George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate lies on the west bank of the Potomac River, just a few miles downstream from Alexandria. The land on which it sits first came into the family in 1674 when acquired by Washington’s great grandfather John (1633-1677). It passed down through the family to Washington’s brother Lawrence, (1718-1752) upon whose death it was inherited by the future President. The first, modest home on the site was built by Washington’s father Augustine (1694-1743) on a modest rise with a spectacular view of the river, but George massively expanded it in two major phases to 21 rooms and more than 11,000 square feet. He also added to the estate by purchasing surrounding parcels and ultimately had five different farms in operation on the property growing wheat, corn and other crops, as well as a high-tech grist mill and America’s largest whiskey distillery.
After Washington’s death in 1799 Mount Vernon passed to his nephew Supreme Court justice Bushrod Washington, and after Bushrod’s death in 1829 to great grandnephew John Augustine Washington III. Neither man had sufficient funds to maintain the mammoth property, and it gradually fell into disrepair before being purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1859, the very year this map was published. The Ladies Association restored the estate—without the use of tax dollars—and it remains under their supervision to this day.
Map of George Washington’s Land at Mount Vernon
Per the “As it was / As it is” subtitle, this unusual map synthesizes two layers of information. The base map is A Map of General Washington’s Farm of Mount Vernon from A Drawing Transmitted by the General, which had appeared in 1801 in Letters from His Excellency George Washington, to Arthur Young. Superimposed on this are contemporary— i.e., 1859—property boundaries, the names of landowners and the acreage of their parcels. All this is explained in a note below the title:
“The heavy lines show the divisions of the land when under cultivation by GENERAL WASHINGTON, and the isolated numbers of the quantity of land in each field. The dotted lines indicate the boundries [sic] between the different proprietors at the present time, and the numbers accompanying the names of the same show the amount of land belonging to each. The content of the entire tract of land is about 7600 acres.”
The mansion itself, and parcel just purchased by the Ladies Association, are clearly shown at lower center. Another feature of particular interest is the grist mill at the head of Dogue Creek, fed by a race flowing from a dam at the north edge of the property. The mill was first erected by Washington in 1771 then improved in 1791 with a highly-automated system patented by Oliver Evans of Delaware. Not shown is the adjacent whiskey distillery, built in 1797, which by 1799 was producing almost 11,000 gallons of the stuff, making it the largest in America. The 1850s were a (somewhat) more temperate era, and perhaps Gillingham did not want to sully the name of Washington—or the Ladies of Mount Vernon—with such an association.
At upper right is an inset plan of the grounds immediately surrounding the mansion. The footprint of the mansion itself is clearly visible, with the large main house flanked by two wings connected by symmetrical, curving porticos. A legend identifies no fewer than 32 buildings and other structures “as used in Gl. Washingtons time,” reflecting a striking variety of functions, including but not limited to a dairy, laundry, smoke house, clerk’s office, salt house, “weaving, spinning, shoe and harness making house,” ice house, green houses, seed houses, and the euphemistically-named “servants quarters.” The visual appeal of the map is enhanced by inset views of the mansion as seen from the riverbank and of Washington’s tomb, and the ornamental border with an abstract foliate pattern at the corners.
Aside from the connection with Washington, this map has more general interest and historical value as being one of very few early plans, printed or manuscript, of a large American plantation. As Wooldridge has observed, “Though manuscript and some published estate plans had been popular in England for several hundred years, for the most part this genre did not catch on in the United States, where there were fewer baronial properties and little public interest in seeing plats of them.” (p. 273)
Map maker Warrington Gillingham was the son of Chalkley Gillingham, one of two New Jersey Quakers who in 1846 purchased the Woodlawn estate shown on the map near the far western end of Mount Vernon.
“In 1846, two Quakers from New Jersey, Jacob Troth and Chalkley Gillingham, bought Woodlawn Plantation from Lorenzo Lewis. He was the son of Lawrence and Nelly Lewis, nephew and step-granddaughter of General Washington, who built Woodlawn in 1805 on land given to them by Washington. Gillingham and Troth bought the land for the timber, which they sent to the Philadelphia shipyards, but their arrival marked a turning point in the history of the Mount Vernon area.
“The two men started the migration of dozens of other Quaker families to the area, all bent on establishing a successful agrarian economy not dependent on slavery. The industrious Friends transformed the played-out tobacco fields into productive farms that again brought economic prosperity to the Potomac shoreline….” (“Keeping the Past Alive: A Brief History of the Mount Vernon District,” at the web site of the The Connection newspapers)
In or around 1858 Gillingham also drew a Map of J.A. Washington’s Estate at Mt. Vernon, a manuscript copy of which is now held by the Fred W. Smith National Library at Mount Vernon. That map depicts the area around the mansion already in possession of the Ladies Association, with the rest of John Augustine Washington’s land subdivided into 10 parcels in anticipation of their sale (at auction?) by Alexandria realtors Green & Wise. Later in life Gillingham worked to establish a rail connection and a “national road” to Mount Vernon.
I find only two institutional holdings and no record of another impression having appeared on the antiquarian market. The map—though not the inset plan or vignettes–was reused with attribution to Gillingham by the firm of H.H. Lloyd in a Mount Vernon Chart issued as a patriotic piece in 1860.
In all, a wonderful and extraordinarily rare piece of Americana, all the more poignant for having been issued on the eve of the war that fractured the nation Washington has risked so much to build.
Phillips, Maps of America, p. 455. OCLC #24006413 (Library of Congress and New Jersey Historical Society only, as of July 2017). Not in Wooldridge, Mapping Virginia. Thanks to Rebecca Baird of the Fred W. Smith National Library for providing background on Gillingham and his map of John Augustine Washington’s estate.
Minor spotting and a quarter-size patch of faint discoloration in upper margin. Extensive restoration to address chips and tears in margins, all so expertly done so as to be invisible from recto.