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This complete copper alloy straight pin was manufactured by hand, as the wound wire head indicates. In the eighteenth century pins were coated with tin alloy that would have made them shinier in appearance. Individuals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used straight pins for many purposes. In addition to sewing aids, as we most commonly think of them, pins were used to clasp documents, fasten clothing (in place of buttons), blankets, and shrouds, and attach objects of adornment to clothing and hair.

Pin sizes provide a clues to the object’s function. Pins of approximately 1 to 3 inches (or 24 to 70 millimeters in length), like this one, were probably used as sewing pins. George Washington and his contemporaries referred to these pins as short whites.

The presence of these pins in the House for Families not only speaks to the clothing of the residents, but also at least one kind of work enslaved women and girls conducted at Mount Vernon. Some enslaved females were tasked with the production of clothing for the enslaved laborers at Mount Vernon from the raw fabric ordered by Washington or produced on the estate. This clothing was issued once a year to each individual, and varied according by age, gender, and assignment as a field laborer or domestic servant, and. Indeed, these pins may also speak to the labor of these same enslaved women in mending and altering clothing among the residents of the House for Families.

Object Type

Has it Been Conserved?


Where Was It Found?

Project Site: House for Families    [more details]


Copper Alloy

Manufacturing Technology



Pin, straight




18th century

Country of Origin



0.8600mm x mm x 29.5mm (W x H x L)

Illustration shows object in comparison to the size of a quarter


0.1 gram(s)

Project: House for Families

The structure identified as the “House for Families” on the 1787 Vaughan plan likely housed the majority of the enslaved population living at the Mansion House Farm for much of the second half of the eighteenth century. The building was in existence from circa 1760 until it was demolished in late 1792 or early 1793. The archaeological evidence for the structure consisted of a brick-lined storage cellar (44FX762/40-47) measuring roughly six feet by six feet. Historically the cellar served as a handy trash receptacle once it ceased to be used for its original storage function, and through extensive excavation has yielded an extremely rich assemblage of household refuse. The analysis of these remains offers the opportunity to study important aspects of the daily lives of Mount Vernon's enslaved community.

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Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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