American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Reason

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George Washington,
Mapmaker

A Plan of Alexandria, now Belhaven
A Plan of Alexandria, now Belhaven

Manuscript Map
1749
Geography & Map Division

Plat of a survey for John Lindsey
[Plat of a survey for John Lindsey
of 223 acres in Frederick Co., VA]

Manuscript Map
1750
Geography & Map Division

A Plan of My Farm on Little Huntg. Creek & Potomak, R.
A Plan of My Farm on Little
Huntg. Creek & Potomak, R.

Manuscript Map
1766
Geography & Map Division

George Washington, best known as a planter, soldier, and statesman, was trained as a surveyor during his late teenage years and practiced surveying in the western part of Virginia during the 1750s. Recent inventories indicate that he drew or annotated at least 150 maps during his lifetime. Of these, more than forty are found in various collections of the Library of Congress. Most of these pertain to land surveys in western Virginia, military operations in southwestern Pennsylvania, and surveys of his lands near Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Here are examples of Washington's exemplary mapmaking skills. The first map was drawn by Washington when he was about seventeen years old. He prepared this manuscript plan of Alexandria, Virginia, as well as a similar map of the town site before the streets and lots were laid out. The town, which was formally established on July 13, 1749, consisted of eighty-four lots, most of which were one-half acre in size. The site for this new town focused on a tobacco inspection warehouse and the stores of several Scottish merchants, located on the Potomac River just north of Great Hunting Creek in a small community that was originally known as Belhaven. It is possible that Washington prepared this map while he was apprenticed to the county surveyor John West, whom he assisted in surveying the town boundaries and lots. He apparently prepared the map to send to his half-brother Lawrence, who was in England at the time, to show him the two town lots that had been purchased for him.

During the early 1750's Washington was employed as a surveyor for several counties in western Virginia. An example of his work is this "metes and bounds" survey for a tract of land in Frederick County, Virginia.

Washington prepared this manuscript plan of lands he had recently purchased adjacent to his ancestral home of Mount Vernon. This is one of the few examples of colonial-era plantation maps in the Library's collection.

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