George Washington: The Forge of Experience, 1732-1775

By James Thomas Flexner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
21
Eyes West

IN NO OTHER direction did Washington demonstrate such acquisitiveness as in his quest for the ownership of land. That he was in his own way a visionary, his contributions to world changes reveal. However, his visions took tangible form. Thus the yearning of this childless man for tens of thousands of acres, many of which could easily prove financial drains throughout his own lifetime, might well have been an expression of love, a form of worship for the vast American continent. Not that he ever expressed in so many words such a conception. Ever the practical dreamer, he wrote, "Land is the most permanent estate and the most likely to increase in value." 1

Remembering that the greatest estates in Virginia had been created by securing "at very low rates" rich lands, Washington engaged in speculations so uncertain that he characterized them as lotteries. 2 They appealed to the gambler's instinct that was deep in his nature. However, he was not a gambler who left more than was necessary to chance.

Between the lower James River and Albemarle Sound lay that tremendous waste of nature, the Dismal Swamp. With some other prosperous Virginians, Washington concluded that, could it be drained by a huge ditch that would double as a canal from Norfolk southwards, not only tolls but tens of thousands of

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