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.