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The Surveyor – Part 3!

February 8, 2017

Morning All, this will be our last look at the colonial surveyor. Most surveyors worked close to home measuring headrights, dividing up property after a death and settled arguments about property lines. The most highly skilled surveyors were hired to conduct boundary surveys which were surveys to determine the official borders between colonies.

A small-scale surveyor worked with a few assistants and on average he surveyed less than 6 miles per day. The challenges in conducting a boundary survey are well represented by the 1728 survey of the border between Virginia and North Carolina. According the book Colonial People, The Surveyor by Christine Petersen, in the spring of 1728 lead surveyors William Byrd, II and William Mayo set off into the wilderness with more than twenty men . There were chainmen, boundary markers, woodsmen to cut trees, cooks, horse handlers and more. The first Gunter’s chain was set alongside Chesapeake Bay, beside the Atlantic Ocean. From that point the surveyors moved in a straight line to the west. The line cut through thick forests and swamplands. William Byrd described the conditions, saying, “the Ground, if I may properly call it so, was so Spungy, that the Prints of our Feet were instantly fill’d with Water.” The team was gone for months, finally surveying more than 170 miles along this important colonial boundary.

It was common to build permanent markers along colonial boundary line, these benchmarks were often made from large piles of stones. When the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland was surveyed in 1763, every benchmark was specially marked, with the letter M for Maryland painted on the south side and P for Pennsylvania on the north side. I recently saw a program on the History Channel about New York and they mentioned that benchmarks from these earliest surveys can still be found in Central Park. Now most surveys are done with the aid of GPS and are highly accurate, I am sure that a colonial surveyor would simply be amazed at how far his craft had come. Happy hunting every one.