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George Washington the Surveyor

Painting of George Washington surveying

Growing up, George Washington loved the outdoors. He was also quite a good student, especially in arithmetic. When his father died and George did not receive any inheritance, he realized that he would have to learn how to provide for himself. Combining his talents, George became studious and taught himself many things. One of things that he began to study was surveying. He started by measuring the different fields of the Mount Vernon plantation where he lived with his brother, Lawrence. He spent many evenings measuring the fields and then using his compass and a ruler to draw maps of the land he had measured. Even at a young age, George knew he wanted to go into the wilderness and measure the lands that were unknown to the English and European settlers.

Lawrence often hosted fox hunting parties at Mount Vernon and one frequent guest was Lord Fairfax, who was the richest man in Virginia. Whenever he went hunting, Lord Fairfax asked George to accompany him. When George Washington was sixteen, in 1748, Lord Fairfax requested George to help on a surveying trip to the frontier. The trip lasted about one month and during the trip, George and the other surveyors slept in the open air and traveled on horseback. They worked hard measuring the land and making accurate maps. George also kept journals in which he wrote about what he did and saw. In his writings, he mentions one occasion where they met a group of Native Americans returning from war. The surveying party gave the Natives gifts and the two groups smoked a peace pipe together. The Native Americans also performed their war dance for the surveyors. When the trip was finished, Lord Fairfax was pleased with the maps that George had made and soon others were asking Washington to perform surveys.

Thanks to the recommendation of Lord Fairfax, George Washington became the official surveyor of Culpepper County in 1749, at the age of seventeen years old. He served as the official county surveyor from July of 1749 until November 1750. Even though he was officially a surveyor for only Culpepper County he also surveyed and drew maps of land in Frederick, Hampshire, and Augusta Counties. The two years following his time as the official county surveyor, he continued to work hard surveying the northern neck of Virginia. There are 199 professional surveys that are credited to George Washington. During his three years working in the wilderness of Virginia, George Washington traveled all over the colony and learned much about the wilderness and the ways of the Natives which would help in his future professions.

Starting in 1752, Washington became involved in land speculation which he would continue for nearly fifty years. As a land speculator, Washington sought out land, purchased it, and eventually settled the properties. Land speculation was much more profitable than surveying the land. In his will, Washington listed over 52,000 acres that he had obtained that would either be sold or distributed. The properties he owned were located in the colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. He also owned land in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.