Augustine Washington was a planter who owned thousands of acres of land, most of it unimproved, besides an interest in some small iron works, but he had been twice married and at his death left two broods of children to be provided for. George, a younger son—which implied a great deal in those days of entail and primogeniture—received the farm on the Rappahannock on which his father lived, amounting to two hundred and eighty acres, a share of the land lying on Deep Run, three lots in Frederick, a few negro slaves and a quarter of the residuary estate. He was also given a reversionary interest in Mount Vernon, bequeathed to his half-brother Lawrence. The total value of his inheritance was small, and, as Virginia landed fortunes went, he was left poorly provided for.
Much of Washington's youth was spent with Lawrence at Mount Vernon...By the time he was sixteen the boy was on the frontier helping Lord Thomas Fairfax to survey the princely domain that belonged to his lordship, and received in payment therefor sometimes as much as a doubloon a day. In 1748 he patented five hundred fifty acres of wild land in Frederick County, "My Bullskin Plantation" he usually called it, payment being made by surveying. In 1750 he had funds sufficient to buy four hundred fifty-six acres of land of one James McCracken, paying therefor one hundred twelve pounds. Two years later for one hundred fifteen pounds he bought five hundred fifty-two acres on the south fork of Bullskin Creek from Captain George Johnston. In 1757 he acquired from a certain Darrell five hundred acres on Dogue Run near Mount Vernon, paying three hundred fifty pounds.
...In Virginia likewise it was the landholder who enjoyed distinction and consideration, who was sent to the House of Burgesses and was bowed and scraped to as his coach bumped along over the miserable roads...
In 1752 Lawrence Washington died...he was the proprietor by inheritance of Mount Vernon, then an estate of two thousand five hundred acres which had been in the Washington family since 1674, being a grant from Lord Culpeper. Lawrence had fought against the Spaniards in the conflict sometimes known as the war of Jenkins's Ear, and in the disastrous siege of Cartagena had served under Admiral Vernon, after whom he later named his estate. He married Anne Fairfax, daughter of Sir William Fairfax, and for her built Mount Vernon.
Lawrence Washington was the father of four children, but only an infant daughter, Sarah, survived him, and she died soon after him.; By the terms of his father's and Lawrence's wills George Washington, after the death of this child, became the ultimate inheritor of the Mount Vernon estate, but, contrary to the common idea, Anne Fairfax Washington, who soon married George Lee, retained a life interest. On December 17, 1754, however, the Lees executed a deed granting said life interest to George Washington in consideration of an annual payment during Anne Lee's lifetime of fifteen thousand pounds of tobacco or the equivalent in current money. Mrs. Lee died in 1761 and thereafter Washington owned the estate absolutely...
Up to 1759 Washington was so constantly engaged in fighting the French and Indians that he had little time and opportunity to look after his private affairs and in consequence they suffered. In 1757 he wrote from the Shenandoah Valley to an English agent that he should have some tobacco to sell, but could not say whether he did have or not...
This stroke consisted in his marriage to Martha Custis, relict of the wealthy Daniel Parke Custis...Matters moved forward with the rapidity traditional in similar cases and in about three weeks and before the Colonel left to join Forbes in the final expedition against Fort Duquesne the little widow had been wooed and won. After his return from that expedition Washington resigned his commission and on the 6th of January, 1759, they were married at her "White House" on York River and spent their honeymoon at her "Six Chimney House" in Williamsburg...
The bride brought her husband a "little progeny" consisting of two interesting stepchildren; also property worth about a hundred thousand dollars, including many negro slaves, money on bond and stock in the Bank of England. Soon we find him sending certificates of the marriage to the English agents of the Custis estate and announcing to them that the management of the whole would be in his hands.
The dower negroes were kept separate from those owned by himself, but otherwise he seems to have made little distinction between his own and Mrs. Washington's property, which was now, in fact, by Virginia law his own. When Martha wanted money she applied to him for it. Now and then in his cash memorandum books we come upon such entries as, "By Cash to Mrs. Washington for Pocket Money £4." As a rule, if there were any purchases to be made, she let George do it and, if we may judge from the long list of tabby colored velvet gowns, silk hose, satin shoes, "Fashionable Summer Cloaks & Harts," and similar articles ordered from the English agents she had no reason to complain...
He managed the property of the two children with great care and fidelity, keeping a scrupulous account in a "marble colour'd folio Book" of every penny received or expended in their behalf and making a yearly report to the general court of his stewardship. How minute this account was is indicated by an entry in his cash memorandum book for August 21, 1772: "Charge Miss Custis with a hair Pin mended by C. Turner" one shilling. Her death (of "Fitts") in 1773 added about ten thousand pounds to Mrs. Washington's property, which meant to his own.
There can be no question that the fortune he acquired by the Custis alliance proved of great advantage to him in his future career, for it helped to make him independent as regards money considerations... much of the Custis money was lost during the Revolution as a result of the depreciation in the currency.
Following his marriage Washington added largely to his estate, both in the neighborhood of Mount Vernon and elsewhere. In 1759 he bought of his friend Bryan Fairfax two hundred and seventy-five acres on Difficult Run, and about the same time from his neighbor, the celebrated George Mason of Gunston Hall, he acquired one hundred acres next that already bought of Darrell. Negotiations entered into with a certain Clifton for the purchase of a tract of one thousand eight hundred six acres called Brents was productive of much annoyance. Clifton agreed in February, 1760, to sell the ground for one thousand one hundred fifty pounds, but later, "under pretence of his wife not consenting to acknowledge her right of dower wanted to disengage himself . . . and by his shuffling behavior convinced me of his being the trifling body represented." Washington heard presently that Clifton had sold the land to another man for one thousand two hundred pounds, which fully "unravelled his conduct . . . and convinced me that he was nothing less than a thorough paced rascal." Ultimately Washington acquired Brents, but had to pay one thousand two hundred ten pounds for it.
During the next few years he acquired other tracts, notably the Posey plantation just below Mount Vernon and later often called by him the Ferry Farm. With it he acquired a ferry to the Maryland shore and a fishery, both of which industries he continued.
By 1771 he paid quit rents upon an estate of five thousand five hundred eighteen acres in Fairfax County; on two thousand four hundred ninety-eight acres in Frederick County; on one thousand two hundred fifty acres in King George; on two hundred forty in Hampshire; on two hundred seventy-five in Loudoun; on two thousand six hundred eighty two in Loudoun Faquier—in all, twelve thousand four hundred sixty-three acres. The quit rent was two shillings and sixpence per hundred acres and amounted to £15.11.7.
In addition to these lands in the settled parts of Virginia he also had claims to vast tracts in the unsettled West. For services in the French and Indian War he was given twenty thousand acres of wild land beyond the mountains—a cheap mode of reward, for the Ohio region was to all intents and purposes more remote than Yukon is to-day. Many of his fellow soldiers held their grants so lightly that he was able to buy their claims for almost a song. The feeling that such grants were comparatively worthless was increased by the fact that to become effective they must be located and surveyed, while doubt existed as to whether they would be respected owing to conflicting claims, jurisdictions and proclamations.
Washington, however, had seen the land and knew it was good and he had prophetic faith in the future of the West. He employed his old comrade Captain William Crawford to locate and survey likely tracts not only in what is now West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, but beyond the Ohio River. Settlement in the latter region had been forbidden by the King' 4 reclamation of 1763, but Washington thought that this was merely a temporary measure designed to quiet the Indians and was anxious to have picked out in advance "some of the most valuable land in the King's part." In other words he desired Crawford to act the part of a "Sooner," in the language of more than a century later.
In this period a number of companies were scrambling for western lands, and Washington, at one time or another, had an interest in what was known as the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi Company, the Military Company of Adventurers and the Dismal Swamp Company. This last company, however, was interested in redeeming lands about Dismal Swamp in eastern Virginia and it was the only one that succeeded. In 1799 he estimated the value of his share in that company at twenty thousand dollars.
Washington took the lead in securing the rights of his old soldiers in the French War, advancing money to pay expenses in behalf of the common cause and using his influence in the proper quarters. In August, 1770, he met many of his former officers at Captain Weedon's in Fredericksburg, and after they had dined and had talked over old times, they discussed the subject of their claims until sunset, and it was decided that Washington should personally make a long and dangerous trip to the western region.
In October he set out with his old friend Doctor James Craik and three servants, including the ubiquitous Billy Lee, and on the way increased the party. They followed the old Braddock Road to Pittsburgh, then a village of about twenty log cabins, visiting en route some tracts of land that Crawford had selected. At Pittsburgh they obtained a large dugout, and with Crawford, two Indians and several borderers, floated down the Ohio, picking out and marking rich bottom lands and having great sport hunting and fishing.
The region in which they traveled was then little known and was unsettled by white men. Daniel Boone had made his first hunting trip into "the dark and bloody ground of Kaintuckee" only the year before, and scattered along the banks of the Ohio stood the wigwam villages of the aboriginal lords of the land. At one such village Washington met a chief who had accompanied him on his memorable winter journey in 1753 to warn out the French, and elsewhere talked with Indians who had shot at him in the battle of the Monongahela and now expressed a belief that he must be invulnerable. At the Mingo Town they saw a war party of three score painted Iroquois on their way to fight the far distant Catawbas. Between the Indians and the white men peace nominally reigned, but rumors were flying of impending uprisings, and the Red Man's smouldering hate was soon to burst into the flame known as Lord Dunmore's War. Once the party was alarmed by a report that the Indians had killed two white men, but they breathed easier on learning that the sole basis of the story was that a trader had tried to swim his horse across the Ohio and had been drowned. In spite of uncertainties, the voyagers continued to the Great Kanawha and paddled about fourteen miles up that stream. Near its mouth Washington located two large tracts for himself and military comrades and after interesting hunting experiences and inspecting some enormous sycamores —concerning which matters more hereafter—the party turned back, and Washington reached home after an absence of nine weeks.
Two of Washington's western tracts are of special interest. One had been selected by Crawford in 1767 and was "a fine piece of land on a stream called Chartiers Creek" in the present Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh. Crawford surveyed the tract and marked it by blazed trees, built four cabins and cleared a patch of ground, as an improvement, about each. Later Washington, casting round for some one from whom to obtain a military title with which to cover the tract, bought out the claim of his financially embarrassed old neighbor Captain John Posey to three thousand acres, paying £11.11.3, or about two cents per acre. Crawford, now a deputy surveyor of the region, soon after resurveyed two thousand eight hundred thirteen acres and forwarded the "return" to Washington, with the result that in 1774 Governor Dunmore of Virginia granted a patent for the land.
In the meantime, however, six squatters built a cabin upon the tract and cleared two or three acres, but Crawford paid them five pounds for their improvements and induced them to move on. To keep off other interlopers he placed a man on the land, but in 1773 a party of rambunctious Scotch-Irishmen appeared on the scene, drove the keeper away, built a cabin so close in front of his door that he could not get back in, and continued to hold the land until after the Revolution.
By that time Crawford himself was dead—having suffered the most terrible of all deaths—that of an Indian captive burnt at the stake.
The other tract whose history it is worth our while to follow consisted of twelve hundred acres on the Youghiogheny River, likewise not far from Pittsburgh. It bore seams of coal, which Washington examined in 1770 and thought "to be of the very best kind, burning freely and abundance of it." In the spring of 1773 he sent out a certain Gilbert Simpson, with whom he had formed a sort of partnership, to look after this land, and each furnished some laborers, Washington a "fellow" and a "wench." Simpson managed to clear some ground and get in six acres of corn, but his wife disliked life on the borderland and made him so uncomfortable with her complaints that he decided to throw up the venture. However, he changed his mind, and after a trip back East returned and, on a site noticed by the owner on his visit, built a grist mill on a small stream now called Washington's Run that empties into the Youghiogheny. This was one of the first mills erected west of the Alleghany Mountains and is still standing, though more or less rebuilt. The millstones were dug out of quarries in the neighborhood and the work of building the mill was done amid considerable danger from the Indians, who had begun what is known as Dunmore's War. Simpson's cabin and the slave quarters stood near what is now Plant No. 2 of the Washington Coal and Coke Company. The tract of land contains valuable seams of coal and with some contiguous territory is valued at upward of twenty million dollars.
Washington had large ideas for the development of these western lands. At one time he considered attempting to import Palatine Germans to settle there, but after careful investigation decided that the plan was impracticable. In 1774 he bought four men convicts, four indented servants, and a man and his wife for four years and sent them and some carpenters out to help Simpson build the mill and otherwise improve the lands. Next year he sent out another party, but Indian troubles and later the Revolution united with the natural difficulties of the country to put a stop to progress. Some of the servants were sold and others ran away, but Simpson stayed on in charge, though without making any financial settlement with his patron till 1784.
At the close of the Revolution Washington wrote to President John Witherspoon of Princeton College that he had in the western country patents under signature of Lord Dunmore "for about 30,000 acres, and surveys for about 10,000 more, patents for which were suspended by the disputes with Great Britain, which soon followed the return of the warrants to the land office. Ten thousand acres of the above thirty lie upon the Ohio; the rest on the Great Kenhawa, a river nearly as large, and quite as easy in its navigation, as the former. The whole of it is rich bottom land, beautifully situated on these rivers, and abounding plenteously in fish, wild-fowl, and game of all kinds."
He could have obtained vast land grants for his Revolutionary services, but he stuck by his announced intention of receiving only compensation for his expenses. He continued, however, to be greatly interested in the western country and was one of the first Americans to foresee the importance of that region to the young Republic, predicting that it would become populated more rapidly than anyone could believe and faster than any similar region ever had been settled. He was extremely anxious to develop better methods of communication with the West and in 1783 made a trip up the Mohawk River to the famous Oneida or Great Carrying Place to view the possibilities of waterway development in that region—the future course of the Erie Canal. Soon after he wrote to his friend the Chevalier de Chastellux: "I could not help taking a more extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States and could not but be struck by the immense extent and importance of it, and of the goodness of that Providence which has dealt its favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. I shall not rest contented till I have explored the Western Country, and traversed those lines or great part of them, which have given bounds to a new empire."
In partnership with George Clinton he bought, in 1784, a tract of six thousand acres on the Mohawk, paying for his share, including interest, one thousand eight hundred seventy-five pounds. In 1793 he sold two-thirds of his half for three thousand four hundred pounds and in his will valued the thousand acres that remained at six thousand dollars. This was a speculation pure and simple, as he was never in the region in which the land lay but once.
On December 23, 1783, in an ever memorable scene, Washington resigned his commission as Commander of the Continental Army and rode off from Annapolis to Mount Vernon to keep Christmas there for the first time since 1774. The next eight months he was busily engaged in making repairs and improvements about his home estate, but on September first, having two days before said good-by to Lafayette, who had been visiting him, he set off on horseback to inspect his western lands and to obtain information requisite to a scheme he had for improving the "Inland Navigation of the Potomac" and connecting its head waters by canal with those of the Ohio. The first object was rendered imperative by the settlement of squatters on part of his richest land, some of which was even being offered for sale by unscrupulous land agents.
With him went again his old friend Doctor Craik. Their equipage consisted of three servants and six horses, three of which last carried the baggage, including a marquee, some camp utensils, a few medicines, "hooks and lines," Madeira, port wine and cherry bounce. Stopping at night and for meals at taverns or the homes of relatives or friends, they passed up the picturesque Potomac Valley, meeting many friends along the way, among them the celebrated General Daniel Morgan, with whom Washington talked over the waterways project. At "Happy Retreat," the home of Charles Washington in the fertile Shenandoah Valley, beyond the Blue Ridge, Washington met and transacted business with tenants who lived on his lands in that region. On September fifth he reached Bath, the present Berkeley Springs, where he owned two thousand acres of land and two lots. Here fifteen years before he had come with his family in the hope that the water would benefit poor "Patey" Custis, and here he met "the ingenious Mr. Rumney" who showed him the model of a boat to be propelled by steam.
At Bath the party was joined by Doctor Craik's son William and by the General's nephew, Bushrod Washington. Twelve miles to the west Washington turned aside from the main party to visit a tract of two hundred forty acres that he owned on the Virginia side of the Potomac. He found it "exceedingly Rich, & must be very valuable.—the lower end of the Land is rich white oak in places springey . . , the upper part is . . . covered with Walnut of considerable size many of them." He "got a snack" at the home of a Mr. McCracken and left with that gentleman the terms upon which he would let the land, then rode onward and rejoined the others.
The cavalcade passed on to Fort Cumberland. There Washington left the main party to follow with the baggage and hurried on ahead along Braddock's old road in order to fill an appointment to be at Gilbert Simpson's by the fifteenth. Passing through the dark tangle of Laurel know as the Shades of Death, he came on September twelfth to the opening among the mountains—the Great Meadows—where in 1754 in his rude little fort of logs, aptly named Fort Necessity, he had fought the French and had been conquered by them. He owned the spot now, for in 1770 Crawford had bought it for him for "30 Pistols."* Thirty years before, as an enthusiastic youth, he had called it a "charming field for an encounter"; now he spoke of it as "capable of being turned to great advantage . . . a very good stand for a Tavern—much Hay may be cut here When the ground is laid down...in grass & the upland, East of the Meadow, is good for grain." Not a word about the spot's old associations!
The same day he pushed on through the mountains, meeting "numbers of Persons & Pack horses going in with Ginseng; & for Salt & other articles at the Markets below," and near nightfall reached on the Youghiogheny River the tract on which Gilbert Simpson, his agent, lived. He found the land poorer than he had expected and the buildings that had been erected indifferent, while the mill was in such bad condition that "little Rent, or good is to be expected from the present aspect of her." He was, in fact, unable to find a renter for the mill and let the land, twelve hundred acres, now worth millions, for only five hundred bushels of wheat!
The land had cost him far more than he had received from it. Simpson had not proved a man of much energy and even had he been otherwise conditions in the region would have prevented him from accomplishing much in a financial way, for there was little or no market for farm produce near at hand and the cost of transportation over the mountains was prohibitive. During the Revolution, however, Simpson had in some way or other got hold of some paper currency and a few months before had turned over the worthless bills to Washington. A century later the package was sold at auction, and the band, which was still unbroken, bore upon it in Washington's hand: "Given by Gilbt. Simpson, 19 June, 1784."
At Simpson's Washington was met by a delegation from the squatters on his holdings on Miller's Run or Chartiers Creek, "and after much conversation & attempts in them to discover all the flaws they could in my Deed &c." they announced that they would give a definite answer as to what they would do when Washington reached the land in dispute.
He drew near the neighborhood on the following Saturday, but the next day "Being Sunday, and the People living on my Land, apparently very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till to-morrow." On Monday, in company with several persons including the high sheriff, Captain Van Swearingen, or "Indian Van," captain of one of the companies in Morgan's famous rifle corps, he proceeded to the land and found that, of two thousand eight hundred thirteen acres, three hundred sixtythree were under cultivation and forty more were in meadow. On the land stood twelve cabins and nine barns claimed by fourteen different persons, most or all of whom were doughty Scotch-Irishmen.
Washington was humane enough to see that they had something to urge in their behalf and offered to sell them the whole tract at twenty-five shillings an acre, or to take them as tenants, but they stubbornly refused his offers and after much wrangling announced their intention to stand suit. Ejectment proceedings were accordingly brought by Washington's attorney, Thomas Smith of Carlisle. The case was tried in 1786 before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and resulted in Washington's favor.
In 1796 Washington sold the tract to a certain Matthew Richey for twelve thousand dollars, of which three thousand one hundred eighty dollars was to be paid in cash and the rest in three annual instalments. Richey died in 1798, and Washington's heirs had difficulties in their attempts to collect the remainder.
Leaving these legal matters to be disposed of by lawyers, Washington turned back without visiting his Kanawha or Ohio lands, and on October fourth reached Mount Vernon, having traveled on horseback about six hundred eighty miles. One result of his trip was the formation of the Potomac Company.
From that time onward he bought occasional tracts of lands in various parts of the country or acquired them in discharge of debts. By the death of his mother he acquired her land on Accokeek Creek in Stafford County, near where his father had operated an iron furnace.
Washington's landed estate as listed in his will amounted to about sixty thousand two hundred two acres, besides lots in Washington, Alexandria, Winchester, Bath, Manchester, Edinburgh and Richmond. Nine thousand two hundred twenty-seven acres, including Mount Vernon and a tract on Four Mile Run, he specifically bequeathed to individuals, as he did some of the lots. The remaining lots and fifty thousand nine hundred seventy-five acres (some of which land was already conditionally sold) he directed to be disposed of, together with his live stock, government bonds and shares held by him in the Potomac Company, the Dismal Swamp Company, the James River Company and the banks of Columbia and Alexandria—the whole value of which he conservatively estimated at five hundred and thirty thousand dollars.