Rare George Washington Survey Map Now at Mount Vernon

The historic estate once owned by George and Martha Washington has acquired a 1751 manuscript survey from The Raab Collection 

George Washington autographs and signed documents come in many forms, of which survey maps are incredibly interesting, offering a glimpse of the founding father through another lens entirely.   

Well before he led the Continental Army through the Revolutionary War, a commission which led to his election to the presidency of the new nation in 1789, Washington was a professional land surveyor.   

George Washington, Land Surveyor

Over the course of three years, between the ages of 17 and 20, Washington created about 180 surveys, nearly all of them for grants of new lands in northern Virginia within the five-million-acre area that was known as Lord Fairfax’s Northern Neck Proprietary. “Surveying was rugged, invigorating work. It was also careful, meticulous work. Washington took detailed measurements and wrote precise descriptions of the features of the land,” writes Nathan Raab in his book, The Hunt for History.  

The completed surveys have been well documented by historians and collected by many over the years. Today, they “rarely reach the market,” writes Raab.  

The Raab Collection recently acquired a beautiful Washington survey map, and an extremely rare one at that, dating to 1751 and containing two manuscript plat maps and text in Washington’s handwriting.

George Washington survey map 1751

The document also showed a family connection: the property surveyed was among a large parcel granted to his step-brother, Lawrence Washington, and later sat adjacent to Happy Retreat, the home of Washington’s brother, Charles Washington. 

The manuscript survey had formerly been in the collection of Helen Fahnestock Hubbard, a notable American collector and philanthropist. 

George Washington manuscript 1751

Home to Mount Vernon

This document has now been acquired by the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate where the first president spent his final years and where he is buried, which is preserved and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The library’s special collections department includes rare books and manuscript collections that document the lives of the Washington family.

“Washington’s surveys are still not widely reproduced, so the original documents can be especially valuable for research purposes,” said Dr. Dana Stefanelli, curator of special collections at the George Washington Presidential Library. “Additionally, the Washington Library collects all Washington family materials, so a document that records both George and Lawrence Washington’s lives makes an especially important contribution to our institutional mission.”

In finding a permanent home at Mount Vernon, this rare and remarkable George Washington survey map document becomes part of a truly historic collection. 

The library recently produced an excellent podcast about Washington’s life as a surveyor. Listen here:

An Eye for the Authentic: Forged Washington Maps of the Past

In The Hunt for History, Raab devotes an entire chapter to Washington survey maps and his experience helping to uncover a forgery owned by a major institution. 

About ten years ago, Raab was offered a survey map of Mount Vernon executed by Washington. It came with a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) signed by Charles Hamilton, once a well-known autograph dealer. Raab, however, was suspicious of the document, particularly the paper size, the ink, and the handwriting style. “It was a little too bubbly at the edges of the letters. A little too weirdly cramped. The letters seemed forced, uneven,” he writes. 

Authentication of historical documents often begins with observations such as these, and further research corroborated Raab’s hunch that the document was a fake. He then began to speculate on who might have been the culprit. Robert Spring, a famous Victorian-era forger of George Washington manuscripts, came to mind, although that remains undetermined. 

In the end, the forged map was donated to Mount Vernon—as a known forgery. 

George Washington Signed Documents

Aside from survey maps, Washington’s autograph can be found on letters, free franks, and other historical documents. To see more, explore our Washington page.    

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