By Laura Tancredi / Archaeology Laboratory Manager
One of the most exciting finds from the South Grove Midden was a small brass trunk plate inscribed “Genl Washington”. Personally-attributable artifacts are hard to come by in archaeology, so this trunk plate really piqued our interest.
Trunks in the 18th century were all-purpose storage and traveling equipment. Records show that Washington ordered many throughout his life, often specifying the addition of trunk plates. On July 20, 1767 (245 years ago today!) Washington sent an invoice to his agent in London asking for:
“2 Trunks exactly of the following Dimns—one of them two feet 6 Inchs long—1 foot wide—& 10 Inchs deep—The other to be 2 feet 6 Inches long—18 Inchs wide—& of the same depth—Both to be made of Sealskin or strong Leather, to have strg Locks, be well secured with Straps, brass Plates, & Nails & GW markd in the middle—to have Oil Cloth Covers”
Similarly in June 1783 Washington wrote to Daniel Parker requesting six trunks for transporting his papers and records. He further requested, “Should you be able to procure the Trunks which I have required in the body of this letter, I should be glad to have a label (in brass or Copper) containing my name, and the year on each.”
Within the Mount Vernon collection, there are no less than five trunks with engraved brass trunk plates. The plate excavated from the South Grove Midden is identical to one found on a trunk purchased by Washington during the Revolution. The trunk, a secondhand purchase, has the initials I H 1775 (for Boston merchant John Head) delineated in brass tacks on the lid, with General Washington’s brass plate affixed over these initials.
The similarity between the two brass plates suggests that the one from the Midden may have also once adorned a trunk traveling with Washington during the American Revolution. And while there are no other concrete trunk related artifacts excavated from the South Grove, we certainly did recover a lot of brass furniture tacks!