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George Washington, Land Survey, 1749

Context

This document is a 1749 land survey that George Washington did for Edward Hogan as part of his job as the county surveyor for Culpeper County, which was then newly created. Washington was all of seventeen years of age when he took on this job, largely through the influence of the wealthy Fairfax family. During his time as a surveyor Washington worked with in the Northern Neck area.

Becoming a surveyor was no small accomplishment in Washington’s day. Any settler looking to purchase a land title must have that land surveyed, which required that they hire someone through the office for their respective area. That person would then survey the land to give an accurate description – and most importantly –clearly define its boundaries. These boundaries, once defined, were considered to be legal and official. A surveyor would be in a position to not only deal with any person looking to gain a land title, which would ensure that they were in contact with the “movers and shakers” of the area, but they would also be able to identify the best and choicest portions of land, which they could then purchase for themselves. Surveyors were among some of the best-educated people in the area and this, combined with their ability to purchase the best land, gave them the opportunity to achieve great financial wealth.

A modern day surveyor in Virginia would likely recognize the system that Washington used for his survey, but would potentially be unable to exactly identify the area he covered. This is because Washington used the systems of metes and bounds, which is still used in some areas today to define large, general areas. This system originated in England and describes lands by using a known landmark as a starting point. The surveyor would then use a river, roadway track, or compass point to create a line across the property. While it seems like it could be easy to follow, this system can be flawed in that landmarks can change or deteriorate over time, sometimes even vanishing entirely.

Citation: Survey of 330 Acres in Augusta County for Edward Hogan, 1 November 1749, George Washington (1732–1799), Manuscript 7 7/8 x 12 ¼, Northern Neck Surveys, Land Office Records, Record Group 4, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards

USI.1, USI.6, VS.1, VS.6

Suggested Questions

Analyze: What difficulties do systems like metes and bounds pose for people trying to assert their family’s ownership over a specific piece of land? How would a corrupt or inept surveyor pose an additional difficulty in this situation?

Current Connections: George Washington began working as a surveyor while he was only seventeen. What type of job do you think he would hold today, if he were a modern day teenager?
How does the system of metes and bounds compare with some of the more modern day surveying techniques?

In Their Shoes: Try to create a small survey of your school. What types of materials would you need and what difficulties would you face in surveying the land? What difficulties do you think that Washington likely faced as a surveyor.

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