By Amanda Benge
Fairfax County Park Authority archaeologists found two pearlware ceramic sherds as they excavated the remains of a farmstead during a survey in Lorton in 2000. The mended sherds form part of a mug featuring a colorfully painted female figure that is relief molded, meaning that the figure stands out from the mug’s light blue surface. The mug was produced in England during the early 19th century and through trade and transportation made its way to the Lorton farm. Someone who occupied the farm at that time likely drank from this mug. In addition to the mug, the excavation yielded thousands of artifacts and structural elements representative of the late 18th and 19th centuries. These objects and historic documentation, including archival records and deeds, led archaeologists to identify and discover more about Fanny B. B. Wilson, the owner and a resident on the property during that period.
Fanny B.B. Wilson was born in 1788. Her father John Coffer, a Revolutionary War veteran, bought land in the Lorton area in 1797. When he died in 1807, his Lorton property contained personal items, hardware, and household belongings such as this pearlware mug. The artifacts that were excavated in 2000 are typical of Fairfax County farms of that period. John Coffer’s holdings contained 716 acres. Fanny received a one-sixth portion of her father's estate and personal property when she married Richard Wilson in 1812. The Wilsons built a home on Fanny’s property, then known as Giles Run, where the couple lived with their five children until Richard died in 1829. Now a widow, Fanny bore the responsibilities normally held by men as she oversaw the household and farm.
Research revealed that for the next 36 years, Fanny raised her five children and successfully managed her home, crops, and livestock. Fanny, her widowed daughter, and her two grandchildren remained at Giles Run throughout the Civil War. Fanny passed away in late 1865.
Fanny Wilson was a determined woman who adapted and persisted despite tragedy and hardship. Archaeologists were fortunate to investigate her farm site before modern development replaced it.