Centuries-Old Cherries Unearthed from George Washington’s Estate


In the picturesque heart of Mount Vernon, Virginia, myth claims George Washington once sliced down a cherry tree. While that tale holds no truth, an intriguing slice of the persona of the first President of the United States has emerged: Washington had quite an affinity for cherries, it seems. Astonishingly, dozens of bottles brimming with cherries and berries, perfectly preserved through the ages, have been unearthed from the cellar of his majestic mansion, nestled along the calming Potomac River.

This fascinating discovery happened amid an archeological puzzle, piecing together another facet of this famed historical establishment. The essence of fruit sealed in glass from more than two-and-a-half centuries ago quadrates into an unprecedented finding, asserts Jason Boroughs, the lead archaeologist of Mount Vernon.

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“For centuries-old fruit to be discovered essentially fresh is quite a spectacle,” expressed Boroughs. “It’s like the stars aligned perfectly for this to happen.” Indeed, to further amplify this extraordinary revelation, whole cherries were discovered intact in a few bottles. Others appeared to be teeming with gooseberries or currants, pending validation through testing.

Mount Vernon has forged a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, entrusted with conducting DNA testing on the preserved fruits. In addition to this, the Agriculture Department is scrutinizing over 50 cherry pits, divulged from these bottles, to unravel the possibility of them bearing life.

Benjamin Gutierrez, a USDA plant geneticist, cautiously perceives the prospect of growing a tree from a cherry pit as a longshot. This is because seeds have a higher chance of preservation in a dry state, while most of the samples unearthed have been waterlogged. Initial analysis performed on a few of the pits were confirmed as unviable as seeds.

Historical records at Mount Vernon disclose George and Martha Washington’s penchant for cherries and they seemingly enjoyed them with brandy. It’s known that Martha Washington penned a recipe for a ‘cherry bounce’ cocktail and Washington himself documented partaking a canteen of cherry bounce during a trans-Alleghenies expedition in 1784.

Though these cherries were probably simply bottled to be savored as is, insisted Boroughs, the exquisiteness of their preservation demonstrates a superior degree of expertise. It is known that slaves managed the plantation’s kitchen, under the stewardship of an enslaved woman, Doll, who accompanied Martha Washington to Mount Vernon in 1758. “It’s a testament to the enslaved individuals who cultivated the trees, picked the fruits, and laboriously toiled in the kitchen,” commented Boroughs. “Without their highly skilled process, these fruits just wouldn’t have survived thus.”

The only reason these bottles were discovered is due to an ambitious $40 million refurbishment scheme being implemented to restore the mansion by 2026, in time for the nation’s 250th birthday.

Archaeological endeavors by their very nature are destructive, mused Boroughs. “We tend to avoid disturbing resources unless we have a compelling reason to do so.” In this instance, the necessary structural modifications to the mansion warranted the disturbance.

“When we began, we could never have anticipated such a discovery,” admitted Boroughs. It is known that these bottles predate 1775 because the expansion of the mansion in that year necessitated the area to be sealed off with a brick floor.

Mount Vernon, at the commencement of the archaeological work back in April, openly revealed the discovery of two bottles. Unexpectedly, as the dig advanced, the count swiftly surged to 35, uncovered from six distinct storage pits. Although six bottles were shattered, a staggering 29 pristine bottles were discovered.

A dozen contained cherries, sixteen were loaded with either currants or gooseberries, and a single larger bottle had both cherries and other berries. As of now, Boroughs optimistically believes that all the berries and cherries that survived have been discovered.

“The information that can potentially be gleaned from these bottles is enticing,” he commented.