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April-November 2003InteractiveDig Mount Vernon
View of the Mount Vernon distillery site with the reconstructed gristmill in the background
Photos courtesy Historic Mount Vernon.

The Story behind the Still: This copper still is in the collection of the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. Its original ownership remains a mystery.
[image]The IRS confiscated the still in 1940 from a bootlegger in Fairfax County, Virginia, and oral history suggests it is one of the five owned and used by George Washington at his distillery. On the body are stamped the words: "R. Bush & Co Bristol 1787."
We don't know whether George Washington actually owned and used it, but it is a good example of an eighteenth-century whiskey still.

Interactive Digs

by Eleanor Breen

Distilling the Past

Distillery. Is a business I am entirely unacquainted with; but from your knowledge of it and from the confidence you have in the profit to be derived from the establishment, I am disposed to enter upon one.... (George Washington, June 1797)

With those words, written to his plantation manager James Anderson, Washington entered into the whiskey distilling business.

Now our team of archaeologists from Historic Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation Washington called home for 45 years, embarks on an unknown venture just as the first American president did over 200 years ago. Together with interns and volunteers, we'll work this summer to discover and interpret the archaeological remains of George Washington's eighteenth-century whiskey distillery.

Background & History
The only founding father to commercially operate a distillery, Washington began distilling in 1797. Research has been taking place at the site for the last few years.

Reconstruction 2005
After six years of digging, two years of intense planning, and six months to get a building permit, we have finally broken ground on the recreated Distillery.

Dig Diaries 2003
Participate in the exciting discoveries by reading reports from the field!

Ask an Archaeologist
Visit our bulletin board to get answers to all your questions about the dig.

Beyond the Trenches:

  • The Archaeologists' Toolbox
    Learn about the tools we use before, during, and after excavations!
  • Flotation 101
    Flotation provides archaeologists with insight into people's diet and agricultural practices, as well as information on past environmental conditions.
  • Mapping the Site
    An essential part of archaeology, maps record data for analysis and document what the excavation destroys. See our map of the site, plus the excavation plan view.

Historical Reenactment
In May 2001, barrels of whiskey and rum were shipped down the Potomac to celebrate the groundbreaking of the distillery.

Staff Biographies
Meet the archaeologists working at the distillery site this season.

Events & Links
Learn more about us, and get information on visiting the site or taking part in one of our programs.

Next page
Distilled Spirits Council of the US Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

AFOBWant to dig? Check the AIA's Annual Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin for ongoing excavations worldwide!

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© 2003 Archaeological Institute of America

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