Perfectly Preserved Centuries-Old Cherries Unearthed at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

18th century artifacts found underneath George Washington's residence in Mount Vernon, Va., Monday, June 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren)
18th century artifacts found underneath George Washington's residence in Mount Vernon, Va., Monday, June 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren)
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Perfectly Preserved Centuries-Old Cherries Unearthed at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

18th century artifacts found underneath George Washington's residence in Mount Vernon, Va., Monday, June 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren)
18th century artifacts found underneath George Washington's residence in Mount Vernon, Va., Monday, June 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren)

George Washington never did cut down the cherry tree, despite the famous story to the contrary, but he did pack away quite a few bottles of the fruit at his Mount Vernon home.

Dozens of bottles of cherries and berries — impossibly preserved in storage pits uncovered from the cellar of his mansion on the banks of the Potomac River — were discovered during an archaeological dig connected to a restoration project.

Jason Boroughs, Mount Vernon's principal archaeologist, said the discovery of so much perfectly preserved food from more than 250 years ago is essentially unprecedented.

"Finding what is essentially fresh fruit, 250 years later, is pretty spectacular," Boroughs said in an interview. "All the stars sort of have to align in the right manner for that to happen."

Whole pieces of fruit, recognizable as cherries, were found in some of the bottles. Other bottles held what appear to be gooseberries or currants, though testing is underway to confirm that.

Mount Vernon is partnering with the US Department of Agriculture, which is conducting DNA testing on the fruit. They are also examining more than 50 cherry pits recovered from the bottles to see if any of them can be planted.

"It's kind of a longshot," said Benjamin Gutierrez, a USDA plant geneticist, of the chances of using a cherry pit to grow a tree. Seeds preserve best when they are dry, and most of the samples found at Mount Vernon were waterlogged. A couple of pits tested initially were not viable as seeds.

Still, he said the bottles are a remarkable find. In addition to DNA testing, he said chemical testing may be able to show if particular spices were used to preserve the fruits.

Records at Mount Vernon show that George and Martha Washington were fond of cherries, at least when mixed with brandy. Martha Washington's recipe for a "cherry bounce" cocktail survives, and Washington wrote that he took a canteen of cherry bounce with him on a trip across the Alleghenies in 1784.

These cherries, though, were most likely bottled to be eaten simply as cherries, Boroughs said.

The quality of the preservation reflect a high caliber of work. Slaves ran the plantation's kitchen. The kitchen was overseen by an enslaved woman named Doll, who came to Mount Vernon in 1758 with Martha Washington, according to the estate.

"The enslaved folks who were taking care of the trees, picking the fruit, working in the kitchen, those would have been the folks that probably would have overseen and done this process," Boroughs said. "It’s a highly skilled process. Otherwise they just wouldn’t have survived this way."

The bottles were found only because Mount Vernon is doing a $40 million revitalization project of the mansion that they expect to be completed by the nation's 250th birthday in 2026.

"When we do archaeology, it’s destructive," Boroughs said. "So unless we have a reason to disturb those resources, we tend not to."

"In this case, because of these needed structural repairs to the mansion, the ground was going to be disturbed. So we looked there first," he continued. "We didn’t expect to find all this."

They know the bottles predate 1775 because that's when an expansion of the mansion led to the area being covered over with a brick floor.

Mount Vernon announced back in April, at the start of its archaeological work, that it had found two bottles. As the dig continued, the number increased to 35 in six distinct storage pits. Six of the bottles were broken, with the other 29 intact. Twelve held cherries, 16 held the other berries believed to be currants and gooseberries, and one larger bottle held both cherries and other berries.

Boroughs believes they have now uncovered all the cherries and berries that survived.

"There is a lot of information that we’re excited to get from these bottles," he said.



Man Kills Grizzly Bear in Montana after it Attacks

FILE - US Highway 89 is shown near Gardiner, Mo., on July 15, 2020. (Brett French/Billings Gazette via AP)
FILE - US Highway 89 is shown near Gardiner, Mo., on July 15, 2020. (Brett French/Billings Gazette via AP)
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Man Kills Grizzly Bear in Montana after it Attacks

FILE - US Highway 89 is shown near Gardiner, Mo., on July 15, 2020. (Brett French/Billings Gazette via AP)
FILE - US Highway 89 is shown near Gardiner, Mo., on July 15, 2020. (Brett French/Billings Gazette via AP)

A 72-year-old man picking huckleberries in Montana shot and killed a grizzly bear after it attacked in a surprise encounter and injured him badly enough that he had to be hospitalized, authorities said Friday.
The man was alone on national forest land when the adult female charged him Thursday. He suffered significant injuries before killing the bear with a handgun, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials said.
The bear was likely reacting defensively to protect cubs, agency spokesperson Dillon Tabish said.
Wildlife workers set out game cameras in the area to try to confirm the presence of any cubs. If cubs are found, it's uncertain if they would be captured because it is difficult to find facilities qualified to take them, The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
“Depending on the age, we might leave them in the wild because they have a better chance of survival, rather than have to euthanize them,” Tabish said.
The attack happened on the Flathead National Forest about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of Columbia Falls, a northwestern Montana city of about 5,500 people, according to the state wildlife agency.
The victim's name and further details on his condition were not released.
Meanwhile, Fish, Wildlife & Parks staff shot and killed an adult female grizzly Thursday after it had become accustomed to seeking out food from people and breaking into houses in and around Gardiner, a town of about 800 people just north of Yellowstone National Park.
Pet food, garbage and barbeque grills left outside and accessible to bears contributed to the problem, according to a department statement. No people were hurt by the bear before it was shot in the Yellowstone River.
Wildlife managers sometimes capture and move grizzly bears that are known to cause problems for people. But they will kill ones involved in predatory attacks on people or if they are deemed likely to keep causing problems regardless of being moved.