The Fourth of July at Ferry Farm is a fun, exciting, and evocative affair that I was very proud to be a part of this year. Each year the George Washington Foundation hosts a celebration at the site that includes food, vendors, re-enactors, live music, fun activities, and (of course) archaeology! I had never been to this event before, so I was very excited to get to work that morning to participate in the festivities!
We arrived early in the morning to open the site and get settled before the guests started to arrive, but unlike most mornings, we were joined by dozens of other staff members and volunteers who were rushing to get everything set up and ready! Two people from the lab joined us in the field and set up a table near our excavation area with various artifacts that have been found there, while all of the field school students and Dr. Bernard Means – director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory and professor leading VCU’s field school – joined us in the field. We were incredibly thankful for the extra help, especially as it was a school holiday and none of them were required to come in! Shortly after we got the site open and began digging, the gates to Ferry Farm opened and the celebration officially began!
We were flooded with guests who made their way around the site and stopped at our excavation area to see what we were up to. Many of them were interested in helping us screen the soil from our units, which is something our visitors are always welcome and encouraged to do! The children were especially excited about getting their hands dirty… and there were A LOT of children! The interns, the field school students, Dr. Means, our Site Directors Laura and Eric, and Director of Archaeology Dave Muraca all pitched in to speak with the public, screen with the children, and work on the site as the day progressed. It was pretty chaotic at times, but a great deal of fun!
During my lunch break, I took some time to explore the rest of the site and visit some of the vendors. I especially enjoyed seeing all of the re-enactors, who had small “camps” set up all over Ferry Farm. There was a blacksmith, some Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War soldiers, and even our very own George Washington! After lunch there was a flag retirement ceremony and shortly after that we got back to work! Allen and I worked on our unit and simultaneously helped the field school students with theirs. It was a very hectic day, but before I knew it things started to wind down and it was time to go home.
The Fourth of July at Ferry Farm was a very fun and exciting experience, but it also gave me a better appreciation for the significance of this site. Ferry Farm is the boyhood home of George Washington, a man who risked everything to fight for what he believed in, and who – with incredible courage and leadership – ultimately led this nation to victory and freedom. He is revered as our first president and the Father of Our Country – titles that he proudly carried when he traveled through the many sites where we now go to honor him… but this was not his identity at Ferry Farm.
Here, he was just a boy. He was not a surveyor, a soldier, a general, or president. He was the oldest of six children on a 600-acre farm, just outside of the growing city of Fredericksburg. He lived with his widowed mother, who cared for her family as best she could with the limited resources they had. It was here that he played as a child, he grew as an adolescent, and he learned as a teenager. It was here that the Father of Our Country would develop the strong will and character that led him to become the man we all know and honor today – especially on days like Independence Day.
Ferry Farm is not as well-documented or understood as other Washington sites, but it played just as critical a role in his development as those that have been more thoroughly studied. I feel incredibly fortunate and proud to be working at a site like this, and to have the opportunity to contribute to the story of Washington’s life and childhood through my work as an archaeologist!