John Washington Site (44WM204)


John Washington site

The John Washington site (44WM204) is located on the south shore of the Potomac River near Mattox Creek at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The site sits on land patented in 1655 by Richard Cole and David Anderson. The following year, Anderson began improving the property. In 1657, he married the widow Elizabeth Sturman Hallowes and moved to her plantation on Currioman Bay (see the John Hallowes site). In 1664, Anderson sold the land, including "all edifices thereunto belonging," to immigrant John Washington. Washington had arrived in the colony in 1657 as the second master of a merchant ship. He abandoned his career as a mariner, married the daughter of Nathaniel Pope in 1658, and acquired land on Mattox Creek. In the following decade, Washington settled on the Bridges Creek tract and established a plantation there, where he lived with a succession of three wives and his children. He died in 1677. A court ruling at the time of his death gave "eight Negroes" from the estate to his wife Frances. Frances, the daughter of Thomas Gerard, had been born in England and spent part of her childhood at St. Clement's Manor in Maryland.

Washington's second son, John, and John's wife, Anne Wickliffe, lived on and operated the plantation until her death at the turn of the century. A 1683 survey of the property, owned by the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, shows the location of the Washington house and two others associated with "old Mrs. Brooks" and Original Brown.

The artifacts recovered from the John Washington site suggest a date of occupation of ca. 1670 through the end of the 17th century into the early 18th century. These dates of occupation suggest that the site was the residence of the elder John Washington and, after his death in 1677, his son, John, and his family.

The elder John Washington played an important role in Anglo-Native relations in the third quarter of the 17th century, having helped to provoke hostilities with local groups and the Susquehannocks that precipitated Bacon's Rebellion. In 1675, Washington along with Major Thomas Truman of Maryland led a siege of the Susquehannock Fort, at one point inviting the Native leaders outside the fort for a parley. Without provocation, the two English leaders along with Major Isaac Allerton opened fire on the Indian leaders. The enraged Susquehannocks escaped the fort six weeks later, beginning a series of raids along the frontier and creating the opportunity for Nathaniel Bacon's rise as the leader of a rebellion that still bears his name.

The elder Washington was the great-grandfather of George Washington, who was born at Popes Creek in 1732.

Archaeological Investigations

Archaeology at what would become the George Washington Birthplace National Monument began in 1882 and has continued under the auspices of various organizations and agencies into the present. The site associated with the immigrant John Washington and his household was first identified in the 1930s. It was at that time that 600 acres of land historically tied to the Washington family in Westmoreland County was designated as a National Monument. In preparation for the 1932 opening of the park, architectural historian James Latane and engineer O.G. Taylor dug trenches across the suspected location of the house where George Washington was born in an attempt to find it.

It was during these investigations that Latane uncovered the remains of a brick-lined cellar that was later identified as an outbuilding associated with the plantation of John Washington the immigrant. The site was opened and the cellar within the building was completely excavated. It is unclear how much of the soil was screened during this project and there is no provenience information regarding the artifacts recovered during this excavation. Some of the context associated with the cellar (accession number 246) may also contain artifacts from trenching. No report was prepared on the early 20th-century archaeology of the site.

In 1977, Brooke Blades, under the direction of John Cotter, returned to the John Washington site. The plow zone at the site was removed via mechanical stripping. The plow zone was not screened, but feature soils appear to have been screened through ¼-inch mesh. Blades discovered the remains of two new structures, including a 20-by-40 foot post-in-ground dwelling with chimneys on each gable end; one made of brick on the east and another made of mud-and-stick on the west. A root cellar measuring 5 by 7.5 feet was located in front of the west hearth. An addition on the north façade of the structure measured roughly 10 feet square. Although it is possible that this house may have been one constructed by David Anderson in 1656, the artifacts suggest that the complex was not built until the elder John Washington acquired the property.

Blades found the second earthfast outbuilding 42 feet west of the dwelling; this structure measured 11.5 by 20 feet with a cellar lined with yellow brick. Blades dug a small test unit in the cellar and recovered more than 900 artifacts, indicating a late 17th- or early 18th-century date of abandonment. This building has never been fully excavated.

Blades also uncovered the cellar first excavated in the 1930s, located 48 feet south of the newly-discovered house. This building, measuring 15 by 20.5 feet, was of post-in-ground construction with a brick-lined cellar beneath the entire structure. Ceramics associated with the 1930s excavation of this outbuilding suggest that the cellar was filled with refuse dating from ca. 1660 to 1700, and perhaps as late as 1720.


A database containing the artifacts recovered from the John Washington site was made available for this project; as noted above, accession number 246 (recorded as context number 246 in our database) includes artifacts recovered in the 1930s from a brick-lined cellar associated with a 15-by-20.5 foot building. It should be noted that, in the 1970s, additional artifacts were recovered from the building excavated in the 1930s.

The database contains 10,283 artifacts from the John Washington site, including materials recovered in the 1930s and again in the 1970s. The collection has not been fully analyzed, although preliminary observations indicate that the majority of the artifacts date ca. 1660 through the first decade of the 18th century ( a single fragment of white salt-glazed stoneware is believed to be intrusive).

Brad Hatch has analyzed the ceramics from sealed features, plow zone, and surface collection (n=2,083). He has calculated a MCD of 1686, with a TPQ of 1720, and a ceramic intersection range of 1660 to 1720. Ware types include Rhenish stoneware (blue and gray, brown, and gray), Staffordshire slipware, tin-glazed earthenware, North Devon sgraffito and gravel-tempered, Mérida, Morgan Jones, and Buckley earthenwares, and English brown stoneware, redware, white salt-glazed stoneware, and Astbury ware. Hatch (2015) analyzed the ceramic collection as part of a broader study of the changing definitions of early modern manhood in the Potomac Valley.

Container glass included wine bottles, case bottles, and vials. A minimum of four fragments of colorless table glass was also present. When combined, 2,169 local and imported clay tobacco pipes were cataloged from the site as well as a cast brass pipe tamper. Lauren McMillan (2015) has analyzed marked pipes from this collection as part of a study of tobacco pipes, trade, and community in the Potomac Valley.

Objects relating to clothing and appearance found at the site include a single bone bead, a bone comb, a glass button, and brass buckles. Other small finds include keys, hinges, and lock parts; horse-related artifacts including bridle bits, a saddle bar, and stirrups; a bodkin and scissors; three balance arms for scales and a counterweight. Five gun parts and gunflints were also found as well as a number of tools, including fragments of an axe, chisel, file and sickle, and pieces of hoes.

Only 676 faunal remains were recovered from the site, and small mammals, birds, and fish may be underrepresented due to recovery methods. Cow, pig, sheep and horse; chicken, goose, passerine birds, ring-necked duck, and turkey; gar, sturgeon and catfish; mouse, rabbit and porpoise were all represented. Oyster shell was abundant. A report on the faunal assemblage from the site was completed shortly after the 1977 excavations by Sharon Burnston.


Archives of Maryland Online [AOMOL] 41 Proceedings of the Provincial Court, 1658-1662. Maryland State Archives and Hall of Records Commission, Annapolis, MD. Accessed Spring 2014.

Blades, Brooke S. 1979. Archaeological Excavations at the Henry Brooks and John Washington Sites, George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia. Report to George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Colonial Beach, VA.

Burnston, Sharon Ann. 1978. Report on the Faunal Remains, George Washington Birthplace Excavations, 1977, George Washington Birthplace National Monument. Report to George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Colonial Beach, VA.

Edwards, Andrew. 2012. In the Beginning: Archaeology of George Washington's Birthplace. 45th Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Baltimore, Maryland, January 4-8. Accessed Spring 2014.

Hatch, Charles E., Jr. 1979. Popes Creek Plantation: Birthplace of George Washington. The Wakefield National Memorial Association, Washington's Birthplace, VA.

Hatch, D. Brad. 2015. An Historical Archaeology of Early Modern Manhood in the Potomac River Valley of Virginia, 1645-1730. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Library of Virginia. 1655-1654. Virginia Land Office Patents no. 4, microfilm reel 4. Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA

McMillan, Lauren. 2015. Politics, Conflict, and Exchange in the Chesapeake: An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Tobacco Pipe Trade in the Potomac Valley, ca. 1630-1730. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Norris, Walter Briscoe, Jr. (editor). 1983. Westmoreland County Virginia: 1653-1983. Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors, Montross, VA.

Rice, James D. 2009. Nature and History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

What You Need To Know To Use This Collection

  • The site was first tested in the 1930s when a brick-laid cellar was excavated.
  • Soils were probably not screened.
  • During the 1977 testing, plow zone was mechanically stripped from a portion of the site.

Further Information About the Collection

The John Washington site collection is owned by the National Park Service and managed by George Washington Birthplace National Monument. For more information on the collection, contact Superindent Melissa K. Cobern at 804-224-1732; email

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

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