Highlights from the Collection: Commemorative Artifacts

These are a few of the commemorative artifacts that have been found on archaeological sites in Alexandria. Most are ceramics, but the collection also includes tokens and glass flasks.

Page updated on Aug 11, 2020 at 2:16 PM

Commemorative Artifacts

Alexandria may not be one of America’s oldest cities, but Alexandria justifiably prides itself in being the hometown of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Historic events such as George Washington’s Birthnight Ball and Lafayette’s 1824 visit to Alexandria were cause for great celebration, and are still recreated annually. These and other events of local and national significance were commemorated in ceramics which have been recovered from archaeological excavations at many of Alexandria’s private homes and taverns. During the Civil War, a writer in a local newspaper recalled “The people of Alexandria were always patriotic and public spirited.” (“Reminiscences of an Old Bachelor,” The Local News, December 21, 1861.)

Read Commemorative Wares in George Washington's Hometown for more on commemorative ceramics.

George Washington Mourning Pitcher 

Mourning pitcher. front, with portrait  Mourning pitcher, back, with urn 

Detail, Gorge Washington portrait  Detail, "A MAn Without Example/A Patriot Without Reproach

George Washington Mourning Pitcher. Creamware, transfer printed, 8.5” H. English, attributed to the Herculaneum Pottery, Liverpool, ca. 1800. Catalogue number AX91 4KSW-13 4KS-5. Photos by Gavin Ashworth, Courtesy, Ceramics in America. 

This creamware pitcher was made in England to commemorate the death of George Washington. With Mount Vernon just eight miles away, and a town house on Cameron Street near the center of Alexandria, Washington was a frequent figure in town, worshiping at Christ Church and attending balls at Gadsby’s Tavern. The design is from a print published in 1800. This pitcher may have once belonged to the family of a tanner, Robert William Kirk, who owned a wooden store and dwelling on this property, at 416-418 King Street, until 1804.

The black-rimmed mourning pitcher depicts Washington in profile surrounded by a wreath, with the words “He in Glory/America in Tears.” On the reverse is an urn with the initials “GW” and the words “George Washington Born Feb. 11, 1732/Gen’l of the American Armies 1775/Resigned 1785/President of the United States 1789/Resigned 1796/General of the American Armies 1798/Died Universally Regretted 14th December 1799.” Underneath the spout are the words “A Man Without Example/A Patriot Without Reproach.”


George Washington Pitcher FragmentRockingham pitcher fragment with Washington portrait  

George Washington pitcher fragment. Rockingham ware, American, after 1845. Catalogue number AX97. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, Courtesy, Ceramics in America. 

This teapot or pitcher fragment, depicting George Washington, was discovered in excavations at a home on Duke Street along with other artifacts from the 1840s and ‘50s. This artifact was probably made in 1849 for the 50th anniversary of Washington’s death, and demonstrates his continued importance to Americans, and to Alexandrians.

George Washington Commemorative Token

George Washington Token George Washington Token, reverse

George Washington Commemorative Token, 1797. White metal. Catalogue number AX175 M-98-0592

This commemorative token has a bust of George Washington and his name on the obverse. On the reverse are nine lines with the words “GENERAL/OF THE AMERCIAN/ARMIES. 1777./ RESIGND THE COMMAND 1783/ELECTED PRESIDENT OF/THE UNITED STATES 1789. /RE-ELECTED, 1793. /RESIGN’D. /1797.

This artifact was found in excavations on the site of the Mills/Lee/Delaney plantation on Shuter’s Hill. Ludwell Lee, a lawyer, politician, and planter, owned the property in 1797 when the medal was struck. However, the medal may have belonged to a later owner, Benjamin Delaney, and lost when the mansion burned down in 1842.

Eagle Plate Eagle Plate, pearlware with shell-edge border

Eagle Plate, pearlware with shell-edge border. English, ca. 1815-1830. Catalogue number AX94 MB-B 67.1578. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, Courtesy, Ceramics in America. 

The Great Seal of the United States was adopted in 1782, but the “even scallop” shell-edge border shows that this plate was imported after the War of 1812. Arell’s Tavern had a set of these seven-inch muffin plates. These patriotic dishes were popular among the lower and middle classes, and were therefore appropriate for Arell’s, a working class tavern. Appropriately, another eagle plate with a blue edge was found at the nearby McKnight’s Tavern, at the Sign of the Spread Eagle.

Richard Arell’s Tavern was built by 1762. While largely a working-man’s tavern, Arell’s still saw illustrious visitors. George Washington’s diaries show that he dined at Arell’s frequently between 1764 and 1774. On July 5, 1774, George Washington, George Mason and others met at Arell’s to develop the Fairfax Resolves, the precursor of the Bill of Rights.

The tavern was situated in an alley on the Market Square. There were once a lot of buildings on this block, surrounding an open market building with a shed roof. A building thought to be Arell’s was demolished in the 1960s in the wake of urban renewal, despite the furor of local preservation activists. Several privies associated with the tavern were excavated by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1960s, and the artifacts are now in the collection of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

More artifacts from Arell’s Tavern

America and Independence Serving Dish America and Independence serving dish

America and Independence Serving Dish, Pearlware with transfer printed design. English, ca. 1818-1834. Catalogue number AX93 GB-11 67.989. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, courtesy Ceramics in America.

Dishes in the “America and Independence” series, attributed to the Staffordshire pottery of James and Ralph Clews, depict a variety of generic landscapes. This serving dish, recovered from a privy associated with Gadsby’s Tavern, shows an unidentified castle. Despite the generic English scene, the dish has strong American patriotic content. The States border names the fifteen states. Two figures flank the scenic view, standing on plinths bearing the words “America and” “Independence.” A figure with a blindfold labeled “Justice” holds a portrait of Washington. Another figure kneels, holding the liberty cap. 

Lafayette and Cornwallis Mug

Lafayette mug Reverse, showing Cornwallis resigning his sword at York Town

Lafayette and Cornwallis Mug, Pearlware with transfer printed design. English, ca. 1835. Catalogue number AX1-B-249. Photos by Gavin Ashworth, courtesy Ceramics in America.

In the engraving “Lafayette crowned at Yorktown”, two angels hold a wreath of laurels with which Lafayette was crowned in 1824. The engraving “Cornwallis Resigning his Sword at York Town, Oct. 19, 1781” originally illustrated the epic patriotic poem The Columbiad, published by Joel Barlow in 1807.

Lafayette served on Washington’s staff, and helped to defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown. Cornwallis surrendered to American and French allies under George Washington in what is considered to be the definitive battle of the Revolution. Lafayette returned to France and the French Revolution, but was forced to flee during the Napoleonic era, returning to public life in France after Napoleon’s defeat.

Lafayette visited Alexandria five times, but his most important visit was on October 19, 1824, when a Grand Reception and Celebration were held in his honor. General Lafayette’s triumphal tour of America in 1824, after a 40-year absence, was celebrated throughout the country. Lafayette, the last surviving general of the Revolutionary War, was invited by President Monroe to be “The Nation’s Guest.” He attended parades, ceremonies and receptions in all 24 states. On Lafayette’s return visit to Alexandria, he spent close to a month here, residing at a large, imposing brick house lent for that purpose.

Numerous Lafayette souvenirs were available throughout the country in anticipation of Lafayette’s visit, and they continued to be sold throughout the year. On September 24 1825, King Street china merchant  Robert H. Miller offered, “China cups and saucers, Tea plates & snuff boxes, Imitation China pitchers, Mugs and bowls, Lustre pitchers of all sizes, mugs and cans With a drawing of La Fayette & the surrender of Cornwallis. Executed expressly for him, from a drawing sent out.” These were so popular that on March 4, 1826 Miller offered, “a further supply of Lafayette Ware” along with “tea-sets gold edge and view of Mount Vernon.”

The Lafayette and Cornwallis mug was found in a well where it was discarded by the family of  Ann Buckland, who lived at 104 S. St. Asaph Street from 1810 to 1834. This mug fits the description in Miller’s ad. This piece is not marked, but several examples of ceramics marked “Manufactured for Rob’t H. Miller, Alexandria DC” have been found in Alexandria.

Peace and Plenty Pitcher

Peace and Plenty pitcher, front with clasped hands  Peace and Plenty pitcher, side, with bust  Peace and Plenty pitcher, side, with eagle

Peace and Plenty Pitcher, Dipped Jasper (refined stoneware). English, ca. 1815. Catalogue number AX93 GB3 67.978. Photos by Gavin Ashworth, courtesy Ceramics in America. 

This pitcher has applied relief decoration against a dark brown ground, on a white stoneware body. On the front of the pitcher, above a ribbon with the words “Peace and Plenty, hands clasped in friendship represent Peace, and the overflowing cornucopia and caduceus represent Plenty. The American Eagle is depicted on one side, and Miss Liberty on the other. This depiction of Liberty is known as the “capped bust to right,” found on gold coins from about 1795-1806. This pitcher celebrates the end of the War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent, which was signed on Christmas Day, 1814. The pitcher was found in a brick-lined privy shaft on the 400 block of King Street, north side.