Bladensburg Archaeology

Myths and Facts

Myth:

The Magruder House basement was a “slave dungeon” and the rings for the shackles could still be seen in the floor up until the 1950s.

Fact:

There is no evidence that slaves were shackled in the Magruder House basement. Since the estate supported well over two dozen enslaved people of African descent throughout the 18th and very early 19th century, it is probable that the former log wash house, as well as other designated areas on the property, housed enslaved African Americans and indentured servants. The basement was actually used as the kitchen and those in bondage cooked numerous meals for the family and guests in the large fire hearth. A dumb waiter, much like the one seen in Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello, was used to raise food and dishes up to the dining room. During restoration efforts, the dumbwaiter was removed and a closet was installed in its place. 

Myth:

The only resistance to the British during the Battle of Bladensburg came from the Magruder House where someone fired a gun from an open window.

Fact:

We have not identified any written accounts about the battle to substantiate anyone within the town firing at the British troops. 

Myth:

The Magruder House served as a field hospital after the Battle of Bladensburg.

Fact:

Approximately 185 British soldiers and about 50 Americans were wounded in the Battle of Bladensburg. Documentation states that the Ross’ Tavern in Bladensburg (operated by William and/or Richard Ross and located on Lot 4 or 5) was used as the American officer’s headquarters. The British officers allegedly stayed at David Ross Sr.’s stone house, then owned by Bailey Erles Clarke, and located across from the Magruder House. Since many of the wounded soldiers were unable to continue on to Washington, it is possible that many homes, including the Magruder House, were used as temporary field hospitals.

Myth:

George Washington ate at the Magruder House.

Fact:

This is true.  Washington wrote in his diary on May 9, 1787 that he, “…dined at Mr. Richd. Hendersons at Bladensbg…”. 

Myth:

The George Washington House and Indian Queen Tavern were the same building.

Fact:

As part of the revitalization efforts by the Jacyees in the 1970s, they decided to call the colonial brick building the George Washington House/Indian Queen Tavern.  Understandably, people began to think they were a single building, unaware that the archaeological remains of the tavern lay under the parking lot. Today, we know that the Indian Queen Tavern was a separate, 2 ½ story wood building that initially served as a German tavern operated by Jacob Wirt and his family. The large brick building was actually a brick store and residence during the 18th century and then served as a tavern in the mid 19th century. George Washington never ate or slept at the brick building, but he did eat and sleep at the Indian Queen Tavern, then rented and operated by Richard Ross. Washington documented in a letter on March 26, 1797 that, “At Bladensburg…a good house is kept by one Ross (sign of the Indian Queen).”

Myth:

Joshua Barney and his officers used Ross’ Tavern as their headquarters after the Battle of Bladensburg.

Fact:

This is true, but with an interesting twist. Richard Ross ran the Indian Queen Tavern between 1797 and 1802 on the north part of Lot 6 on what is now the George Washington House’s parking lot. By 1803, Ross left Bladensburg and purchased over 200 acres in College Park and called it Ross Borough where he built a brick tavern called the Indian Queen.  Six years later, Richard Ross sold this property and moved back to Bladensburg where he went into business with his brother William who operated a tavern on either Lot 4 or 5.  In 1814, William Ross received a license with Richard Ross pledging security for the license.  It is probable that Joshua Barney and other American officers used their tavern as a temporary headquarters and that this is the Ross Tavern referred to in the historic record.