Historical Marker Pays Fitting Tribute to Brave Surveyors in Ohio
Dedicated March 21 during National Surveyors Week, the new Ohio Historical Marker is designated 4-26, being the fourth marker in Fulton County, the 26th alphabetical county in Ohio. The history behind it, as compiled by Fenicle, PS, is part of the sensational narrative that is the story of America.
On Nov. 17, 1807, a new line was described as the Western line of the Treaty of Detroit. This line would become the Michigan Meridian in 1815 — exactly 200 years prior to this spring’s dedication of the historical marker.
The Treaty of Detroit as executed by General William Hull, Governor of the Michigan Territory, was signed by the tribes of the Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot and Potawatomi. As requested by President Thomas Jefferson, this treaty covered the first public land to be available in what would become the State of Michigan in 1837. In total, the Treaty of Detroit covered 345,600 acres. The treaty also stipulated payments and annuities to the tribes, and an agreement that “agreed and stipulated, that the said Indian nations shall enjoy the privilege of hunting and fishing on the lands ceded as aforesaid, as long as they remain the property of the United States.”
The boundaries of the Treaty of Detroit as stated then: “Beginning at the mouth of the Miami river of the lakes, and running thence up the middle thereof, to the mouth of the great Au Glaize river, thence running due north, until it intersects a parallel of latitude, to be drawn from the outlet of lake Huron, which forms the river Sinclair; thence running north east the course, that may be found, will lead in a direct line, to White Rock, in lake Huron, thence due east, until it intersects the boundary line between the United States and Upper Canada, in said lake, thence southwardly, following the said boundary line, down said lake, through river Sinclair, lake St. Claire, and the river Detroit, into Lake Erie, to a point due east of the aforesaid Miami river, thence west to the place of beginning.” Historically White Rock was sacred to the Ojibwa Indians. Similar to Roche De Boeuf along the Maumee River, White Rock was a spiritual place for the natives. Today, much of the rock has been destroyed due partly to harsh ice on Lake Huron, but mostly due to the Air Force using it as target practice during World War II.
Unfortunately, the treaty line was not without controversy. The native tribes understood the agreement to be a straight line between the intersection of the Miami River of the lakes (Maumee River) and the Au Glaize River (Auglaize River) directly to White Rock, cutting out thousands of acres. The native tribes argued that they did not know and understand the lines made up in the treaty and they only understood landmarks (i.e. White Rock and the rivers). When Alexander Holmes, DS, had the contract to survey the Michigan Baseline, he had to turn back due to native hostility. Benjamin Hough, DS, was contracted to survey the sections along the road between Fort Meigs and the Western Reserve, and he also had to turn back due to native hostility. Ironically, these two deputy surveyors would team up to survey the Michigan Meridian.
The War of 1812 was the war between the United States and the British Empire. Among the most memorable battles were the loss in Detroit and the victory in the Battle of Lake Erie led by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The Act of May 6, 1812 stated, “That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby authorized to cause to be surveyed a quantity of the public lands of the United States, fit for cultivation, not otherwise appropriated, and to which the Indian title is extinguished, not exceeding in the whole six millions of acres, two millions to be surveyed in the territory of Michigan.” With that understanding, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, Josiah Meigs, wrote a letter to Surveyor General Edward Tiffin on March 23, 1815: “Let the two million acres in Michigan be as near the north boundary of Ohio and the western shore of Lake Erie, as convenient. The northern boundary of Ohio not having yet been determined, you will be careful not to extend the surveys so far south as to encroach on that boundary.” The Act of Dec. 24, 1811 and Jan. 11, 1812 stated, “provided that military bounties of 160 acres would be given to each soldier who had faithfully served in the armed forces in the war with Great Britain.”
In April 1815, Tiffin contracted with Hough to survey the Michigan Meridian and certain townships in the Michigan Territory. The rate was $2.50 for the townships and $3 per mile for the Meridian Survey. Since Hough had difficulty surveying the sections along the road between Fort Meigs and the Western Reserve, and Holmes also had to turn back on his Michigan Baseline survey, the two surveyors decided to team up. It is the opinion of Fenicle that the two surveyors tried to fulfill both contracts together in a mere span of three months. It did not work out as planned.
The crew for the Meridian Survey as put together by Hough was Alexander Holmes, DS; Thomas Evans, DS; Allison Looker, DS; and nine other men to clear line, hunt, cook and haul equipment.
The Cast of Characters
Hough was born in Loudon County, Va., and raised in Washington County, Penn. At the age of 28, he purchased land in the Seven Ranges. In 1802, he surveyed in Cross Creek Township near Steubenville, Ohio, and in 1804, was appointed as a General Land Office (GLO) Deputy Surveyor at age 31. In 1804, he also became a County Commissioner for Jefferson County, Ohio. Between the years of 1805 and 1808, he was on the Ohio Senate, in the Ohio House of Representatives, and became the State of Ohio Auditor. Hough was 42 years old when he got the contract to survey the Michigan Meridian, and he passed away five years thereafter.
Hough’s family moved from England and had a strong surveying background. His grandfather John Hough was a surveyor of Lord Fairfax and became an extremely wealthy landowner. He was a friend of George Washington and was known for building Corby Hall in Waterford, Va., in which Washington stayed. John Hough had nine children, three of which became surveyors. Amos Hough, Benjamin’s father, was a well-known surveyor in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Similar to Hough, Holmes was also raised in Washington County, Penn. At 22 years old, in 1800 he was appointed as a GLO Deputy Surveyor. Holmes moved to Licking County, Ohio, in 1804, and through the years became the Licking County Surveyor Common Pleas Court Judge. Holmes was 37 years old when he assisted Hough with the Michigan Meridian. He passed in 1833 at 55 years old. His family was also from England, and he was one of 14 children, two of which became deputy surveyors.
Not much is known about Evans, other than he held additional contracts to subdivide townships in Michigan.
Looker was married to Hough’s daughter, Rachel, and held contracts to survey in the State of Indiana and was also an officer in the War of 1812. After Allison passed away, Rachel married Looker’s brother, James Harvey Looker. The Looker family was relation to Abraham Clark, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The recurring theory is that since Hough and Holmes could not work separately on their contracts, they would team up to survey the Meridian and lay out the Michigan Baseline at the same time. They would travel to the Michigan Baseline and calculate the latitude, and then travel to Fort Defiance and calculate the latitude there as well. They could then, in theory, run north without backtracking south and fulfill both their contracts together.
On Sept. 29, 1815, Hough and crew ran the Meridian north after crossing the Maumee River and studying Polaris for two nights in a row. Hough calculated a 4 Degree 39' East variation. Hough dialed that into his compass and ran it for 42 miles until they hit the Military Bounty Lands. At this point, the group split up because they were low on provisions. Holmes continued north along the Meridian and Hough traversed east along the south line of the proposed military land, also being the south line of Township 13 South. The provisions were low and the conditions tough. Hough wrote to Tiffin on Oct. 12, 1815: “I found thus far, exceeding bad ground to run lines over, being very thick of underbrush, and in many places for a great distance, almost impassable.” He continued to write: “Our situation is at this time very unpleasant, having been on short allowance of provision for 5 days, and at this time not 10 lbs. of flour for 13 men until a supply can be brought from Detroit, which will require at least 2 days; but we don’t despair of surmounting the difficulty, if our health is preserved, with which we have been blessed so far.” In a separate letter to Tiffin, Holmes wrote: “We have suffered almost every hardship, and encountered almost every difficulty that could be expected of mortals to endure, but amidst all have been blessed with good health. It is my intention not to quit until I finish, which I hope to accomplish before the 20th of next month.”
They somehow continued north and ran into the Grand River, which was impassable. They traversed east and then south to go back north. Hough and Holmes continued the Meridian north and set the initial point. While running the Michigan Baseline east, they encountered multiple lakes, which again involved more traversing and meandering. After completing 39 miles of the Michigan Baseline, Holmes left the field with illness. The exact date is not known, but at some point in late November all of the surveyors ceased their work. Tiffin wrote to Meigs: “The surveyors who went to survey the Military land in Michigan Territory have been obliged to suspend their operations until the country shall be sufficiently froze so as to bear man and beast.” He continued to write the famous statement: “The balance is so bad there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit Cultivation.” Due to this fact and going against the Act of May 6, 1812, the surveys were officially suspended April 2, 1816. The Military Bounty Lands were then decided to be transferred to the Illinois and Missouri Territories.
On July 16, 1816, the surveys resumed and led to even more confusion. Joseph Fletcher was given a contract to continue the Michigan Baseline, but his work was rejected. Holmes eventually came back and continued the Michigan Baseline to Lake St. Clair, while Joseph Wampler, DS, got a contract to resurvey the Meridian north of the Grand River. On Jan. 3, 1824, Wampler found the post set by Hough at the initial point. Wampler also resurveyed the Michigan Baseline west and, upon closing into the already established Meridian, missed Hough’s initial point by 14.18 chains.
Wampler set an additional initial point, giving Michigan two initial points and making it the only state in the Public Land Survey System with two initial points. The initial points are northeast of Jackson, Mich., and review of any topo map or aerial photography can pick out the jog in the Michigan Baseline. The lakes that were meandered are now called Portage Lake, Baseline Lake, and the real problem was Whitmore Lake. Michigan has a state park called Meridian-Baseline State Park. A parking lot has recently been installed there, and work is currently being done to build a bridge and trails back to the initial points. In addition, the 1815 Surveying Michigan Group out of Jackson is raising money for a historical marker of its own to share the rich history. An October dedication ceremony for that is anticipated.