Vice President, Media & Communications
MOUNT VERNON, VA – George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates Virginia Archaeology month with new programming and a special “Archaeology Day” held on Saturday, October 5! The estate’s archaeologists have also made a tremendous discovery – the foundation of Washington’s “necessary” on the east lawn. Mount Vernon will also launch its House for Families online archaeology collection this month featuring 345 objects.
Archaeologists Uncover Foundation on East Slope
This summer, Mount Vernon’s archaeologists located the remains of a building foundation—a “necessary,” or privy, on the east lawn—which was constructed during Washington’s lifetime and later removed at his direction.
Evidence of this feature can be found in Washington’s writings. In late May 1796, George Washington wrote from the presidential residence in Philadelphia to his farm manager at Mount Vernon, “I have several times spoke concerning a necessary for the Quarter People [the enslaved], at Mansion house [Farm] . . . I wish you would have this done before We come home that the yard of the Quarter may be always clean & Sweet. If the old necessary on the brow of the Hill can be moved with more ease than building a new one, let it be done, as it is not only useless where it is but is an eye-sore.”
A 1787 sketch of Mount Vernon’s layout depicts a necessary on the east lawn of the mansion, at the “brow of the Hill” overlooking the Potomac River. The building also appears in a view drawn by an Irish visitor in 1795.
While excavating on the east lawn this fall, in preparation for repairing the ha-ha wall, archaeologists exposed a 10 x 12-foot brick foundation in the area where this “old necessary” stood, according to the 1787 drawing. Although archaeologists do not know if the necessary was moved as Washington directed, or if a new privy was constructed for the enslaved people, the team is currently excavating a portion of the foundation’s interior to learn more about its construction, layout, and role in the evolving plantation landscape.
Although Washington’s estate is carefully preserved to present its appearance in 1799, archaeologists occasionally uncover evidence of Mount Vernon’s earlier features, providing insight into how the estate evolved throughout Washington’s residence. For more information, please visit www.mountvernon.org/blognecessary.
Archaeology Month Programming
October 5, 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Kick off archaeology month by participating in special demonstrations, tour, and activities. There will be a rare opportunity to meet Mount Vernon’s expert archaeologists from 12 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. who will demonstrate their work uncovering the stories of the Washingtons, Enslaved People, and Indigenous People who lived on the estate.
Families can enjoy hands-on archaeological activities and crafts in the Education Center, such as discover the tools archaeologists use by creating a craft paper shovel or explore how they research by participating in a mock “dig.” Activities available while supplies last.
On a special walking tour at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., guests will visit several archaeological sites at Mount Vernon and learn about how these excavations contribute to our understanding of the evolving landscape of the estate throughout its long history. This tour costs $10 in addition to admission. www.mountvernon.org/archaeologyday
Archaeology in Action Tour
October 5 & 6, October 10 & 11, October 17 & 18, October 24 & 25
Learn more about what has been discovered about our founding father by excavating the Washington family’s “midden,” or trash bin. Hear how archaeology tells us more about the slaves who lived at Mount Vernon. See current excavation sites including the slave burial ground and Washington family kitchen. Get an inside look at the history of the Mount Vernon archaeology program and the current discovery efforts in progress. This tour costs $10 in addition to admission. www.mountvernon.org/archaeologytour
New Online Archaeology Database
The new online archaeology database includes rich photography of every object, measurements, the location where the object was found, color, decorative pattern, materials type and more. The structure identified as the “House for Families” a 1787 plan of the estate likely housed the majority of the enslaved population living at the Mansion House Farm at Mount Vernon for much of the second half of the 18th century. https://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/archaeology/archaeology-online/