Pottery talks. That’s a little secret archaeologists know but few outsiders are privy to. And pottery can talk—a lot.
If you were to excavate George Washington’s dining room at Mount Vernon and recover fragments of the many plates and cups and bowls and serving dishes used there, you would conclude that our first president cared greatly about food and entertainment. If you went on to excavate the pantry and kitchen and recovered the numerous storage, preparation and cooking vessels that were used there, you would further conclude that this was a household essentially organized around food: its cultivation, storage, processing (by grinding or salting) and seemingly nonstop preparation and service, usually to many people at once.
Happily for historians, we not only know who lived at Mount Vernon, we have written sources concerning what life was like there. These records include Washington’s own diaries and accounts as well as visitors’ descriptions, such as this one from 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux, a wealthy French nobleman: “[We enjoyed] an excellent breakfast at nine in the morning, a big dinner at two o’clock, tea and punch in the afternoon, and an elegant little supper. [These] divided the day most happily, for those whose appetites were equal to it.”1