Freshwater Catfish Bones
Created: Eighteenth century
Medium: Fish bones

Freshwater Catfish Bones

These freshwater catfish bones were unearthed during archaeological excavations at the South Grove Midden, an eighteenth-century communal trash deposit at Mount Vernon that formed from the daily lives of the enslaved and free people who lived on the estate. Freshwater catfish was clearly the most abundant fish at Mount Vernon in the years before the Revolutionary War. At least 813 catfish bones have been identified from the earliest archaeological excavations, when Lawrence Washington lived at Mount Vernon (ca. 1735–1758), and 376 bones were found in the early George and Martha Washington period (ca. 1759–1775). 

The enslaved who lived and worked near the mansion often fished in the Potomac River and other tributaries where freshwater catfish was abundant. By fishing for themselves, the enslaved supplemented the meager rations they received and also added some diversity to their diet. Excavations beneath the cellar of the House for Families slave quarters (ca. 1759–1793) revealed abundant fresh water fish remains.