35 bottles from the 18th century filled with cherries unearthed by archeologists at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

The story of a six-year-old George Washington chopping down a cherry tree may be a myth, but archeologists excavating Mount Vernon, the home of the United States’ first president, made the very real discovery of 35 glass bottles filled with cherries and berries.

The bottles were found in five storage pits in the mansion’s cellar, with 29 of them intact and containing “perfectly preserved cherries and berries, likely gooseberries or currants,” according to a news release from George Washington’s Mount Vernon on Thursday.

Crews unearthed the 18th-century bottles during the ongoing $40 million revitalization project launched last year at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

The bottles were extracted from the pits and refrigerated, and are expected to undergo scientific analysis, the release states.

The slowly drying bottles, “composed of materials and foodstuffs that are likely 250 years old,” will be sent from Mount Vernon’s archaeology lab to an off-site location for conservation, according to the release.

The latest discovery comes after the recent find of two intact European-manufactured glass bottles, also from the 18th century, filled with liquid, cherries and pits in the same cellar, according to the organization.

Cherries and pits were removed from the 18th-century glass bottles. - Courtesy Mount Vernon Ladies' Association
Cherries and pits were removed from the 18th-century glass bottles. - Courtesy Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

“Now we know those bottles were just the beginning of this blockbuster discovery,” Mount Vernon President and CEO Doug Bradburn said in a statement.

Bradburn referred to the discoveries as “an unprecedented find,” adding that “nothing of this scale and significance has ever been excavated in North America.”

“The bottles and contents are a testament to the knowledge and skill of the enslaved people who managed the food preparations from tree to table,” said Jason Boroughs, Mount Vernon principal archaeologist.

The bottles may have been forgotten when Washington left Mount Vernon to take command of the Continental Army, according to Bradburn.

“These artifacts likely haven’t seen the light of day since before the American Revolution,” he said. “It’s so appropriate that these bottles have been unearthed shortly before the 250th anniversary of the United States.”

Bradburn added that the organization’s team is hopeful the cherry pits may be viable for future germination.

Mount Vernon partnered with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service to analyze the bottles’ contents.

In the early stages of analysis, researchers identified 54 cherry pits and 23 stems, suggesting the bottles were likely full of cherries at one point, according to the release.

“The cherries likely are of a tart variety, which has a more acidic composition that may have aided in preservation,” the release states.

The cherries are likely candidates for DNA extraction, which could help researchers compare them against a database to identify their exact species, according to the release.

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