DescriptionGeorge Washington: Autograph Document Signed "G Washington," with a William Fairfax Autograph Letter Signed and Addressed to Washington. The document in Washington's hand is a survey description and plat for 140 acres "of Escheat land" in Prince William County, Virginia, for the future owner George Byrne. William Fairfax's letter assigns the young surveyor to make "an accurate Survey . . . and a Plat."
For generations American schoolchildren have been taught a basic biography of the "Founder of his Country." Such lessons have almost always included an account of young Washington boldly venturing into the wilderness to do land surveys. Presumably, this period in his life has been highlighted to demonstrate both his intelligence and education and his adventuresome spirit, and even if hostile Native Americans or ferocious bears were not lurking behind every tree, these exploits remain impressive accomplishments for someone still in his teens.
These surveys are among the earliest surviving examples of Washington's handwriting and signature, and this fact combined with their evocative nature make them among the most sought-after categories of collectable GW documents. The specimen offered here is surely one of the finest available: It is one of his earliest surveys, and the most unusual hand-colored plat and very displayable singe-page format give it particular appeal.
But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this offering is its almost certainly unique pairing with the official letter which commissioned Washington to make this survey. Both documents were passed down for generations through an old Virginia family which may have had some connection to Washington. They surfaced in the early 1980s when a prominent Virginia collector of Americana was interviewed on the radio, and a listener sought him out to inquire if he would have an interest in the GW survey and letter.
When the collector learned that Heritage would be offering two surveyor's tools actually used by young Washington, he generously felt that the buyer should have the opportunity to own the two documents as well. The survey itself is in a beautiful state of preservation, and the letter is in somewhat lesser condition - although still very presentable as the catalog photo shows. The two pieces have been elegantly framed together to form a most effective display.
George Washington Autograph Document Signed "G Washington." One page, n.p., "February 14, 1749/50." Before reaching the age of twenty, George Washington had completed over 190 surveys. Most of those surveys were for new land grants along the frontier of Lord Fairfax's Northern Neck Proprietary, an area covering over five million acres between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. Washington gained familial ties to the powerful Fairfax family when, in 1743, his half brother Lawrence, the owner of Mount Vernon, married Ann Fairfax, the daughter of Colonel William Fairfax, who was the first cousin of Lord Fairfax. The Fairfax family heavily influenced the teenage George Washington. William served as a land agent for Lord Fairfax and he commissioned sixteen-year-old George Washington in 1748 with his first surveying job. Young Washington learned his trade well, likely using his fathers surveying instruments on these early ventures just east of Virginia's frontier. In July of 1749, Washington took the Oath of Public Office to become Culpeper County's first official surveyor, a well-paid position which soon enabled him to buy land in the Shenandoah Valley. But before that, he surveyed this land for Prince William County resident George Byrne - Washington's seventeenth survey.
Above Washington's description of the survey is his hand-colored and hand-drawn plat which locates the 140 acres along the northern bank of "Broad Run of Occoquan." To the south of the run lay "Brunt Town Land." Also identified are "Kittell run" and "The Widow Bartons 100 Acres." The top left corner reads, "Part of ye said Grand Patton for 960 acres." The survey description reads in full:
"By virtue of a warrant from ye Proprietors Office for about one hundred and forty acres of Escheat Land dated January 6, 1749/50 lying on the North side of Broad Run and is part of a tract of land granted to Clement Chevalle and Lewis Reno August 24, 1711 the said one hundred and forty acres is Escheated from William Henry Parry and granted now to George Byrne of Prince William County and the said land is on the said County bounded as followeth Bogg. In ye old line of ye said Parrys part at a Spanish Oak and small Black Walnut on ye North side of Broad Run and on ye said Run side about twenty or thirty poles below ye Mouth of Kittells Run at A and extending from thence with the old line No. 32 (sign) degrees & three hundred poles to a small White Oak & two small Hickory saplions [sic] at B corner to ye land on which ye widow Barton now lives on and is part of ye Grand Patton for 960 acres granted as afore said thence So. one hundred & thirty poles to ye said Broad run side opposite an Island at C thence up ye said Run and bordering there on according to ye . . . [illegible] courses[?] and meanders thereof to ye first Bogg containing one hundred and forty acres and was Surveyed according to this Plat on ye fourteenth day of February 1749/50 - by me.
[Signed] G Washington."
The verso is docketed in another hand, "George Byrnes / Return for 140 Acres / of Escheat Land / in Prince Wm. County / Deed Drawn."
William Fairfax Autograph Letter. One page, [Belvoir Estate, Virginia], "8th day of January 1749/50." Washington usually received his surveying assignments in packets of land warrants issued from the Proprietary Land Office at Belvoir, the home estate of William Fairfax. This particular assignment is addressed to George Washington and signed by William Fairfax as the Proprietor's Agent, or possibly by William's son George Fairfax on behalf of his father. The document instructs Washington to "make a new and accurate Survey . . . and a Plat" of "Broad Run" before June 25, 1749. William Fairfax's handwritten letter to George Washington reads in full:
"To Mr. George Washington
Whereas Mr. Geo. Byrne of Prince Wm Co. had suggested to the Office that there was about One hundred and forty Acres of Land said to Escheat from Mr. Henry Parry rec'd with heirs on making legal Disposition of the same which said land lying in the No. side of Broad Run being part of the larger Track granted to Clemont Chevalle and Lewis Reno Aug. 4[?] 24 1711. You are hereby authorized and directed to make a new and accurate Survey of the same, and a Plat thereof to give unto the office with this warrant on or before the 25th day of June next Ensuing. Given under my hand and Seal of the Proprietors Office this 8th day of January 1749/50 & 23d of the Kings Reign.
[Signed] William Fairfax."
The 140 acres that Washington surveyed, along with over 1,300 more, was originally granted to Clement Chevall and Lewis Reno in 1711. (Reno was a Huguenot who arrived in Virginia in 1688. He seems to have been a speculative land investor in the early 1700s.) The pair then conveyed the land to William Spiller, who next sold it to Henry Parry. But Parry died without any heirs, so George Byrne sought the deed. According to Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, Volume II: 1742-1775 (Baltimore, Maryland: Clearfield Company, 1993), the only person to object was John Elliott, but he didn't have sufficient reason to prevent the land from being granted to Byrne, which it was on September 7, 1750.
Later, by the fall of 1749, Washington had moved west of the Blue Ridge to complete his surveying assignments. The early version of Washington's signature on the surveying document is especially rare. Only two years after signing this, he started using a less stylized "G: Washington." For his final survey in 1752, he used the familiar "Go: Washington."
From the collection of Raleigh de Geer Amyx.
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