Washington's Boyhood

A road at Ferry FarmFerry Farm was just one of several farms owned by George’s father, Augustine Washington. His mother, Mary Ball, brought several properties to the marriage as her dowry. In 1738, when George was six, the family moved from one of their plantations on the Potomac River to this farm on the Rappahannock River. The move brought Augustine Washington closer to Accokeek Iron Furnace, of which he was a managing partner for the Principio Company.

Ferry Farm was the Washington's principal residence for most of George’s boyhood, though they farmed other plantations. Their house was damaged by fire on Christmas Eve, 1740. Archeological evidence has shown that the fire was contained to a relatively small part of the house and that the house was later repaired. Read more about the Washington house at Ferry Farm.

George was eleven when his father died in 1743. Augustine Washington provided a parcel of land to each of his sons, leaving Ferry Farm and ten slaves to George, to be inherited when he turned 21. George’s mother managed the farm until he came of age. You can read Augustine Washington's will and probate inventory.

Mary Washington continued to live at Ferry Farm until 1772, when she moved to Fredericksburg to live closer to her daughter, Betty.


George's father and older half-brothers studied at the Appleby School in northwest England. Augustine’s early death prevented George from going to England for a formal, classical education. It is thought that George crossed the Rappahannock River to Fredericksburg to study at the school kept by the Rev. James Marye, rector of St. George’s Parish.

Later in life, George Washington’s writings show he was sensitive about his lack of advanced education. He compensated by being an observant student of genteel behavior. Washington’s experience on the frontier and in the army helped develop his confidence. These experiences fostered leadership skills that offset his lack of a classical education, enabling him to interact successfully with men of greater education and worldly experience.


George and the family gathered togetherYoung Washington copied The Rules of Civility, a guide to gentlemanly behavior in polite society, probably as a school assignment. This combination etiquette manual and moral code taught young George how to interact with his powerful and influential neighbors. By strictly following its advice, young Washington molded his character, eventually becoming the ideal moral leader who could not tell a lie and was revered as: "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

After their father’s death, George’s older brothers continued to instruct him in the code of a gentleman, introducing pastimes of the Virginia gentry. Washington’s diaries and accounts reveal some of his favorite amusements such as playing for stakes at popular card games. As a young officer, he took fencing lessons in Winchester, Virginia. Virginians loved to dance and George paid for his own dancing lessons. He frequented the theater in both Fredericksburg and Williamsburg. In a society obsessed with horse racing, equine bloodlines, and fox hunting, Washington was renowned as a “superb horseman.”

First Job

George Washington began surveying at about age 15. His father’s probate inventory included a set of surveyor’s instruments. In 1748, at age 16, George went with Lord Fairfax’s surveying party on his first expedition into the wilds of western Virginia. This useful connection with the powerful Fairfax family, who owned vast lands on the Virginia frontier, came though his half-brother, Lawrence, who married Anne Fairfax.

At age 17, George Washington was appointed to his first public office as surveyor of nearby Culpeper County. Surveying, like his skills in mathematics and keeping accounts, helped him manage his properties profitably throughout his life.

Frontier Adventures

George Washington’s surveying trip to the frontier qualified him for his next venture into the wilderness in 1753, and helped foster his interest in a military career. In June 1752, he wrote to Virginia’s Lt. Governor Dinwiddie, seeking appointment to his first military office, the new post of adjutant of the Northern Neck of Virginia. The position was available because Lawrence Washington’s poor health had forced him to vacate the post of adjutant general of the colony. George was not granted the commission for this post but was given a different position, thus beginning his military career and effectively ending his boyhood on the farm. This letter is a part of the Foundation's collection.