Guest Editorial: A George Washington Survey
Professional Surveyor Magazine - May 2007
John L. Failla, PLS
F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." George Washington was a hero. Yet I find no tragedy or flaws of character in Washington's life, unless you consider his desire for social standing, marriage without issue, lust for money and land, exaggerations, and basic human greed.
Initially, my research about Washington was directed to finding why one of Washington's original surveys is an identical replica of a survey performed for the George Carter estate in the late 1740s by a Virginia Crown Surveyor named George Hume. Researching George Washington over the past four years, however, has led to questions concerning his younger years as a surveyor that seem unanswerable.
The difference between this article, which deals with those written facts and figures about Washington while he was a surveyor in the Northern Neck of Virginia, and the thousands of published volumes on George Washington is that Washington's surveys dealt with numbers, so there's no room for conjecture or supposition. The idea that Washington was able to ride a horse at break-neck speed for seven hours straight cannot be verified, and whether Washington were able to throw a stone over Natural Bridge in Virginia higher than 215 feet is also unwarrantable. Survey numbers, however, cannot be erased, changed, or embellished with time.
We should be thankful that had he been a better surveyor he'd not have been the leader of this country's revolution and been known as the Father of His Country.
As I looked deeply into Washington's surveys and their computations, I found many errors that reveal an elementary skill and talent in the field of mathematics. These errors and omissions are not constant with surveyors of today nor should they have been consistent with surveyors of yesteryear.
Washington's ability to survey several tracts of land in a given day exceeding a thousand acres is beyond the realm of possibility for surveyors today with modern equipment, let alone the antiquated compass and two-pole chain (33 foot length) of that period.
Washington's legal descriptions and the drawing of the plats for each surveyed tract would seem to take longer than the field survey itself. The drawing or plat is secondary to the primary correctness of the field work from which the computations for closure and acreage are derived.
The reader will also note that Washington's method for computing acreage was by breaking down his field survey into triangles. This method is the most elementary and simplest course to find acreage by computing the area of each triangle. If the triangle wasn't a right triangle, Washington seems to struggle with results, suggesting a basic deficiency in his ability to accurately compute for closure and area. Most surveyors at that time were employing the DMD method.
Computing surveyed boundaries for accuracy, closure, and acreage today should have been no different than in Washington's time of employment. Math hasn't changed; the only change is the equipment in gathering and processing that same information.
It's easily extrapolated from Washington's diaries, survey computations, and other memoirs that his knack in the profession of surveying was somewhat average; however, we should be thankful for that fact because had he been a better surveyor he'd not have been the leader of this country's revolution and been known as the Father of His Country.
Schooling or Connections?
It is quite apparent in my research (which will be shown) that Washington may have had limited talent or schooling in many of his endeavors, starting without the aid of a mentor in surveying to leaving that profession and entering the military as an officer without an hour of military drill. What appears to have catapulted Washington to the degree of honor, respect, and admiration, for which he is now known and renowned, was his knowledge that success and title were based on whom you knew. The more things change the more things stay the same.
George Washington's appointment in 1749 as the Crown Surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia was a minor stepping stone through life that he used as a precursor for the integrity, wealth, and social standing he needed and so much desired.
According to The College Of William And Mary, "Culpeper County 20 July 1749: George Washington, gent. produced a commission from the President and Masters of William and Mary College, appointing him Surveyor of this County, which was read, and thereupon he took the usual oaths to His Majesty's person and government, and took and subscribed the abjuration oath and test, and then took the oath of surveyor according to law." Washington's original printed (commission) certificate was destroyed in a fire at the college in 1859.
Any evidence that George Washington stepped foot in the halls of William and Mary is nonexistent. Where Washington ever tested for the Crown Surveyorship of Culpeper County is nonexistent. Where Washington ever posted a bond or compensated The College of William and Mary the one-sixth stipend, which was required and stipulated before the appointment, cannot be found.
A letter dated May 6, 1752 from Governor Dinwiddie to Thomas Lord Fairfax addressed Washington's failure to comply… no answer was given nor were any monies forwarded.
How did Washington secure a Crown Surveyorship in July of 1749, without examination or experience, and why did he spend only two and one half years in one the most lucrative positions the colonies had to offer? Washington's elevation to Crown Surveyor, without experience, seems no different than that of his handed-to military rank of adjutant before he reached the age of 21. The rank of adjutancy was likely based on Washington believing he should inherit his brother Lawrence's rank after his death.
Washington was given the rank of adjutant on November 6, 1752 at a pay of 100 pounds per year. In one of Washington's more profitable months, as a crown surveyor in the Northern Neck area, he was compensated 140 pounds. And, in a letter to another friend, "a Dubbleloon is my constant gain every day that the weather will permit my going out, and sometimes six pistols" (at that time six pistols amounted to between 4 and 6 pounds).
On April 2, 1750 Washington surveyed four separate tracts equaling 1,085 acres and the following day surveyed two tracts totaling 880 acres. I believe that many other days Washington surveyed tracts of land that we, current surveyors with modern equipment, couldn't complete because there wouldn't be enough light in the day. Even though this was most likely an exceptional month (April 1750) in the number of surveys Washington performed and the compensation attached thereto, why then would he place himself in the dangerous task of military duty, primarily the French and Indian war, at a pay scale of about 1/10 that of a surveyor?
The George Carter Estate
Thomas, the sixth Lord Fairfax, and the family of Robert "King" Carter were frequently the only two names needed to tip a hat in Washington's direction.
George Carter was the 15th child of Robert "King" Carter. Washington was appointed as part of the second set of administrators for the George Carter (deceased) Estate in 1766. The Carter family was, and most likely could still be considered, the blue blood of blue bloods that the colony of Virginia was privileged to have within their grasp. If America ever had a king it would have been Robert "King" Carter. On any given Sunday the parishioners of Christ's Church would await the family's arrival in their gold gilded carriage pulled by six white horses; the congregation would then follow behind the family and be seated after the Carter family was in place. Robert "King" Carter died the year George Washington was born.
Robert "King" Carter's lineage included: eight governors of Virginia (Lewis Burwell, Thomas Nelson Jr., Benj. Harrison V, John Page, Peyton Randolf, Wilson Cary, Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and Harry Flood Byrd), three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Carter Braxton, Benj. Harrison V, Thomas Nelson), two presidents (both Harrisons) and General Robert E. Lee whose mother was Anne Carter. Robert "King" Carter's dynasty was planned with skill and intelligence. I can find no family lineage, in America new or old, that would be a close second to the Carters' and his dynamic offspring that served Virginia and what was to become America.
George Carter was born into wealth at the Robert "King" Carter plantation and died relatively early at 24. He expired in Middle Temple (London) England in 1742. His will was written on January 4, 1741 and specifically, as outlined in Henings Vol. 5 Chap. 43, bequeaths all his inherited land to his brother John Carter or his latter heirs. John Carter died shortly after his brother George, which left the George Carter Estate in the name of his nephew Charles Carter.
The trustees or administrators, appointed by an act of the Virginia Assembly in 1746, were: Charles Carter, Peter Hedgeman, Thomas Turner, Benjamin Robinson, George Braxton, and William Waller. Any two of the six trustees could act in the conveyance of all, or any part, of the George Carter Estate. It appears that within two to three years after George Carter's death, Hume was commissioned to survey part of his estate. It also appears that Hume very possibly employed George Washington as one of his assistants in the 1748 survey of the George Carter property.
In November 1766 the original six trustees resigned or were forced to surrender their position from the Estate for, most likely, lack of enthusiasm or health-related reasons, as only a portion came from their exercise in sales or leases within the 7,323 acre tract.
A new set of trustees or administrators were then introduced by the General Assembly of Virginia (Hening, 8:215)*: George Washington, Fielding Lewis (Washington's brother-in-law), and Robert Burwell. They were to do what the original six administrators couldn't: sell the remaining lands of the George Carter Estate.
The Hume Survey
The main tract of land that I scrutinized is a parcel consisting of approximately 7,323 acres, which was surveyed by George Hume between 1746 and 1748. The location, all situated within Frederick County at the time, was approximately three and one-half miles by four miles and located south and east of Winchester, Virginia, with Boyce, Virginia, being near the most northeasterly boundary corner.
The northeasterly boundary line, platted as North 55 and one-half degrees West and 1,016 poles, runs from just east of Boyce, on what was Highway No. 50 and now referred to as Highway 726, northwesterly along the highway to just before the Opequon Creek. The Opequon Creek, which is now the Frederick/Clarke County line, temporarily meandered the northwesterly boundary line, platted as South 34 and one-half degrees West and 1,170 poles to what was then referred to as "Armel" and still called-out today as "Carter's Line." The southerly line ran then southeasterly, platted as Southeast (no bearing) 480 poles, to an angle point just south and west of White Post, then dog-legged left for an additional platted 544 poles and a platted bearing of South 60 degrees East. About half the distance on this course is along a road named "Carter's Line." The final segment then proceeded to the point of beginning and scribed as North 34 and one-half degrees East and 1150 poles. This little corner of Virginia is what I consider America's cradle of democracy where many important colonists walked, from Washington to Daniel Morgan, the Fairfaxes, Carters, and Lord Fairfax himself.
The date of Hume's survey is uncertain; however, biographers indicate that George Hume spelled his name "Home" from his arrival in the colonies in 1721 until around 1746 to 1747. His part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, where he and his father were sentenced to death, could be why the spelling changed to Hume after a period of lost or disguised time. The original, undated, survey is signed "Ghome."
George Washington also surveyed this same tract around 1766, when Washington's survey reflects the acreage to be 8,365. Washington's undated and unsigned survey is captioned atop: "Geo. Carter Esq. Land on Opeckon, 8365 acres." Washington most likely added the acreage wrong as simple addition and/or computations would reflect his acreage too much by about 1,000 acres; however, credence is given and reference is made to this total sum (8,365) by previous legal descriptions written if one were to divide this particular "King" Carter tract of 50,212 acres by six, giving each heir within a few acres of 8,365.
This 7,323 acre tract was evidently surveyed and separated for George Carter's share of a 50,212 acre tract, which was just one of the patriarch, Robert "King" Carter's, land holdings. At the time of Robert "King" Carter's death he had amassed approximately 330,000 acres, which, in area, would have represented around six percent of Thomas "the Sixth" Lord Fairfax, The Lord Proprietor's holdings. The Fairfax grant contained about 5,500,000 acres which represents about 22% of the entire state of Virginia or nearly all of the state of Maryland.
So why is George Washington's survey plat of the George Carter Estate, that's housed in The Pennsylvania Historical Society's "Gratz Collection" and is considered one of their prized possessions, an identical replica of the original George Hume survey completed years earlier? The Pennsylvania Historical Society has Washington's survey dated around 1753. It is more likely that George Washington's replicated survey is from the middle 1760s.
Washington's personal accounting register, in his own hand and dated November 1767 states:
"Estate of Geo. Carter Esq. dec.
To my expenses in going to and attending the sale of his lands…
1 pound and five shillings. To pilots for shewing the lands…
To copying a deed from the proprietors office for his tract of 5088 acres… three shillings."
This 5088-acre tract was one of two George Carter tracts that Washington acted as trustee.
Continued on the same page as May of 1769:
"To cash paid Col. Field. Lewis by Mr. Gibson 196 pounds and by myself in Nov. 1768, one hundred pounds…
To ditto paid myself….2 pounds and sixteen shillings.
To my commission on the lands sold…14 pounds."
According to a consensus written on fees for surveys during that period and also printed in The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series One, Page 16, is the following: "The Virginia Assembly established the fee of one pound, eleven shillings for a survey of a thousand acres or less in what was considered a 'frontier county' such as Frederick. A little more for tracts exceeding one thousand acres." Washington's fee, for a thousand acre survey, usually amounted to two pounds and three shillings.
Within Washington's personal account register there seems to be enough room for his survey fee for the George Carter Estate exceeding the average amount he would have charged for a survey of 7,323 acres. Would Washington charge a fee for surveying the exact same piece as George Hume surveyed some 20 years earlier, a traced survey representing an original George Washington survey? No survey made by Washington regarding the George Carter Estate is extant other than Washington's 8,365-acre survey housed in the Pennsylvania Historical Society and Hume's original survey housed in my collection.
A survey of Carter's other tract consisting of 5,088 acres is non-existent in Washington or Hume's inventory. It's evident that Washington paid himself only three shillings for copying the 5,088-acre tract per his own hand. Other entries indicate that he must have performed a larger service than just the copying of the 7,323 tract and paid himself and others rather handsomely for other unknown services as trustees for the Estate. Why were the huge fees paid to Fielding Lewis (Washington's brother-in-law) an integral part of the administration of the George Carter Estate? The actual documented line-by-line expenses regarding the George Carter Estate have yet to be located, which would definitively describe what Washington and his colleagues charged for their services.
It's clear to me that Washington had to have a copy of Hume's original boundary survey, or for that matter possibly even Hume's original survey notes, as all of Washington's exterior, peripheral bearings and distances are identical to Hume's. Furthermore, the location of the Opequon Creek is shown in exact likeness on both surveys. Is it possible that Washington worked with Hume on the original Carter survey (circa 1748) and claimed it for his work after Hume's death in 1760?
George Washington was a hero. Yet, although his strength, endurance, horsemanship, and his role as an Indian fighter in the French and Indian war can never be verified, what is known is that he was far from the best when it came to measuring land and computing whether it was for closure or acreage. His ability to survey more than a thousand acres per day, on more than one occasion, is reason enough to question his role as a surveyor and maybe more, as much is written and little is verified.
About the Author
John L. Failla has been a registered land surveyor in eight states since the early 1970s. His business is mainly with boundaries and boundary disputes, and he acts as an expert witness as well as a court-appointed third party in boundary problems. He periodically offers seminars through the State Bar of Georgia for attorneys in fulfilling continuing education hours.
My hat goes off to the land surveying firm of Marsh & Legge of Winchester, Virginia. Registered land surveyors Doug Legge and Tom Stark took the time to GPS and compute the necessary information that shows the difference between the two found corners.
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