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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Surveyors -- George Washington and Hanchrist Carlock

From 1746 to 1750 my 6th great-grandfather was the road commissioner in Augusta County, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. This meant he served as an advisory agent to local towns when they petitioned to have crude riding trails (or no trails at all) turned into official roads for overland travel by stagecoaches, private carriages and horses.

In 1749 George Washington was working as a surveyor in Augusta County. Only 17 years old and already a civil engineer, he had been hired by Lord Fairfax to be one of several surveyors of all of Fairfax's lands -- about a million acres -- west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here is part of a plat map drawn and described by Washington in his own hand (it's now in the Library of Congress):

Washington needed a crew and someone to lead it so he hired my ancestor, who was 34 years old at the time, as the foreman.

Hanchrist Gerlach was born in Noord-Brabant, Holland. As a teenager he immigrated with his German-born parents and two of his brothers to Pennsylvania, where he anglicized his last name to Carlock. They settled in Virginia.

Hanchrist brought his brothers Konrad and Frederick on board to assist with the surveying project and begin planning for roads. If Hanchrist was an expert at anything at the time, it was creating roads.

Part of the survey included an area from the mouth of the Potomac River to Cedar Creek, a small tributary of the James River

At some time during the surveying work in this area, George Washington, Hanchrist Carlock and the crew came upon what became known as the Natural Bridge.

Over the course of many millennia a gorge had been carved in the mountainous limestone terrain, forming a natural arch 215 feet high with a span of 90 feet on the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

George Washington chiseled the official surveyor's mark and his initials, "G.W.," 23 feet up on the north side of the Natural Bridge. Hans Carlock chiseled "H. Carlock" about 12 feet above that and 10 feet to the right.

This photo shows George Washington's marks:

It is unknown exactly how Washington and Carlock were able to scale the bridge and do this precarious carving.

A 1929 telegram in the Virginia historical archives reads:


In 1774 Washington's original survey tract for the Natural Bridge area was granted to Thomas Jefferson by King George III. Jefferson had two cabins built nearby, one of which was kept open for the entertainment of visitors. Jefferson wrote about the Natural Bridge as "a famous place that will draw the attention of the world."

Indeed, during the American Revolution, the French organized two expeditions to visit it. Based on their measurements, diagrams and descriptions, a painting was made in Paris. For nearly half a century it was copied all over Europe and America. 

When the French and Indian War began in 1756, there was a call to arms throughout the colonies. Virginia had a militia that was very prepared to answer the call. One of the members of that militia was Hanchrist Carlock.

When the American Revolution began, Hanchrist served under Col. William Christian in the Cherokee Expedition. Cherokees had been recruited by British Redcoats and Tory sympathizers to raid and kill pioneer settlers.

After that expedition was completed, Hanchrist received word that his old friend George -- now General George Washington -- wanted him to come fulfill his remaining duty under Washington's command. Hanchrist served under Gen. Washington for seven years.

Hanchrist Carlock and George Washington remained friends until Washington's death in 1799.

Hanchrist passed away in 1803.

I could not have written this post without the help of Susan Fields, a researcher at the Augusta County Public Library. I could not find authenticated verification about the association between Hanchrist Carlock and George Washington on my own; I kept reaching dead ends. Ms. Fields took my call, was intrigued by what I told her and went to work tracking down leads in the library's local history collection and the Virginia historical archives, then cited every fact she provided me. God bless librarians!


  1. Oh, you name-dropper!

    Pretty cool to have an ancestor who was friends with George Washington. I believe I had a great great someone who was a rum-runner during prohibition, but he wasn't famous.

    1. Petrea, I can only pray for a rum runner!

  2. Ann, if you want some rum I'll bring you some, but only if you'll drink it with me. Or would whiskey be better?

  3. Mica Campbell ( 7, 2014 at 6:13 AM

    Hanchrist Carlock is my 7th Great Grandfather... Thank you for sharing this with us all! This is really neat to find!!

    1. It's nice to connect with you, Cousin Mica!

    2. It appears that Hanchrist Carlock is also my 6th-great-grandfather. Thank you for researching and posting this, and for your appreciation of librarians! -- Barbara Q

  4. Dear Ann, I have been doing family research on Hanschrist. This is what I've found:

    Hanchrist (John Christian) Carlock, served in the Southwest Virginia during the entire war. (Ref. see pages 1414 in"Annals of S.W. VA" by Summers). By Proclamation of 1763 by King George, the 3rd of England, Hanchrist Carlock was granted for his service in the French-Indian War, 200 acres of land and on Jun 8, 1774 he settled on 126 acres of this grant on "Carlock Creek", being part of the South Branch of Lick Run, waters of the Middle Fork of the Holston River, Virginia. Source Genealogies of Virginia Families: From Tyler's Quarterly, Volume 1. By Genealogical Publishing Company

  5. I'm so excited you were able to find out all of that information and posted it - It's exciting to know that our ancestor had a hand in the forming of a great nation and to be at the side of an incredible guy like Washington! Hanschrist is my 5th great grandfather. My great grandma's father was William "Willie" Baker Carlock and his dad, Job Guthrie Carlock, and his dad was Job (possibly G - this one is unknown to me) and his dad was Hanschrist. Sue Tilleman told me about the natural bridge inscription and I've been checking the Internet for it for about 8 years now. THANK YOU!!!!

  6. Wow Mr Hanchrist appears to be my 7th great grandfather and I'm one of two males of the north Georgia carlocks that I know of to carry on the Carlock name.

  7. It's nice to connect with you, Maggie and Colby!

    1. It's great to connect with you, Ann, and all our distant relatives here! I got a lot of my information from a distant cousin, Sue Tilleman. She did extensive research on the Carlock family and apparently Hanschrist had many brothers. It was a big family.

  8. Thanks for the excellent post about Hanchrist Carlock & George Washington! Hanchrist is my 5th great grandfather -- his grandaughter Kathryn Carlock ("Katie", daughter of Isaac) married Charles Albert Bunch. I knew about the story of Hanchrist carving his initials on Natural Bridge near George Washington's, but had come to the conclusion that it was probably apocryphal. Now I think it's time for another look!

  9. Thank you Ann and Susan Field for doing this research and sharing it with us. I've been doing the research of my son-in-laws family who is a 6th great grandson of Hanchrist, through his son Abraham. I have found out so many things. I'm trying to complete this as a gift for Christmas. Again, thank you both for your time and effort.