George Washington’s Bottled Cherry Stash Unearthed

What did George Washington squirrel away under the floorboards of his historic Mount Vernon, Va. home? Depending on your point of view, the contents of two dark green glass bottles could either furnish proof or cast doubt on the famous fable about Washington’s moral character.

Archaeologists unearthed the bottles, filled in part with “whole, recognizable cherries,” during renovations to the founding president’s mansion, the Washington Post reported. The group discovered the stash under a brick floor laid around 1770. To preserve the jars’ contents, they promptly decanted it into smaller containers for further study.

pouring liquid from a soiled glass jug into a small plastic container with gloved hands

Groundwater likely seeped into the jugs over time. Photo: Mount Vernon


“It actually smelled like cherry blossoms when we got to the bottom,” Jason Boroughs, Mount Vernon’s principal archaeologist, told the Post.

The mixture inside also included pits, stems, and an unidentifiable amber-colored, gooey residue. Researchers don’t suspect moonshining: The liquid likely seeped into the jugs as groundwater after stopper corks dissolved.

‘I cannot tell a lie’

Mount Vernon staff said in a statement that the bottles themselves could date back to the 1740s or ’50s. If that’s true, the cherries could conceivably date back to Washington’s childhood — when (spurious) legend holds that he disobediently chopped down the cherry tree and admitted the deed.

It’s unlikely Washington himself picked the cherries found under the brick floor. Instead, enslaved people on the property likely performed the work.

The find puts an exclamation point on a large-scale historic renovation. Washington’s mansion on the site covers a massive 1,024 square-meter footprint. Private donors have funded the current restoration project at a reported $40 million. The project’s target end date is in 2026 — America’s 250th birthday.

Mount Vernon president and CEO Doug Bradburn confirmed workers have made other discoveries along the way. But details remain under wraps.

“We have been deliberate and intentional about carefully excavating areas of potential disruption,” Bradburn said in the statement. “We have made a number of useful discoveries including this blockbuster find of two fully intact glass bottles containing liquid that have not been seen since before the war for American independence.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.