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George Washington Land Surveyor

If you’ve ever purchased surveying products from Engineer Supply, there’s a good chance you have something in common with the first president of the United States. No, George Washington wasn’t an Engineer Supply customer (we were both born in Virginia, but a couple of centuries apart). He did, however, have a talent for surveying land and making maps! Much of what was known about the thirteen colonies and the early United States resulted from Washington’s help.

George Washington was born in 1732, at a time when early American settlers still had a lot to learn about newly discovered territories. Washington began blossoming into an adept surveyor at a young age; some of the earliest maps attributed to him were drawn when he was only 16. While those early surveys were completed with the help of older and more experienced mentors, they spurred Washington to pursue surveying as his profession. Just a year later, young George Washington accepted a position as the surveyor of Virginia’s newly created Culpeper County, but he continued exploring neighboring counties as well.

As colonial settlers began to move farther and farther away from the Atlantic Coast, more demand for accurate surveys and maps of those regions arose. It also drove the need for surveyors to draw clear boundaries between colonies and plots of land. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among those who rose to the occasion and completed voluminous surveying work. Washington’s skills as a surveyor also allowed him to become a shrewd land speculator; he amassed over 65,000 acres of property in many different locations.

Washington’s mapmaking skills and knowledge of the backcountry allowed him to serve ably as a lieutenant colonel in the French and Indian War. During the war, he played a prominent role in constructing forts and planning roads. After the war, he oversaw claims made by veterans to unsurveyed land west of the Ohio River. With Washington’s help, this territory was fully surveyed by 1770.

George Washington remained active in surveying both during and after his presidency. As president, he created the office of Geographer to the Army and appointed Robert Erskine to survey the United States, which led to the creation of the nation’s first official maps. These projects supported military operations and laid the groundwork for surveys well into the future.

Throughout the course of his life, Washington amassed credits on 199 surveys, but many have been lost to time. Some of the remaining surveys are preserved in the Library of Congress and have allowed historians and surveyors alike to gain a greater understanding of his work. From an aesthetic point of view, Washington’s completed maps were painstakingly drawn and highly stylized, forming the basis for a highly successful and prosperous career. Although he would become known as the United States’ first president, his work as a surveyor was never far removed from his identity and legacy.

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