George Washington and His Maps
In his journey from surveyor to soldier to leader, our first president used cartography to get a feel for the young nation
- By John Hanc
- Smithsonian.com, November 16, 2010
(Yale University Library)
In December 1793, Washington told his secretary Tobias Leer that he planned to rent out the farms on his 8,000-acre Mount Vernon estate, except the primary one, on which his mansion was located. He attributed this momentous decision to advancing age, but admitted in a private letter to Leer that the reason “more powerful than all the rest, was to liberate a certain species of property which I possess very repugnantly to my own feelings.” He was talking, of course, about slaves—and his desire to free the ones in his possession. But how to do it? This map, Schecter says, reveals one idea. “What he hoped to do was take the four separate farms that made up the estate and hoped to divide it up, rent it out and have farmers cultivate the land and hire the free slaves.” This plan, alas, never came to fruition, and his slaves were freed instead upon his death six years later.