WHEN Washington was a boy, there lived in Virginia an old English nobleman, by the name of Lord Fairfax. He had come into possession of a large tract of land, but was by no means sure of its extent and boundaries.
The grandfather of Lord Fairfax, the famous Lord Culpepper, had, at one time, been Governor of Virginia. When he went back to England, he asked the King, Charles II, to give him all the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, which the King, in his easy-going way, readily consented to do. It was a large and valuable estate, with but few settlers on it. Lord Culpepper, however, did not trouble himself much about it, and never came back to Virginia to see it.
When the old Governor died, this land descended to his daughter, and from her to Lord Fairfax. The latter was a fashionable young nobleman in London society; so he sent his cousin, William Fairfax, to look after his great estate in the wilderness of America, not caring a great deal at that time what became of it.
Now, it happened that Lord Fairfax fell in love with a beautiful young lady, and the two became engaged to be married. But she proved faithless to her promise, and, when a nobleman of higher rank presented himself, she promptly threw Lord Fairfax aside. This was a bitter blow to him, and he was so distressed and mortified that he determined never to marry anyone, but to move to America and live on his Virginia estate.
So he came across seas, and, with his cousin, dwelt in his fine mansion at Belvoir, not far from the Washington estate at Mount Vernon. Here he became a middle-aged man, tall, gaunt, and near-sighted, spending much of his time in hunting, of which he was very fond. His favorite companion on these hunting trips was young George Washington, who was a very active boy, fond of all outdoor life.
Lord Fairfax was so much attached to Washington that he decided to employ him as a surveyor for his great estate. George had studied surveying, and was anxious to undertake the work. The old man and the young boy, now sixteen years of age, talked the matter over carefully, and everything was made ready for the great survey.
Lord Fairfax's estate was large, his "grant" stretching between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, and crossing the Blue Ridge mountains into the valley beyond. It was all wild country, with only a few settlers here and there, with scattered Indian villages and wild beasts. But it had to be surveyed and measured, and maps had to be drawn before any part of it could be sold. To make this survey and these maps was the task assigned to George Washington, the young surveyor.
It was in the early spring of 1748, that George Washington and George William Fairfax, son of the Master of Belvoir, armed with good guns, mounted on sturdy horses, and fully equipped with surveying instruments, started on their trip into the wilderness. The country in which they found themselves was beautiful. Lofty trees, broad grassy slopes, sparkling streams, and giant mountains lent variety and interest to their work. Spring was just beginning, and the birds, the early flowers, and the fresh sunshine made life very happy for the two boys entering upon their summer's excursion into the woods.
Their course led them up the banks of the Shenandoah, where they measured and marked the land as they went, and mapped down its leading features. At night they found shelter in the rude cabin of some settler, or, if none was near, they built a fire in the woods, cooked the game they had killed, and lay down upon the ground to sleep. Thus they went on, day by day, till they came to the place where the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac. Then up the Potomac and across the mountains to a place called Berkeley Springs.
The two boys had no serious adventures. They met one band of Indians, about thirty in number, painted and armed for war; but these paid no attention to the two surveyors and offered them no harm. At times life in the woods was hard; rains often soaked them, and the dampness prevented them from building a fire for cooking; it was also difficult to get warm in the chill nights of the mountains. They slept mostly in the open air, wrapped up in their great coats, and lying upon a bed of leaves or boughs. Often they cooked by merely holding bits of meats on sharp sticks before the fire; while chips or pieces of bark took the place of dishes. But the two boys enjoyed the work heartily. They were never sick and never dissatisfied.
The weeks passed by, and still they measured the land, located the marks, and made their maps. It was nearing summertime when they completed their journey, and turned their faces homeward. They rode over the mountains, and back to Belvoir, where they made their report to Lord Fairfax. The old nobleman was delighted with what they had done, and more than pleased with the wonderful estate they had surveyed.
Lord Fairfax left Belvoir, and made his home at Greenway Court, which was a hunting lodge he had built upon his estate. Here he spent the remainder of his life, surrounded by the great forests, in sound of the running waters, and in sight of the tall mountains. Here, an old and feeble man, the Revolutionary War found him still alive. When he heard of the victory of George Washington at Yorktown, he exclaimed, "I knew, when he was a lad surveying the wilderness for me, that boy would make a great man. Still, I am sorry he did not fight for the King instead of against him."