collection access, contact Melanie Marquis, Archaeology Lab Supervisor, at 540-370-0732; email healy-marquis@gwffoundation.org.

To Download Data

Data and a variety of other resources from this site are available for download. To download data, please go to the Downloads page.

About the Project

A multi-year and multi-institution collaboration aimed at standardizing and synthesizing archaeological data for important sites in the Potomac River Valley during the period 1500-1720.

Technical Data

How we gathered and organized the data, details about the databases, information for those who want to download and work with the data.

Contact Us

How to Cite

Content on this site is meant to be used!