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Surveyors Make a Fantastic Discovery in the South

February 14, 2012
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In the history of boundaries between states, one that has gained national attention is the boundary between North Carolina and Georgia. A recent discovery is once again putting this boundary in the spotlight.

In the history of boundaries between states, one that has gained national attention is the boundary between North Carolina and Georgia. In the struggle to agree on a common boundary, 35 degrees of latitude was acceptable to both states in the early 1800s. The problem was surveying 35 degrees of latitude that was acceptable to both states. While many attempts were made, most fell short of the standards required by the states. The Colonial surveyor Andrew Ellicott was one individual who was capable of achieving the desired accuracy. The federal government took a hands-off attitude on boundaries between states but did recommend Andrew Ellicott for the work because of his considerable experience in running long boundaries based on latitude. The cost for the work was borne by the states and not the federal government.

In the early fall of 1811, Ellicott arrived in the region between North Carolina and Georgia and began taking readings to develop latitude. Most of these sites were on the tops of mountains north of the 35 degree latitude line. The information developed from these observations was transferred southerly to establish the line. The line was to start at the Chattooga River and run west. Ellicott finished his work in the last few days of 1811.

A few years later, a commission was formed by the adjoining states to finalize the line. They found what they called Ellicott’s Rock in the Chattooga River, accepted a rock nearby and designated it the Commissioner’s Rock. This has been accepted as the common boundary of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina for the last 200 years.

I have never been satisfied that the stone in the river had anything to do with Andrew Ellicott, and these are the reasons. The latitude of the Commissioner’s Rock is about 43-00-03.5, or about 350 feet north of 35 degrees. In all of the other places Ellicott’s established latitude was short of the latitude by 2 to 7 seconds. Also, Ellicott understood if you wanted points to survive, they needed to be on the bank of the river, not in the river itself.

Bill Morton, an author and researcher of Ellicott, discovered a letter written by Ellicott that said the stone set was west of the Chattooga River. To me, this meant on top of the high bank nearby, which is 560 feet above the river.

I made a trip to the area with Dr. Larry Crowley, a professor from Auburn University, to record the latitude and longitude of mountaintops. Using this information, I developed what I believed was the most probable location of the stone.

On Feb. 11, 2012, a crew consisting of Bart Crattie and me, who are both registered surveyors, along with Dr. Crowley, made the trek to the proposed location. The search resulted in finding an Ellicott mound with stone at N34-59-58.68 and W83-07-09.5 (see the photo, taken by Bart Crattie). I believe this is Ellicott’s original line. It fits all the criteria that I look for in Ellicott’s work – just short of 35 degrees, the mound and stone, on top of the bank not in the river, and located where it should be according to his records.

The work will need to continue to find other evidence of the line. Will this change the state boundaries? I don’t think it should, but it is nice that after 200 years we can walk in the footsteps of the great surveyor Andrew Ellicott.

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