The Growth of Mount Vernon
1754 – 1786«back | home
The dates listed here are the ones on which GW first gained effective title to each tract. In several instances he rented land or purchased rights to it with the understanding that he would obtain full legal ownership at a later date. The Mount Vernon and mill tracts were leased in 1754 from Lawrence Washington's widow, Ann, for her lifetime and reverted to GW upon her death in 1761 by virtue of Lawrence's will. Darrell's rights to his 500 acres were bought in 1757, but because his mother had been given the land for her lifetime, arrangements had to be made with her, and the deeds were not signed until 19-20 May 1760. A dispute between John Posey and John West, Jr., over Posey's 6-acre strip on the Potomac delayed the signing of deeds for that land and West's property north of it. Thus, while GW began leasing both tracts during 1770, Posey did not deed the 6-acre strip to him until 8 June 1772 and West did not deed his land until 22 Sept. 1772. In the case of the Wade-Barry tract, GW had to wait for a division with Barry on 19 Sept. 1772 before taking possession of the land that he bought from Valinda Wade in 1770. Because a copy of that division has not been found, no line is shown on the map between the Wade and Barry portions. GW's purchase of Mrs. French's land in 1786 was conditioned on the payment of an annual rent to her by GW or his heirs until her death, which, as it happened, did not occur until after GW died.
The acreages given are based on GW's deeds and leases wherever possible and on contemporary ledger entries, quitrent lists, or letters in all other cases. However, these figures should not be considered exact because of the vagueness or inaccuracy of most eighteenth-century surveys. Thus, although GW was an experienced surveyor, he apparently did not know the precise total acreage of the Mount Vernon plantation as it existed at the time of his death.
In an advertisement dated 1 Feb. 1796 offering the plantation for lease, he stated that it contained "altogether about eight thousand acres" (Writings, 34:433-41), and in his will of 9 July 1799, he was equally vague, bequeathing the plantation in three sections: one to Bushrod Washington "containing upwards of four thousand acres, be the same more or less"; one to George Fayette Washington and Lawrence Augustine Washington "containing in the whole, by Deeds, Two thousand and seventy seven acres, be it more or less"; and one to Lawrence and Eleanor Parke Lewis containing "about two thousand Acres, be it more or less" (Fairfax County Courthouse). In the case of Bushrod Washington's land, the acreage was shown by an 1831 survey to be much less: 3,593 acres instead of 4,000 (ViMtV). The most accurate estimate of Mount Vernon's final size may be the one made by Warrington Gillingham, who surveyed the area in the 1850s and declared that the plantation had contained "about 7600 acres" (Muir, between pp. 90 and 91).
Donald Jackson, ed., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 1, 1748-65 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976), 241-42.