CASE 1—GETTING TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE

CASE 2—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT,PART I

CASE 3—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT, PART II

CASE 4—THE NORTHERN NECK

CASE 5—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART I

CASE 6—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART II

CASE 7—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART I

CASE 8—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART II

CASE 9—PLANTER, POLITICIAN, AND PATRIOT

CASE 10—THE MAN, PART I

CASE 11—THE MAN, PART II

CASE 12—THE MAN, PART III

CASE 13—THE MAN, PART IV

CASE 14—THE MAN, PART V

CASE 15—DEATH AND APOTHEOSIS

CASE 16—PRESERVING THE MEMORY

CLEMENTS LIBRARY

George Washington: getting to know the man behind the image

This website is a record of the exhibit, as it appeared in the display cases of the William L. Clements Library. Each page features an image of a single display case and its contents, with details of the artifacts and the accompanying text below. Please click on the images to view enlargements and use the "back" button on your browser to return.

Copyrights to the contents of this exhibit, both text and images, are held by the Clements Library. Permission for use and reproduction must be obtained in advance from the director of the Clements Library.

Case 4 —The Northern Neck

The Tidewater region was the heart of Virginia's tobacco and slave economy, but its days of wealth and leadership, by the late colonial period, were numbered. Tobacco exhausted the land. Its profitability was heavily dependent on the monopoly that Britain had established early in the colony's history, a subsidy withdrawn when the Revolutionary War began. The larger Virginia planters were conditioned to prosperous lifestyles, and they were increasingly, heavily in debt to Scottish and English merchants.

In the backcountry, a very different society was beginning to develop in the middle of the eighteenth century. Scotch-Irish and German immigrants were gradually moving down from Maryland and Pennsylvania. They were a different breed of people altogether: Presbyterians and German pietists vs. Anglicans; self-sufficient farmers who raised wheat and livestock vs. tobacco.

In many ways, George Washington was more a part of their world than that of Tidewater Virginia. From the time of the earliest family immigration, the Washingtons showed greater interest in economic and agricultural diversity than the typical Virginian. They not only farmed but owned and operated mills. Augustine Washington, George's father, was financially involved in the Principal Iron Works, one of the few mining and manufacturing operations in the colonial South.

The Northern Neck

Perhaps it was because of their origins in Yorkshire. It certainly had something to do with their connection, even before emigration, with the powerful Fairfax family, also of Yorkshire. But from the beginning, the Washingtons were drawn to the lands on the northern frontier of the colony-the hilly country at the upper reaches of the Potomac and the Rappahanock.

The land between these two rivers, known as the Northern Neck and containing five million acres, had been granted to the Culpepper family by Charles II. It descended, by marriage, to Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, who successfully defended the title to his land in the 1730s and began selling it, farm by farm. A contemporary map of the Fairfax lands is displayed here, along with a deed to one of the farms.

Note that Samuel and Stephen Thatcher, to whom Fairfax is granting land, were from Pennsylvania rather than Virginia.

William Fairfax, agent for the property, was a Washington neighbor, and one of his daughters married Lawrence Washington, George's eldest brother. At age sixteen, George Washington accompanied an expedition that surveyed Fairfax lands in the Shenandoah Valley, and he became a surveyor of Fairfax properties himself. George Washington drew the 1751 property map shown here, entirely in his hand, in 1751.

As a result of his experiences as a surveyor, Washington, before he was twenty, had become an experienced woodsman, conditioned to the rigors of outdoor life and able to read the land and travel quickly and carefully. He got to know the Indians and their ways, the frontier settlers coming down the Valley from Pennsylvania and Maryland, and he understood first-hand the vast potential of the land beyond the mountains as did few other Virginians of the period.