Bluff Trail

As you descend into the quiet ravine, sheltered by tall trees and a soft leafy floor, let your thoughts travel far, far back in time. This small peninsula jutting out into the Potomac River is part of a huge watershed that supports a lush landscape, fresh water, abundant animals, and as a result, people. It has seldom been empty of human inhabitants.

More than 11,000 years ago hunter-gatherer groups criss-crossed the modest hills, leaving behind spent arrows and stone knives. They eventually formed permanent settlements in the region 2,750 years ago. By the time Europeans arrived, the area was dominated by a tribe that called itself the “Moyumpse” or “Meompses.” Rival tribes disrespectfully labeled them the “Doeg” people. The name stuck among the invaders, since it was adopted by explorers, such as the 17th-century Captain John Smith.  Europeans’ records used several alternate spellings, including “Dogue” and “Dog.” 

The local people fished in the river and streams and farmed the mineral-rich hills, cultivating beans, corn, and squash.  They, like members of other neighboring tribes, also, raised tobacco to use for pleasure and ritual purposes.  

The Moyumpse were used to navigating complicated political situations. Once a part of Powhatan’s confederacy to the south, by the early 1600s they were more closely aligned with the Iroquois further north. Alliances provided protection during times of conflict and trading partners in peace. 

Power structures started to change once Europeans settled in the area. As colonial land use intensified along the tidewater, the Moyumpse and English peoples competed over limited resources.  The infusion of new people and attitudes strained existing tribal relationships. Violence broke out as alliances formed and dissolved among the Moyumpse, Piscataway, Pamunkey, and Rappahanock peoples who lived in the region, Seneca and Iroquois people who traveled through on regular hunting trips, and English settlers eager for ever more land.

As these competing Indian tribes and European settlers vied for control over the most valuable territory, George Mason’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father, in turn envisioned a Virginia settled by Englishmen. Over three generations, they actively pushed  native peoples out of this area and ever further westward, claiming the lucrative, river- and bay-front property for themselves. 

Archaeological remnants of structures near this trail indicate that Europeans started living on this peninsula by the 1690s. Documentary evidence indicates there were violent attacks on both sides for at least fifteen more years. By George Mason’s lifetime, the Moyumpse Indian lands had long since been taken over by white settlers.  

With its excellent water access, high ground, and acres of forests, the land that became Gunston Hall remained a productive prize. After their marriage, Ann Eilbeck Mason and George Mason chose to make this place, of all the properties they owned, their home.

What will you learn about next?

Do you need a refresher on where you are on the property?  Access the grounds map here.

Archaeology: The Dig Site

If you are interested in following along with the recording, you may want to have the following supplies at hand:

Artifact Mending

 

  • A broken ceramic item: this could be a plate, a bowl, or a porcelain figurine.

 

Archaeology: The Dig Site

Learning from Home

Social distancing means it can be hard to fill the days with something new. Fortunately, more tools exist than ever before to bring you engaging activities, projects, and chances to expand your horizons from within your own home.

Gunston Hall is pleased to offer these experiences to any and all. Whether by yourself or with your family, you will find that there is something on offer for everyone. Staff will regularly add new historical content and activities.

Like what you’ve tried? Want to help Gunston Hall develop more content? Consider giving us your support.

Archaeology

Gunston Hall is in the midst of a long term-project to make the area around the mansion look as much as possible as it did in George Mason’s day. Archaeologists look under ground for clues concerning what was going on above ground while the Masons and all other people on Gunston Hall’s grounds lived here. The clues found may be as subtle as differences in soil colors or as familiar as objects that people used in their everyday lives.

What does an archeologist do?

Gunston Hall’s archaeology staff and volunteers explore, excavate, conduct on-site lab work, prepare reports analyzing their finds, and of course, educate our visitors. During the dig season, visitors can find them on most Tuesdays-Saturdays, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at one of our dig sites. Archaeology team members are always happy to answer questions from visitors. Ask about what they are finding right now and their past discoveries.

What are we looking for?

At Gunston Hall we use archaeology to help us understand more about how the property was arranged and what activities took place here. By investigating this “landscape archaeology,” we can find clues about how the landscape was laid out. Sometimes we discover old traces of roads, buildings, fences, and plantings.

Often, we find artifacts from the time that the Masons and their enslaved workforce lived here. Broadly speaking, artifacts are buried objects that people who walked the grounds before us had dropped, placed, or discarded and can be picked up and put in a bag.

Tangible artifacts help us understand the everyday objects of people of the past. Landscape features help us understand how people used the buildings and the land. Both kinds of discoveries give us insight on the lives of those in the past.

What have we found?

So far we have found nails, slate pencils and fragments of broken slates, cooking utensils, animal bones, various buttons, jewelry, glass bottles, both complete and incomplete, and more.

We have based, in part, our decisions about what to display in the mansion and the outbuildings on the objects we have uncovered.

Archaeology at Gunston Hall

Gunston Hall is in the midst of a long term-project to make the area around the mansion look as much as possible as it did in George Mason’s day. Archaeologists look under ground for clues concerning what was going on above ground while the Masons and all other people on Gunston Hall’s grounds lived here. The clues found may be as subtle as differences in soil colors or as familiar as objects that people used in their everyday lives.

What does an archeologist do?

Gunston Hall’s archaeology staff and volunteers explore, excavate, conduct on-site lab work, prepare reports analyzing their finds, and of course, educate our visitors. During the dig season, visitors can find them on most Tuesdays-Saturdays, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at one of our dig sites. Archaeology team members are always happy to answer questions from visitors. Ask about what they are finding right now and their past discoveries.

What are we looking for?

At Gunston Hall we use archaeology to help us understand more about how the property was arranged and what activities took place here. By investigating this “landscape archaeology,” we can find clues about how the landscape was laid out. Sometimes we discover old traces of roads, buildings, fences, and plantings.

Often, we find artifacts from the time that the Masons and their enslaved workforce lived here. Broadly speaking, artifacts are buried objects that people who walked the grounds before us had dropped, placed, or discarded and can be picked up and put in a bag.

Tangible artifacts help us understand the everyday objects of people of the past. Landscape features help us understand how people used the buildings and the land. Both kinds of discoveries give us insight on the lives of those in the past.

What have we found?

So far we have found nails, slate pencils and fragments of broken slates, cooking utensils, animal bones, various buttons, jewelry, glass bottles, both complete and incomplete, and more.

We have based, in part, our decisions about what to display in the mansion and the outbuildings on the objects we have uncovered.

Guide to Visiting

The grounds, visitor center, and museum shop are now open daily.

General Admission grants access to the grounds, museum, and limited access to the mansion. A Grounds Pass is available for you to explore the grounds on your own.

Explore the Historic Area

Take a guided tour or explore the grounds on your own.

  • Kitchen Yard: Peek in the reconstructed kitchen, dairy, and laundry. Consider the unrelenting work of enslaved people in these spaces. Compare these buildings to today’s housekeeping spaces.
  • Schoolhouse: Explore a recreated 18th-century plantation schoolhouse, including the tutor’s quarters.
  • Burying Ground: Walk out to the Masons’ family cemetery, established in the 1770s.
  • Slave Dwelling: See an outline of the kind of house that might have been used by enslaved people at Gunston Hall. Learn where real houses of enslaved people were located.
  • Archaeology: From spring through fall, meet our archaeological team to find out what we are uncovering about life at Gunston Hall.
  • Garden: Discover the location and design of the Masons’ garden. Watch as the garden reconstruction takes place.

Experience Revolutionary Rights

Start your visit in the Visitor Center and view our newest exhibition, Revolutionary Rights or our temporary exhibition, A Woman’s Place.

  • Revolutionary Rights, investigates the legacy of George Mason through his actions and ideas.
  • A Woman’s Place, uncovers clues about the lives of enslaved and free women who grew up, toiled, played, celebrated, and sorrowed at Gunston Hall.

Plan a Picnic

Enjoy Gunston Hall’s grounds by using our picnic tables or bringing a picnic blanket.

  • Bring your own picnic food.
  • With 24 hours advanced planning, you may order a picnic lunch through our partner, Amphora.

Go on a Hike

Purchase your ticket and lace up your boots to discover Gunston Hall’s 550 acres of natural beauty. Choose one of our easy to moderate hikes that showcase the historic corridor, native wildlife and plants, or impressive waterside views.

Bring Your Dog!

Well-behaved leashed dogs are welcome on the grounds but are not allowed in the visitor center or museum with the exception of service animals. Explore the grounds or take an adventure hike with your pup and learn something new!

Shop with Us

The museum shop is open daily from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and located within the visitor center. The shop carries merchandise including books, stationary, refreshments, and gifts for any occasion including art from local artisans and craftsmen.


Upcoming Events at Gunston Hall

Step back in time and explore the ideas of democracy and individual rights. Check out our calendar of events below to see what is happening soon. Members of Gunston Hall receive discounted registration for all special programs.