The great thing about writing about collectibles is that the story is already told in the listing. By the very nature of an object being a collectible, you know there has to be something unique about the item on offer. Take today’s remarkable listing, George Washington Hand Written Document:
We don’t really need explain who George Washington was, given he was the first President of the United States, which was taught to us in grade school (and let’s not forget that story about him cutting down that cherry tree). He was one of America’s founding fathers, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. As if that weren’t enough, he also presided over the Constitutional Convention, which drafted the Constitution of the United States of America. But what you may not know is that before all that, as a teenager growing up in northern Virginia, he worked as a successful land surveyor under the wing of his mentor William Fairfax.
Today’s remarkable find is one such survey from when Washington was a mere 19 years old. According to the listing, during his time as surveyor Washington conducted a total of 199 land surveys, and only 75 are known to exist. This is one of them. The listing describes the item in detail:
“Autograph document signed “G. Washington”, a survey of land for John Ellswick, [Virginia], April 16, 1751, 8vo, 4 pages, with Washington’s narrative description of the tract on the left-facing page and his neat plat drawing of the 437 tract on the right facing leaf.
“Pursuant to Directions from the Right Honble Thomas Lord Fairfax I have survey’d for John E. Ellswick a certain tract of waste and ungranted Land situate in Augusta Cnty and on the Lost River bounded as followeth: [A detailed description follows using trees as landmarks]…cont[aining] 437 acres.”
This survey was performed by the nineteen-year old Washington as he entered the last half of his career as a professional surveyor. In the period of July,1749 to October,1752, he conducted almost 200 surveys, most of them for frontier grants in the five million acre Northern Neck proprietary owned by Lord Thomas Fairfax, the largest property owner in Virginia. The location for this particular survey was in north central Virginia, with the Shenendoah mountains to the west, and Charlottesville to the east. At the lower left of this survey Washington has directed copies to two men, including John Lonem, the head chairman for this survey, as for more than half of the surveys Washington conducted during this period. Verso of the document with contemporary endorsements including the note ‘Deed drawn in Thomas Wallins name’.”
Washington’s abilities as surveyor and mapmaker even helped him during the Revolutionary War. Given the dearth of information about the land where battles were taking place, Washington lamented:
“The want of accurate Maps of the Country which has hitherto been the Scene of War, has been a great disadvantage to me. I have in vain endeavored to procure them and have been obliged to make shift, with such sketches as I could trace from my own Observations . . . .”(1)
George Washington is rightfully regarded by many people as the “father of his country.” But it was his abilities, gained by his job while he was a teenager, which arguably helped him win a war. Certainly this story deserves to be as widely told as the one about him as a child, chopping down that cherry tree.
Good luck bidding.
If you are interested in finding out more about George Washington as surveyor and mapmaker, take a look at this link, Tracing the Maps in George Washington’s Life.
1. John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, ed. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931-44), 7:65.