Smashed to Smithereens: The South Grove Midden’s Wine Bottle Glass Assemblage

By Laura Tancredi / Archaeology Laboratory Manager

William Hogarth's An Election Entertainment, 1755.

Cataloguing of the wine bottle glass from the midden is currently underway! The over 15,000 fragments excavated make it one of the most prolific artifacts found in the South Grove.  Ranging from dark green to black in color, each fragment of lead glass came from a mouth blown bottle resulting in a great deal of variability in shape, thickness and color. But how did they break? And what spirits did they contain?


Mended wine bottle from South Grove Midden

Bottles may have been used for wine, cider, porter and liquor, among other beverages.  George Washington was an avid wine drinker and a particular fan of Madeira.  Madeira, a fortified wine originating from the island of the same name, was a popular drink in colonial America due to its strategic location on the Atlantic trade routes.  Washington, like many colonists, often purchased his wine in pipes or casks—which of course were not suitable for bringing to the dinner table! Wine bottles were re-used, and could be filled prior serving, and this process would be repeated until the bottle was no longer functional.

Wine associated artifacts are some of the most interesting and have the potential to tell many stories.  Discovered in the midden are a collection of wine bottle seals (check out Luke’s post about John Posey bottle seal);  seals were often stamped with the name or initials of

Augustine Washington bottle seal

the bottle owner and may have been seen as a status symbol.  Six whole or partial seals were excavated from the South Grove and give a personal identity to the somewhat anonymous glass artifacts.  Neither George nor his brother Lawrence were known to have had personalized wine bottle seals, unlike their father Augustine Washington whose AW bottle seal was discovered on the estate in the 1930s.

Want to find out more? Come visit Mount Vernon’s newest exhibit, Hoecakes & Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington, opening February 18th, where one of the South Grove’s wine bottles along with several seals will be displayed.

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