George Washington: Inside Trader?
George Washington apparently traded on inside information in his efforts to aggressively expand his land holdings beyond the so called Proclamation Line. This 1763 proclamation restricted colonial settlement beyond the Allegheny Mountains. George Washington felt that land speculation was a surefire way to increase his already impressive amount of wealth and he wanted lands, lots of lands, in this forbidden zone. He suggested to old acquaintance from another campaign, Captain William Crawford, that anyone “who neglects the present opportunity of hunting out good lands and in some measure marking and distinguishing them for their own… will never regain it.”
George Washington fought for the British in the French and Indian war, also known as the Seven Years War, which started in 1754 and ended in 1763. In particular, he fought in, and was a veteran of, the Fort Necessity campaign in 1754. The battle took place on July 3, 1754 and was one of the earliest campaigns of the French and Indian War. This battle didn’t go well for the British, or for Colonel George Washington as they surrendered to the French and Indian forces under Louis Coulon de Villiers.
They lost the battle but were later promised land as compensation for their participation in this failed battle. Significant land holdings were promised to veterans of the Fort Necessity battle, up to 200,000 thousand acres of bounty lands. Accordingly, George Washington was able to take advantage of his position when these lands were to be made available for this purpose. He was able to procure prime real estate for himself but worse, he nefariously purchased rights from veterans more needy than himself to increase his share of the bounty lands beyond his own allotment.
Bounty lands were also offered to veterans of the war itself, not just the Fort Necessity campaign. To get more than his fair share of lands on this deal, he had his brother (Charles) buy up land claims from other veterans at discounted prices on behalf of George Washington. On another occasion, he had Lund Washington do the same thing. These transactions were done in complete stealth. He wrote, “not let it be known that I have any concern therein” and did what he could to extract as much prime land from as many uninformed veterans through various channels of deceit. George Washington was not alone in this as it was a “universal madness in Virginia and other colonies” according to Ron Chernow in his book on George Washington. Land was the future. “Land is the most permanent estate and the most likely to increase in value,” wrote a youthful Washington early in his life.
But what sets George Washington apart was his accumulation of land based on his inside information whereby, by 1772, he accumulated twenty thousand acres on the Ohio and Great Kanawha rivers and another eleven thousand acres in 1773, making him a major land owner on the then western frontier of the colonies.
Officers who fought at Fort Necessity and in the French and Indian War were understandably upset at this inequitable land outcome. Imagine selling your land certificates at a discounted rate, owing to the uncertainty the land will ever be granted, only to find out that you sold them after the lands were to be granted… only you didn’t know this yet. In other words, George Washington had material inside information and he acted on it by buying land from other deserving colonialists who fought along side him in this war.
An interesting side note to all this is that George Washington himself may have been responsible for the beginning of the French and Indian War. In 1754, with a force of hundreds, George Washington ambushed a small scouting party before dawn on May 28, 1754. This was the first military action of Washington’s life resulted. It resulted in the deaths of 13 enemy soldiers and may even have launched the French and Indian War. Notably, one of the 13 enemy soldiers was a French diplomat who the French claim was “assassinated” by George Washington’s forces. So, quite possibly, the whole conflict was started because of an assassination of a French Diplomat in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
After the War of Interdependence, this western push for lands continue unabated. The rest is history.