“Though Washington’s rise as a young surveyor and then colonial officer is the stuff of legend, the actual context of his ascent is not exceptional. The young Virginian was a talented woodsman and a fast learner. He marked the mountain passes and noted the water sources, even surveying the views of the Indians and white settlers in his midst. With each day in the forests and fields, he became more valuable to the British imperialists who ruled the Old Dominion. On his first treks into the Shenandoah, Washington learned from experienced men the essence of carefully walking a tract of land. He determined its boundary lines by reading the bearings on a circumferentor, a magnetic compass mounted on a tripod. When he went off on his own to survey, George almost always had the help of two chainmen who ran lines as he recorded the gradations and variations of the terrain, including the ridges, streams, and clusters of foliage.

There was probably no other occupation in the 1740s that could have made a man a better master of his world. Washington’s surveying gave him a strong idea of the land and its every fixture: the hills, the valleys, the names of all species—what you can cultivate and even what you can hunt. It guaranteed that he would become an outdoorsman and a lover of nature.”

Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, formerly known to George Washington as the town of Bath. He travelled here on surveys, with his family, and with his dying brother Lawrence, in hopes that the waters might heal him.


Potomac Rapids. As a young surveyor George often walked his horses over or swam them when the river was up.


Lord Fairfax’s commercial land offices outside of his estate at Greenway Court. Greenway was an immense hunting lodge, where George often stopped off for rest and relaxation with the “Old Lord.”


State of young George as surveyor of the wilderness. Riding and marking the land as a surveyor and woodsman laid the foundations of good soldiering. This statue of a rather skinny George is in Winchester, Va.


Surveying cabin. Near Ashby’s Gap. This small cabin is said, like several other abodes near to or in the Shenandoah Valley, to have housed young George Washington as he launched his surveying career.


Riding on quarter horses in the Shenandoah. The Virginia Quarter horse is a special breed used for working, hunting and even racing.


George’s Food & Spirits in Winchester, where he is also honored for having passed a law to keep the pigs from running wild in the streets.


In Winchester Va’s favorite bookstore with a pick-up band singing “Blowin’ in the Wind.”


Moravian fur trader displays a skunk skin at French and Indian War re-enactment.


18th Century Manor home, one of many built near to Ashby’s Gap as America’s “western frontier” was surveyed and opened with the help of young George Washington.


In Charles Town, West Virginia, this original document describes how George and his full brothers received land grants in the Shenandoah Valley by virtue of their half-brother Lawrence Washington’s deed.


My cousin Walter Washington, a soft-spoken elderly bachelor, at his Harewood Estate, built by George’s brother Samuel. The home was the setting for the marriage of James Madison to his wife, Dolley, and the marble hearth was donated by the Marquis de Lafayette. Warner is a “double relative” of George as two lines of his Washington family married into one another.


Shenandoah River. Young George’s stomping grounds along the banks of the calm river, a tributary of the Potomac, which flows through West Virginia and Virginia.


Sam Snapp led me on rides through hills and over steams in the Shenandoah. Like many of the residents of the Valley, Sam literally grew up on the back of a horse.

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