Point of Beginning

Baselines and Meridians in the Virginia Military District

June 5, 2013
This is a story about a map that was, in its day, the most important Ohio state map ever compiled.

 

Laying the Groundwork

The story begins with an earlier map, published in 1807, four years after Ohio became a state. It was the first map of the state of Ohio drawn from actual surveys. Compiled by John F. Mansfield, it was titled “Map of the State of Ohio from Returns in the Office of Surveyor General.”

Not much is known about the compiler of this map. His full name was John Fenno Mansfield, and he was a nephew of Jared Mansfield, the surveyor general of the United States at that time. John Mansfield was the first clerk of the surveyor general’s office and a favorite of his uncle, who described him as “a man genius, a student of science and an elegant writer.” John Mansfield died a prisoner of war in the War of 1812.

Because he had access to all the deputy surveyors’ records in the survey general’s office, he was able to develop the first map showing the townships. It is a beautifully drawn map showing township and range lines, the Connecticut Western Reserve and the federal land sales districts. What the map does not show is any of the Virginia Military District surveys since these surveys were outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. surveyor general.

 

The Men Behind the Map

It was up to two prominent surveyors to fill in this state-mapping gap. Benjamin Hough and Alexander Bourne partnered to produce the now-famous state map of Ohio, published in 1814, that includes the surveys of the Virginia Military District. The map is titled “A Map of the State of Ohio from Actual Survey by B. Hough & A. Bourne.”

Hough was born in 1773 in Loudon County, Va., and was raised in what is now Washington County, Pa. Not much information is available regarding his childhood and schooling. The first reference to Hough is in 1801 when he purchased some land in the First Seven Ranges. In 1802, he is recorded surveying townships into quarter sections in Cross Creek Township near Steubenville, Ohio. In June 1804, Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury, appointed Hough as surveyor for District No. 2 at Steubenville.

Hough was also named a county commissioner for Jefferson County in 1804 and became one of the first trustees of the city of Steubenville in 1805 when he ran for a seat in the Ohio senate and won, beating incumbent Senator John Milligan. Then, in 1808, Hough was appointed auditor and moved to Chillicothe to fulfill those duties. When the seat of government for Ohio moved to Zanesville in 1810, he moved his family there, only to move back to Chillicothe in 1812, as the state capitol moved back to its former location. Hough remained auditor until 1815 when the state offices moved to Columbus and he declined to follow. In Chillicothe, he continued his surveying practice and is most famous for his survey of the Michigan Meridian in 1815. Hough died in September 1819 at the age of 47.

Bourne, the younger of the two, was born in Plymouth County, Mass., in 1786. Although he attended public schools sporadically, he graduated from the Agawam College in the spring of 1804 and taught school before deciding to travel to Ohio to seek his fortune. He purchased an old brass compass for $14 as he passed through Philadelphia on his way to Marietta, where he arrived on July 3, 1810.

Despite having a letter of introduction to Judge Paul Fearing, also from Bourne’s hometown, Bourne could not find permanent employment in Marietta. After several months, he said, “my purse nearly exhausted, and the probability of having to work my way back to Wareham by the labor of my hands, gradually pressed upon my mind with an intensity that could not be averted. I therefore sold my compass for the same price I gave for it, and made some preparation for retreat …” It was at that point that Fearing told Bourne that Hough had requested copies of all the maps of the Ohio Company’s purchase for the use of the state. The judge offered the job of copying these plats and maps to Bourne.

The copies were completed by spring 1811, and Bourne delivered them to Zanesville along with a letter of recommendation from Fearing for a clerkship in the office of the auditor. He was immediately employed as a clerk, and the book of maps was “admired by those who saw it—and … it was acknowledged that I was the best Map maker in the country.” 

After six months in Zanesville, Bourne was offered a position with Duncan McArthur of Chillicothe, who later served as a general in the War of 1812 and was elected governor in 1830. Bourne copied the large books of entries and surveys of the Virginia Military District, but the position with McArthur did not work out as expected. In the spring of 1812, therefore, Bourne was again employed by Hough in the auditor’s office as a bookkeeper.

Bourne distinguished himself as an officer in the War of 1812, rising from a draftee private to adjutant to Col. Stephenson. Sickness forced him to take a furlough in the summer of 1813, and by August his term of service expired, allowing him to return to Hough’s employment. He then became adjutant general of Ohio and clerk in the office of the surveyor general under Edward Tiffin, engineer of the Ohio canals and canal commissioner.

Bourne and Hough, two interesting and important characters in the history of surveying in Ohio, came together to produce the first map of Ohio made from actual surveys. The David Rumsey Map Collection has put the Hough and Bourne map on the web

 

Mapping out a History Mystery

The southeast corner of Adams County is located at the mouth of the Elk River, also known as Eagle Creek as labeled on the map. Follow the boundary between Adams and Clermont counties north. Note that the line continues through Highland and Clinton counties and is labeled on the map “Meridian.” A similar line drawn nearly east–west that is labeled “West Line” is located in Ross County, Ohio. This “West Line” begins in Chillicothe at the Scioto River and stretches about 60 miles to the Little Miami River at Fort Ancient, the largest prehistoric hilltop enclosure in the United States. The “Meridian” line also terminates at the Little Miami River in Green County. Further examination of the map reveals a second meridian line that begins at the mouth of Brush Creek in Adams County and terminates at the Greenville Treaty Line in Delaware County.

What are meridians and baselines doing in the Virginia Military District? As you can see on the map, the Virginia Military Tract surveys are nearly random and do not conform to any east–west, north–south orientation. Who then surveyed these lines? When were they surveyed? What was their purpose?

In his memoir, Bourne describes how he surveyed these lines in 1813 and 1814. His description includes“carrying the line over the top of one loghouse, while the people were still in it ...” He performed the surveys under contract from Hough, as instructed by the secretary of the treasury in a letter dated Dec. 3, 1812. The purpose of the surveys was “to make a general and connected plat of the Virginia Military reservation [for] this office (the office of the secretary of the treasury).”

Although this little “history mystery” seems to be solved, the solution only raises an additional and more troubling conundrum. If you go to the interactive map and follow the “West Line” from its beginning at the Scioto River in Chillicothe, you will see that it becomes to the south line of Fayette County. The “West Line” and the county line are the same across the county. The mystery of this county line location begins with the erection of Fayette County in 1810. This county was carved out of Highland and Ross counties as follows:

“All of Ross and Highland, beginning at the southwest corner of Pickaway, north to the corner of Madison; west to the line of Greene; south with Greene to the southeast corner thereof; east five miles; south to the line of Highland; east to Paint Creek; in a straight line to the place of beginning.” Acts of Ohio, VIII, pp. 138-140. Passed Feb. 19, 1810.

Since Fayette is mostly carved out of Highland County, the phrase in the description “south to the line of Highland,” without a distance associated with the call, cannot be plotted. The south line of Fayette County is indeterminate using the official description! The Hough and Bourne map, however, shows the county line as along the baseline labeled “West Line,” which was surveyed, according to Bourne, in 1814.

An examination of a modern map of the state of Ohio shows clearly that the current south boundary of Fayette County lies north of where the “West Line” plots and runs nearly due east. Also, a comparison of the C. E. Sherman map of Ohio shows that the south line of Fayette County is drawn north of where the “West Line” was run by Bourne.

When presented with this problem, the county auditor, Mike Smith, P. S., and county GIS (Geographic Information System) Director Scott Cormany, said they were aware of the indefinite location of the county line, but had not seen the Hough and Bourne map. They, along with the chief deputy county engineer, Jason Little, P.E., P.S., had recovered and located various monuments along the county lines for the GIS. One in particular is a stone monument marked to be the southwest corner of the county. It is located in a wooded area, away from farming activity that endangers so many stone monuments, and is clearly labeled “corner to Fayette, Clinton and Highland Counties.” To date, however, there is no provenance for this monument.

 

Connecting Old Surveys to Modern Surveys

Using the power of the computerized mapping in the GIS, Cormany was able to draw the “West Line” by making the assumption that the line originated at the corner of Water St. and High St. in Chillicothe, that being the “upper” corner of Chillicothe in 1814 and terminated at the Little Miami River after crossing Fort Ancient, as shown on the Hough and Bourne map. Using this line and a southerly extension of the westerly Fayette County line, the nearly perpendicular offset from Bourne's “West Line” to the monument is 1,753 feet, at which point the trail peters out. The conundrum is that the map was published in 1814, and, according to “West Line” surveyor Bourne, it was surveyed in 1814; the county boundary, however, was created in 1810, raising several questions.

 

Who drafted the official boundary description for the creation of Fayette County in 1810?

If it was the auditor of state, then there is a connection to the map location of the Fayette County line. The auditor of state for Ohio from 1808 to 1815 was Benjamin Hough.

 

Where are Bourne’s field notes for these surveys?

The commissioner of the general land office (Edward Tiffin) was tasked with obtaining an accurate map including the Meridian” and “West Lines.” He contracted with Hough, who hired Bourne to perform the survey. If the notes could be found, the exact beginning point and termination point of the line could be fixed, improving the accuracy of the “West Line” location. In his memoir, Bourne states only that “In the spring of 1814, I surveyed the remaining line, west from the Scioto river at the upper end of Chillicothe, about 60 miles to the little Miami River … over a large antique fort, [Fort ancient] containing one hundred acres, one [on] the bank of the little Miami River …”

 

Who set the county corner stone? When was it set? What information was used to set it and by what authority?

No information has been found to date regarding when this monument was set or by whom. It is assumed that the setting of a corner monument for a county would involve representatives of all three counties affected by the monument location. Unfortunately, the Fayette County Courthouse burned down in 1828 and most records were lost.

 

 Uncovering the history of surveying and the provenance of the stone monuments that we rely on to connect ancient surveys to our modern ones is a task requiring the participation of all surveyors. I welcome your participation in the documentation of our rich history. If you have any information that would shed light on these “History's Mysteries,” please contact me at ccoutell@columbus.rr.com