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The Mapping of North America

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George Washington (1732-1799) is best known as the first President of the United States of America. His military career is well known, but his life as a surveyor and land speculator is not. Washington inherited his father’s surveying equipment and learned the art by assisting a local surveyor who laid out the town of Alexandria. On 20 January 1747 he was granted a commission from William & Mary College as the Culpepper County Surveyor. In that position he prepared a number of surveys of land on the western frontiers. An example dated 1749 was sold at Christies on 19 December 2002 as lot 350 for $42,000.

Land speculation was a natural preoccupation for those in a position to take advantage of the vast landscape. Washington’s first purchase was of 1,459 acres in Frederick County when barely 20 years old. His will listed his holdings of 52,194 acres in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Kentucky and the Ohio Valley. ‘The Proclamation of 1754 [by Virginia Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie] declared that 200,000 acres would be set aside on the Ohio River for the officers and men who voluntarily served in the expedition to the Monongahela that year. Later, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 instructed American colonial governors to award veterans of the French and Indian War tracts of western land ranging from fifty to 5,000 acres, depending on rank. However, since the same proclamation also closed western lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains to settlement, none of the Virginia veterans received their bounty land for a decade after the war. On December 15, 1769, George Washington first petitioned the Virginia governor and council on behalf of the officers and soldiers of the Virginia Regiment of 1754 for the land promised. The council approved the survey of the 200,000 acres, which was to be made in no more than twenty tracts along the Great Kanawha and Ohio Rivers’ (DiSarno).

Washington worked hard to secure those lands and, in the fall of 1770, he travelled back to the frontier with Dr. James Craik and three servants for nine weeks and a day (see Sparks). Joining him would be others including Captain William Crawford, a comrade in arms from the ill-fated Braddock Expedition of 1755. ‘William Crawford, who often served as Washington’s agent in the west, made the first survey in 1771. The initial allotment of land under this survey was completed on 6 November 1772. Washington received four tracts of land surveyed by Crawford, three on the Ohio River between the Little Kanawha and Great Kanawha rivers totalling 9,157 acres [the subject of this manuscript] and one tract of 10,990 acres along the Great Kanawha’ (National Archives). The original grants survive at Colonial Williamsburg and three are illustrated by Wooldridge including the lower two on this piece.

All three parcels on the Ohio River were choice rich bottomland. The uppermost on our document is the present-day site of a DuPont factory on the riverbank next to the town of Washington, West Virginia, just to the west of Parkersburg. The latter is where the Little Kanawha River joins the Ohio. The second is now the town of Ravenswood, West Virginia. The third is just three and a half miles downstream and is largely occupied with commercial sites, its southern extremity is marked by the junction with Mill Creek.

Washington describes them thus on the document: ‘This sheet contains the draught of three Tracts of Land belonging to the Subscriber on the Ohio River- Betw[ee]n the mouths of the Great & little Kanhawa.’ He has annotated the drawings noting the locations of trees and other landmarks defining the boundaries. Below them, Washington adds a text description of the tracts. ‘No. 1. Begins about 3 or 4 Miles below the Mouth of the little Kanhawa – and is the first large bottom below the same on the East side of the River’ which consisted of 2,314 acres. The second tract, ‘the 4th large bottom on the same side of the River below the Mouth of the little Kanhawa and about 25 Miles therefrom’ contained 2,448 acres. The final tract, laying ‘on the same side of the River’ about 3 1/2 miles below tract No. 2, ‘is the 5th large bottom on the East side, and the one next above (on that side) the Great Bend & Rapids. It bends on the River for more than five Miles’, it consisted of 4,395 acres.

Fourteen years later, in 1784, Washington returned to the West during his first-year home after fighting in the American Revolution. This time Washington checked on the condition of his unsettled bounty lands and to confer with tenants who had been remiss in sending money owed. Once again, Washington and Dr. Craik were traveling companions, this time accompanied by Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, and Craik’s son, William’ (Thompson). Reports of renewed conflict on the frontier forced him to return before reaching the Ohio Valley.

This autograph manuscript signed ‘Go: Washington’, was written at Mount Vernon, 25 December 1787. A search of Washington’s correspondence finds that only one letter was written on that Christmas Day and it was addressed to a Thomas Lewis. It begins ‘Sir: It is my desire … that the uncultivated tracts of land on the Great Kanhawa and Ohio belonging to the Military should be settled. The difficulty with me respecting mine has been, how to draw the line of mutual advantage for Landlord and Tenant, with respect to the terms; and where to find a confidential person on or

near the spot who would act for me as Agent.’ He states at the end of the letter ‘On the other hand if you do not incline to act I would thank you for returning me

the papers herewith enclosed [he refers elsewhere to ‘plats’] as it will save me the trouble of making other copies.

Although later in life he did much less physical surveying, he would draw maps of his holdings to aid his business interests. These rarely come to auction but one notable one of Mount Vernon arose at Christies, New York, on 9 June 2004 as lot 427 and fetched $130,700. A further example appeared at Christies, New York, on 24 June 2009 as lot 121, also of Mount Vernon and surroundings and fetched $116,500.

During the 1790s Washington made several unsuccessful attempts to sell these lands, but they remained in his estate upon his death in 1799. Washington’s will records he retained these lands at his death. A wonderful document in the hand of the most prominent founder of the United States of America.

Provenance: The present lot, lot 3 and lot 49 all come from the distinguished collection of Nina R. and Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. DiSarno, Nicole ‘The Kanawha Tracts’, The Digital Encyclopaedia of George Washington, online at, accessed 30.10.2020; Library of Congress, ‘George Washington Papers’ accessible online; National Archives ‘From George Washington to Samuel Lewis, 1 February 1784’; Redmond, Edward ‘Traing the Maps in George Washington’s Life’, online at the Library of Congress; Sparks, Jared (1846) ‘The Writings of George Washington’, Volume II, pp. 516-534. Boston: Charles Tappan; Thompson, Mary V. ‘Ohio River Valley’, The Digital Encyclopaedia of George Washington, online at, accessed 31.10.2020; Washington, Diaries, ed. D. Jackson, D. Twohig, et al, vol.1, p.240 (; Wooldridge, William C. (2012) ‘Mapping Virginia’ p. 141.


(Surveying his lands on the Ohio River)

Folio sheet, 590 x 355 mm. with a 205 x 90 mm. sheet affixed along bottom portion of left margin (minor chips at margins, minor losses to weak folds reinforced), matted and framed
Stock number: 10057


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