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George Washington the Artist
Founders' Fashion
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George Washington the Artist

In February 2012, Tom Lingenfelter, President of the Heritage Collectors' Society discovered a detailed ink drawing of a clipper ship signed by George Washington. The wonderfully preserved drawing is signed "March 12th, 1742, Geo. Washington." And like the image of the ship above it, the signature displays a careful and deliberate self-consciousness, while revealing hints of the grace that would eventually characterize Washington's mature autograph. The image is a fascinating item direct from the juvenile pen of one of America's most important historic icons.

Measuring approximately 5" by 7", the drawing and accompanying signature and date can be described as a clumsy, but well-observed depiction of a two-masted sailing vessel. At 10 years of age, Washington, even without any real knowledge of rigging or sail mechanics, had a keen sense of detail. Drawn with sepia ink on laid paper, this is the earliest known drawing by Washington and the oldest known example of his penmanship. It was most likely produced as part of his schoolwork, a practice common in the 1700s and contains many similarities to his later school copy books now housed in the National Archives.

Washington's childhood home of Ferry Farm in the state of Virginia overlooked the Rappahannock River. Originally called Home Farm, it was renamed Ferry Farm due to the large number of townspeople who crossed the river by ferry from that point to get to the town of Fredericksburg. The Washingtons did not own or operate the ferry but used it frequently to get to and from town. Young George, with his family, moved to the area at the age of six, thus beginning his familiarity with sailing vessels. He was exposed to these sailing images on a daily basis, which clearly explains his detailed visual knowledge of ship construction. He wanted to join the British Navy at age 16 but his mother would not allow it. Four years later he would join the Virginia militia.

Images and original story courtesy of the Heritage Collectors' Society, Inc.

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