The purpose of this excavation was to research and reconstruct an 18th-century wooden fence that ran from the kitchen down the lane towards the dung repository. The fence is actually visible on the Vaughn Plan (just west of the South Grove) and was constructed ca. 1775. We do not know when the George Washington era wooden fence was removed. One of the 19th-century Washington descendants, presumably Bushrod Washington, built a brick screening wall along the same path as the original wooden fenceline during his ownership of the property. Bushrod’s wall was in ruins when the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association acquired the property in 1859. Thinking that the ruins were of a wall that George Washington had built, but having no money to reconstruct it at the time, the ruins were cleared away. In 1910, the North and South Lane screening walls were reconstructed. The 1911 Superintendent’s Annual Report states that traces of the original (or Bushrod’s) brick wall were still visible during construction of the new wall. These original lines were followed, and any bricks belonging to the original wall found during construction were incorporated into the new wall. Portland concrete was used as the foundation for the new wall, replacing the original bricks, and is the footer now visible out at the site. This 1910-era brick wall along the South Lane was torn down in 2001. A similar wall along the North Lane was replaced in 2008.
The results of our excavations found that the holes dug to put in the original wood fence posts, as well as the stain of the decayed posts, were visible directly below the concrete footer of the brick wall. The four inch square cedar posts were set approximately six feet apart.
During our excavations, we came across many interesting artifacts that relate to 18th-century daily life at Mount Vernon in the 18th century. One of the most exciting finds included a wine bottle seal. The letters “J” and “P” are barely visible on the glass sherd. During this period, wealthier planters generally ordered wine from abroad in large quantities, and seals with the initials and sometimes even the full names of the owner were commonly affixed to the bottles. Mount Vernon archaeologists have excavated four seals bearing the name “John Posey” in the area south of the kitchen. Posey’s identity is well known, as he owned a ferry and plantation, called “Rover’s Delight,” located adjacent to Mount Vernon. Posey was a friend of Washington’s and a frequent guest at Mount Vernon during the 1750s and 1760s. Presumably the presence of the seal along the lane derives from Posey’s following the popular custom of bringing bottles of wine from his personal supply as gifts for his host. After a long-term decline in his personal fortunes, marked by increasing indebtedness to Washington and others, Posey finally was forced to sell his holdings at public auction. In 1769 Washington acquired a substantial portion of the plantation, including the ferry landing. Given that a fondness for drink seems to have been one of the main causes of Posey’s undoing, it may be more than just coincidence that four of Posey’s seals have been found on the estate, more than those of anyone else.
If you stroll down the South Lane today, you will experience it as George Washington did in his lifetime. The reconstructed fence is completed and painted white, based on documentary evidence.