Forge Ahead

History tells us that George Washington was a surveyor and that was probably because his dad had all the equipment needed to get started on a survey. Besides that, jobs were hard to come by back then. One of the biggest surveying jobs he encountered was surveying and laying out the boundary of the town of Alexandria, Virginia, and the survey had to be finished by January 4, 1750.

After gathering up the borrowed surveying equipment and hiring on his brothers, and a friend, George set out to get the job done.

“Joseph, chop down that cherry tree over there and cut us up a bunch of stakes. I’ll have John get started rounding us up some rocks to set corners,” George instructed.

Joseph is not so sure about the tree George has chosen, “How would your daddy feel about me chopping down that tree?”

“It’s okay, I’ll tell him later,” said George.

“That set of surveying instruments that Dad let me borrow sure has come in handy,” mused George, “if we can get that boundary done around Alexandria in the next few months we can get it divided up into hectares by the deadline.”

“You’re going to have to tell me more about that survey you did out west for Lord Fairfax,” Joseph said, hoping George would forget about the assignment to cut wood.

“That was a bummer of a job, I had to sleep in the woods and used almost all my gunpowder killing something to eat. I decided the next job I took was going to hire someone to cook,” complained George

“How many hectares does Lord Fairfax own?” asked John.

“If I figured right, it’s about 2 million hectares of land. It runs through the Alleghany Mountains and down through the Shenandoah Valley. Man! That would be some kind of survey, wouldn’t it?”

“Are you sure about that cherry tree? I don’t want to get in any trouble with your daddy and get put in stocks,” questioned Joseph.

“Yeah, I’m sure. You don’t have anything in your pocket for a toothache, do you?” asked George.

“You need to get those teeth pulled out, George, I know someone who could make you a real good set of maple teeth. Guaranteed,” said Joseph.

“I got too much work to get done to be bothered with teeth. One thing I’m going to do is go by and see Betsy again before I leave on that job. I’m going to see if she has changed her mind about marrying me.”

“Maybe she thinks you’re going to be a surveyor all your life,” warned Joseph.

“Boy do I have her fooled,” said George.

About that time George’s older brother, Lawrence, rides by on his trusted steed,

“Hey, Georgie, did you get any Indian scalps on that latest survey out west?”

“No, but they almost got mine, if it hadn’t been for “Light Horse Harry” offering them some of our tobacco they would have scalped us,” George continued, “and let me tell you that peace pipe is rough, leaves a real bad taste.”

“We’ll need that boat of yours, Larry,” said George, “I got that survey we bid on back in July. The mail’s really been kinda’ slow since they started using those displaced French diplomats.”

“I’ve never heard of using a boat to do a survey, Georgie, how will that help you?” asked Larry.

“If I can cross the Potomac with my survey crew, I’ll cut off about three days travel through the wilderness and I’ll be able to keep an eye on those pesky Indian scalpers.”

“By the way, Larry, do you know anyone who wants to be a surveyor? I’m going to need someone to carry some stones that I’ll need to set and maybe two men to help drag a chain through the woods. Oh, yeah, and I don’t want to forget, I’ll need someone who’ll see to it that we have three squares a day,” George said.

“I know a few billiard hustlers looking for work, but they don’t hang around in billiard halls as much these days since the English are becoming scarcer around here,” replied Lawrence.

“Tell them to look me up and I’ll give them a job, and I’ll even pay them double if they won’t quit when the snows come.”.

The very next week George is issuing orders for his crew, “You men listen up, there will be no lollygagging on the job. My reputation is on the line. I have great expectations for myself if I get this survey done on time. There’s no telling what I can make out of myself if I can get enough attention to myself.”

Lawrence pulled his boat into shore, “Load it carefully, Georgie, it has a few loose boards toward the front of the boat. Just make sure everyone stays seated with no standing up in the boat and it should make the trip. Better hope they have quit having those Tea Parties up there or you won’t get through. I heard the British might even close down the ports just for spite.”

“Load those stones forward, Patrick, and those wooden stakes need to be stacked so they won’t get wet. Have you ever tried carrying wet stakes? They weigh a ton,” George said, ignoring Lawrence’s warning.

George stepped on board and gave the orders to pull away from shore, “Patrick, where is that tripod? I want it set up toward the front of the boat where I can take a look at the shore line before we get too close. We don’t want to surprise any Canadian French soldiers."

Patrick spoke, “George, your brother warned about standing up in the boat, you don’t need to be doing that.”

“Patrick, just don’t rock the boat, you’ve always been hesitant about taking chances. Don’t take away my opportunity to get a great shot for the future,” said George, “forge ahead toward that valley.”

About the Author
Wilma I. McCann is married to a surveyor who is still surveying after more than 50 years, and is on the board of Point to Point Land Surveyors (originally our son’s company), All of their grandsons and a son became surveyors. She has written two books, The Home and Jewel, both of which can be found on