American Indians, early English pioneers, a gentleman entrepreneur, and the boy who would become “The Father of His Country,” all laid claim, at one time or another, to the area now known as Ferry Farm, located in southern Stafford County.
In 1738, George Washington’s father, Augustine, acquired the plantation from the Strother estate. Augustine Washington held political office, owned several thriving plantations, and was a managing partner of Accokeek Iron Furnace located six miles north of Ferry Farm on a tributary of the Potomac River. He moved to Ferry Farm in the fall of 1738 with his second wife, Mary Ball Washington, and their five young children.
The Washingtons’ early years at Ferry Farm were marked by a series of disasters. Their house was damaged by fire on Christmas Eve in 1740. The entire family was forced to live in the kitchen dependency until the house was repaired. Even more tragic to the Washingtons’ was the death of two family members. In 1740, George’s younger sister Mildred died in infancy. Three years later, Augustine Washington died, leaving a will that divided his property among his sons, with Ferry Farm going to George. His widow, Mary Ball Washington, never remarried. She and her children remained on the plantation, farming it with her enslaved laborers. Mary continued to call Ferry Farm home until she moved to Fredericksburg in 1772.
A good woman, Mary Ball Washington, was widowed early and left to maintain her home and raise her family. Her story is fascinating and recent archeological finds on the property give a deeper insight into how Mary lived.
There have been preservation initiatives at the site throughout the years but not until 1996, when the property was purchased by the George Washington Foundation, did a clear plan of action take shape. In 1998, a bill was passed in Congress that provided an easement to protect the Ferry Farm site in perpetuity. Today, approximately 113 acres, including the entire length of the original Washington waterfront, are under the Foundation’s stewardship. Ferry Farm was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.
In 2008, archaeologists working at the site of located and excavated the remains of the long-sought house where George Washington was raised and Mary ruled. The site was the setting of some of the best-known stories related to George’s youth, including tales of the cherry tree and throwing a stone across the Rappahannock River.
Using evidence unearthed over seven seasons of excavation, Foundation archaeologists positively confirmed the foundation and cellars that remain from the clapboard-covered, wooden structure that once housed George, his parents, and his siblings.
Far from being the rustic cottage of common perception, the Washington house was a much larger, one-and-a-half-story residence, 53 feet, 8-1/2 inches by 28 feet, 4 inches, perched on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River.
And now, the George Washington Foundation has undertaken a landmark campaign to make Ferry Farm a destination for tourists and students alike. This multi-million dollar effort will transform the property to allow visitors to hear the family stories where they actually took place.
Part of the multi-faceted campaign is the reconstruction of a highly accurate replica of the Washington family house where visitors will be allowed to freely explore and touching will be encouraged all as a part of a truly engaging educational experience. In addition to accurate furnishings and details, costumed interpreters will also inhabit the space to engage visitors, bringing the human element to the entire process.
The first floor is a particularly important space in the home as it would have been the site of many activities central to the social and cultural customs that were so important to the time.
The State Regent’s Project will provide funds to underwrite a room on the first floor of the replica 1740 Washington House at Ferry Farm. The estimated cost is $150,000.