In George Washington's Basement, a 'Next Level' Find

Bottles containing whole cherries were likely buried 250 years ago
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2024 10:35 AM CDT
Updated Apr 27, 2024 4:25 PM CDT
In George Washington's Basement, a 'Spectacular Find'
The home of the first US president, George Washington, in Mount Vernon, Virginia, seen on April 23, 2018.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A bottle of 250-year-old cherries likely intended for George Washington has been found in his former home in Virginia—a discovery that's both sweet and distasteful, as enslaved people likely picked and preserved the fruit at Washington's mansion overlooking the Potomac River. Archaeologists working at the Mount Vernon landmark actually discovered two intact glass bottles containing whole cherries. Archaeologist Nick Beard first felt the mouth of a bottle while digging in the basement of the home last fall. He put his finger in the hole to try to wiggle the glass free but, to his amazement, felt something wet. "I got my flashlight out and shined it in there, and the thing is completely full of liquid," Beard tells the Washington Post.

Archaeologists initially suspected the bottles, finally excavated in March, contained an alcoholic concoction called Cherry Bounce, which George and Martha Washington enjoyed, principal archaeologist Jason Boroughs tells the Post. But Cherry Bounce was made in containers larger than these bottles. Experts now believe the cherries were picked at Mount Vernon and stored in bottles imported from England for future use. Boroughs notes one of the most common methods of preserving berries in the 1700s was "to dry them as much as possible ... put them in a dry bottle, cork it ... and then bury them." But that method was meant to preserve berries for one year, not 250.

The bottles are believed to have been placed in a basement storeroom between 1758 and 1776. They were found beneath a brick floor placed down in the 1770s, per Live Science. Archaeologists note groundwater may have penetrated the bottles at some point after the cork seals decayed. Still, "it actually smelled like cherry blossoms when we got to the bottom," Boroughs tells the Post, calling the discovery "an out-of-the-box, next level, spectacular find." To help preserve the bottles, dated to the mid-1700s, the cherries, pits, stems, and liquid have been removed. They'll undergo study in the future. Meanwhile, the basement excavation continues, along with work to repair the home's connection to its foundation. (This enslaved woman escaped Washington's clutches.)

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