Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Teenage Geo Washington - Professional Landscape Surveyor


Founders Online explains George Washington's (1732-1799) Surveying Appointment:   22 July 1749–25 October 1752

Between the ages of 17 & 20 GW was a practicing professional land surveyor. During that time he made more than 190 surveys, nearly all of them for grants of new lands on the frontiers of Lord Fairfax’s Northern Neck Proprietary. Frontier surveying was a lucrative business in Virginia at the middle of the eighteenth century, as swarms of settlers & speculators laid claim to the colony’s western lands, both inside & outside the Northern Neck. A diligent frontier surveyor working only a few months out of the year could clear annually £100 or more in Virginia current money, a cash income greater than that of most planters & tradesmen in the colony. Frontier surveyors, in addition, had ample opportunities to patent choice tracts of land in their own names, & many acquired holdings of several thousand acres. Surveying was a respectable occupation for a young Virginian in 1749, roughly on a par with law, medicine, the church, or military service, & most of the surveyors were drawn from the Virginia gentry.

GW’s career as a surveyor owed much to the Fairfax family. Close acquaintance with the proprietor, Thomas, Lord Fairfax, & with Fairfax’s relatives at Belvoir assured GW of receiving profitable surveying assignments in the Northern Neck, & it was probably at the behest of Lord Fairfax & through the agency of William Fairfax, who sat on the governor’s council, that GW obtained the surveyorship of Culpeper County at the start of his professional career. Young men of 17 usually did not serve as county surveyors. Most novice surveyors began as apprentices or deputies to county surveyors & did not become county surveyors themselves, if ever, until they had had some years of experience. Before 20 July 1749, nevertheless, GW received a commission from the president & masters of the College of William & Mary appointing him surveyor of newly formed Culpeper County. The college in its charter of 1693 had been granted the power to appoint all Virginia county surveyors & the right to collect one-sixth of their surveying fees, but in practice the college authorities were more concerned with their income than with who was appointed to the surveyorships. They regularly deferred to the wishes of powerful men in commissioning surveyors, & in the case of Culpeper, which lay in the Northern Neck, they were undoubtedly open to any suggestion that Lord Fairfax might make for the county’s surveyor. GW did not study at the college to qualify for the commission or stand any examination by the president & masters of the school. There is no evidence, in fact, that GW went to Williamsburg in the spring or summer of 1749. Most probably, William Fairfax, who attended council in Williamsburg from March to May 1749, secured the commission for him. On 20 July 1749 GW appeared before the justices of the Culpeper court &, after presenting his commission, took the oaths of public office for the first time & became the county’s first surveyor.

Two days later GW ran a survey of 400 acres on Flat Run in east central Culpeper County for Richard Barnes of Richmond County. GW decorated his plat of the survey with a handsome compass rose & a sketch of Mount Pony, an area landmark, & signed his name in full with his new title “Survy of Culpeper Cty.” It is the only survey that he is known to have made in the county in which he was commissioned. Thereafter, his surveying was done almost entirely in the Shenandoah & Cacapon valleys of Frederick County, which until 1753 embraced all of the Northern Neck Proprietary west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Surveyors in the Northern Neck, unlike surveyors in the rest of Virginia, were allowed, at Lord Fairfax’s pleasure, to make public surveys outside the counties to which they were appointed. Under those circumstances it is not surprising that GW chose to survey on the frontier. Culpeper, although a new county, was fairly well settled. Most of its desirable lands had been surveyed & granted while it was part of Orange County, whereas on the other side of the Blue Ridge, in Frederick County, people were claiming many vacant tracts in 1749, providing a great deal of lucrative business for a surveyor...

Because in Virginia one could not legally make public surveys without a commission as a county surveyor, an assistant county surveyor, or special surveyor, the inclusion of GW’s title on these surveys was an indication that they were legitimate...The absence of any title at all on GW’s surveys after he stopped using “S.C.C.” suggests that he may have become one of the several assistants to Frederick County surveyor James Wood, since Frederick County assistants signed their surveys without title...Lord Fairfax continued to allow GW to survey for grants after he ceased to be surveyor of Culpeper County & that no one challenged the legitimacy of his work.
GW usually received his surveying assignments in packets of land warrants issued from the Proprietary land office at Belvoir. Addressed to GW & signed by William Fairfax, as the proprietor’s agent, or by William’s son George William Fairfax on behalf of his father, these documents instructed GW to survey an approximate acreage for a specific person at a general location by a certain date, normally 5 to 6 months from the date of the warrant...His surveys were often simple & near each other & sometimes had the additional advantage of being contiguous, making it possible to use one or more boundaries for two tracts. On at least  occasions GW was able to do four surveys in a day & on at least 13 other occasions three surveys in a day. At other times, of course, he worked more slowly, because the surveys were large or complex or there was some distance to travel between them.

GW, like most frontier surveyors, usually surveyed in the spring & fall, when the weather was most pleasant, snakes & insects were least troublesome, & the thin foliage of trees made it easier to sight long boundary lines through wooded areas...

GW gave no reasons for quitting the profession of surveying after the fall of 1752, but there are two evident ones. As lucrative as surveying on the Northern Neck frontier was between 1749 & 1752, it offered only diminishing prospects for the future. The supply of desirable new lands was already beginning to run low in the Northern Neck by 1752, & the dominance of Lord Fairfax in the whole land-granting process prevented Northern Neck surveyors, whether they held county appointments or not, from establishing power bases of their own in the way many frontier surveyors in other parts of Virginia did...In addition, GW had a strong appetite for soldiering, whetted no doubt by the example of his half brother Lawrence. By the spring of 1752 GW had learned that the office of adjutant for the colony, an office that Lawrence held, was to be divided into districts. On 10 June 1752 he asked Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie to consider him for the Northern Neck adjutancy. Instead, the council on 6 Nov. 1752 appointed him adjutant for southern Virginia with a salary of £100 a year. GW did not survey professionally thereafter, but throughout the remainder of his life he frequently employed his surveying skills for his own private purposes: to acquire new land by purchase or grant both east & west of the mountains, to find & defend the boundaries of his many holdings, & to divide them into profitable fields & tenements. As late as Nov. 1799 he spent 3 days on Difficult Run in northern Fairfax County running the lines of his land there & of a nearby tract that he hoped to buy. Only his death 5 weeks later put an end to his surveying...