Thursday, February 9, 2012

George Washington, Surveyor and Mapmaker, Is Focus of February 22 Talk and Exhibit

CHESTERTOWN, MD— Before George Washington was a military officer or the nation’s first president, he was a surveyor and mapmaker. That expertise and interest in geography would stay with him throughout his life, shaping many of his decisions as a leader on the battlefield and in the political arena. A special exhibition and talk at Washington College on Wednesday, February 22, will focus on this often-overlooked aspect of Washington and his career.

The world’s leading authority on Washington’s maps, Edward J. Redmond, Senior Reference Specialist and Curator in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, will offer a Powerpoint presentation and talk at 5 p.m. in Decker Theatre, the Gibson Center for the Arts, on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue. Those unable to be present can watch a live webcast of the event at

In addition, reproductions of 10 of Washington’s maps—spanning from his youth to his retirement years at Mount Vernon—will be displayed in the Gibson Center’s William Frank Visual Arts Hallway. Sponsored by Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society and the Global Research and Writing Program, the talk and exhibit are free and open to the public.

Beginning with his early career as a teen-aged surveyor and throughout his life as a soldier, planter, businessman, land speculator and President, Washington was always making good use of his knowledge of geography and cartography. In 1753, for example, when chosen to deliver an ultimatum to the French at Fort Le Boeuf in what is now Pennsylvania, he followed up with a report of the venture that included his sketch maps of the disputed Ohio Valley area. Printed first in Williamsburg and then in London, The Journal of Major George Washington catapulted the ambitious young man onto the world stage. Washington’s decisive involvement in the ensuing French and Indian War, in which he served as lieutenant colonel of the newly formed Virginia Regiment, relied in part on the backcountry knowledge and map-making skills he had gained from surveying.

Between 1747 and 1799 Washington would survey more than 200 tracts of land and hold title to more than 65,000 acres of land in 37 different locations. In addition to his professional surveying and land speculation activities, he also appointed the first Geographer of the Continental Army and, later, the United States.

Edward Redmond, who joined the Library of Congress staff in 1989, is currently working on an atlas of George Washington’s maps from the Library’s collections. He has written numerous articles on Washington’s cartographic career, contributed to several publications on Washington and the American Revolution, and made presentations before audiences that include the Association of American Geographers, the Society of Early Americanists, the Society for the History of Discoveries, the Washington Map Society, the Papers of George Washington Editorial Project, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Images: Library of Congress curator Ed Redmond, far right, is the leading expert on George Washington's experiences as a surveyor and cartographer. Washington created this map of a tract on Hunting Creek that was part of his Mount Vernon estate.