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During excavations in 1984 / 85 and 1990, Mount Vernon’s archaeologists recovered more than 50,000 artifacts from a brick-lined cellar below the House for Families, or main slave quarter. Occupied between c. 1760 and 1793, these artifacts provide information about the diet, daily life and activities of the approximately 60 enslaved people who lived in this building.
Perhaps the most significant discovery during the excavation was the diversity of food remains discarded into the cellar. Over 25,000 animal bones and seeds provide a record of the foods eaten in the slave quarter. The bones came from 58 different species of animals including both domestic animals like cow, sheep, and goat, and wild animals such as squirrel, deer, duck, and rabbit. Many fish species are also present; some such as herring were caught in nets, while others like catfish and perch were caught with a hook and line. Plant remains include peaches, corn and persimmons. The wide range of animals and plants reveal how the inhabitants of the House for Families supplemented their diets through hunting, fishing, and gardening.
The House for Families' archaeological collection is part of the Digital Archaeological Archive of Chesapeake Slavery (DAACS). Please visit the DAACS website to learn more about the artifacts.
The research paper Slave Lifeways at Mount Vernon uses the archaeological discoveries to discuss the enslaved community.