Historical Research Maps: Mount Vernon

Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

Americans today recognize Presidents’ Day, a holiday commemorating the US commanders-in-chief throughout history, but the holiday has its origins in nationwide celebrations of George Washington’s birthday (February 22). Washington’s hallowed family home, Mount Vernon, remains a popular tourist attraction for history buffs and genealogists alike, particularly on the weekend that celebrates America’s first president.

This map, from Washington’s private collection of writings, depicts Mount Vernon as “transmitted” by the General himself. The detailed, to-scale map specifies how large each tract of land was and what it was used for, plus which portions of the property were still wooded/hadn’t been cleared for settlement or development. Notice the labels for the five different farms on the property (Union, Dogue Rur, Muddy Hole, River, and Mansion House), and the notes indicating distances to Colchester (in the west) and Alexandria (to the east). The Washingtons’ iconic mansion, one of the few labeled structures on the property, sits right on the Potomac, where it remains today.

The references add additional color, with notes about the land’s tree coverage and possible future developments. Washington writes that the section labeled A needs to be drained to add tenements and houses, and B is “a most beautiful site for a Gentlemans seat.” The area labeled E, on the eastern boundary of the estate and along the Potomac River, is “allowed to a relation,” presumably a relative.
While it’s unlikely that your ancestor’s land had such a detailed map (and even less likely that such a map was actually drawn by your ancestors), these maps can provide valuable information about your ancestor’s town and (for wealthy ancestors) estate. Nevertheless, check out the Library of Congress’ historical collection for similar maps of the areas around your ancestor’s home, or browse around for the estates of other Founding Fathers.