‘Incredibly exciting’: George Washington’s Mount Vernon uncovers jars of 200-year-old cherries

Archeologists use tools to carefully dig beneath patch of dirt at George Washington’s Mount Vernon on March 19, 2024. (Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)
On March 19, 2024, archeologists and historians at George Washington’s Mount Vernon dig out the bottles believed to have been buried by an enslaved person on the estate nearly 200 years ago. (Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)
Two jars of preserves stick out of the ground after archeologists at George Washington’s Mount Vernon dig out the dirt encasing both vessels on March 22, 2024. (Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)
A researchers snaps a photo of the inside of a bottle discovered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon on March 22, 2024. (Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)
A researcher examines a jar
Researchers take a closer look at the jar of cherries uncovered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon on March 22, 2024. (Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)
A researcher examines a jar

Archeologists have made a remarkable find at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the ground beneath the cellar — two sealed bottles containing plump cherries.

The discovery was made recently during the mansion’s revitalization project, according to Jason Burroughs, principal archaeologist at Mount Vernon.

“In one of the rooms, we came across a small rectangular pit. We began to excavate it and we pulled out, after great care, two mid-18th century sealed glass bottles of European manufacture,” Burroughs said. “And the really exciting thing is — it’s pretty rare to find a whole bottle, or much less two, but the really exciting thing is that they were full of liquid.”

More stunning to researchers: there was more than liquid trapped inside the centuries-old bottles.

“There were intact 18th-century cherries in the bottle, which is incredibly exciting,” Burroughs told WTOP.

He said the contents of the bottles will undergo laboratory analysis, and the thick, squat-green bottles will be conserved for eventual display.

“You can find corn cobs in this part of the world that could be thousands of years old. But these cherries? I don’t want to say they’re edible, because I’m not going to try to actually consume them, but they’re plump. You know, there’s flesh on the pits, stems and flesh,” said Burroughs.

How did the bottles of cherries wind up buried in the cellar?

“Somewhere between 1758 and 1776, someone dug a small rectangular pit — probably an enslaved person — in this room, in the cellar. These bottles were placed in there and the soil was returned,” Burroughs said.

The archeologist said this was likely a way to keep air out of the bottle and ensure the fruit was preserved.

“They sat until 1776,” Burroughs continued. “Someone had forgotten about them and actually paved over that pit with a second herringbone pattern brick floor. So, they were sealed as a time capsule until this year.”

Burroughs said the bottles and contents were more likely destined for the Washington’s dinner table for the family and guests of the first President of the United States.

“It’s quite likely that the Washington’s held these bottles in their hands. And it’s also quite likely that they were reused multiple times,” he said.

Burroughs believes the bottles were likely manufactured in the 1740s or 50s and were placed in a pit that didn’t exist until the tail end of the 1750s.

“It’s incredibly possible that if it didn’t touch the Washingtons’ hands, it certainly touched their tables,” said Burroughs.

The discovery has delighted the archeologists and staff at Mount Vernon, and they are a considered a window into the past.

“The bottles and the contents themselves are incredibly exciting. But we don’t see them as just sort of bottles or just sort of food remains,” Burroughs said. “They actually are capable of telling stories and enriching the historic narrative that we tell here at Mount Vernon, and kind of putting more detail on that historical story.”

For now, the archeologists will need to work to conserve and stabilize these artifacts since “they are still getting used to the atmosphere that they haven’t been exposed to in centuries.”

“They should preserve very well once they’ve gone through a laboratory process. And I have no doubt that they will eventually make their way into one of the museum exhibits here so that everyone will be able to see these up close,” Burroughs said.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up