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First President of the United States
“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
Did you know that George Washington was a land surveyor? Young George Washington learned the art of surveying from his brother Lawrence and from established regional surveyors. By 1746, barely into his teens, he began running lines for farms near his home. His first known survey, of the Ferry Farm, is dated 1747, and amazingly, is still in existence.
In 1749, at the young age of 17, future President Washington was appointed the Surveyor General of Virginia. As surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia, he became the first official county surveyor in the colonies. At that time, the colony of Virginia was planning to promote expansion by offering speculators a thousand acres for every family they could convince to move to the colony. Before the land could be distributed, it was necessary to survey it. In 1750, at the age of 18, Washington was invited to assist in the surveying and platting of lands along the Shenandoah Valley, where he worked under experienced wilderness surveyors. The skills learned during this time would prove essential to his developing surveying career.
As settlers pushed inland, the need for accurate surveys and maps grew. County and colony (and later state) boundaries, as well as boundaries between individual land plots, needed to be drawn. At this point in time, numerous educated colonial landholders turned into surveyors, including not only George Washington but also future President Thomas Jefferson. Between 1747 and 1799, Washington would survey over two hundred tracts of land. Like most surveyors of this day, he also held substantial amounts of real estate, including more than 65,000 acres in 37 different locations. His skills in land surveying certainly helped him become a profitable land speculator.
During the French and Indian War, Washington served as a lieutenant colonel, thanks in part to the mapmaking and backcountry skills he had gained from surveying. During the war, he was responsible for constructing a chain of forts covering over 400 miles, as well as the layout and construction of roads in the vicinity. To this day, one of these roads is still known as “Washington's Road.” He was also involved in the awarding of land claims to veterans of the war, all of which lay West of the Ohio River and none of which had been surveyed at that point in time. In fact, a complete survey of that area so that lands could be dispersed did not even begin until 1770.
Even after becoming President, George Washington remained involved in surveying matters. Concerned about the accuracy of the maps available to the Continental Army, Washington created the office of Geographer to the Army. In 1777, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, he appointed Robert Erskine to begin a complete survey of the nation, resulting in the development of the first official maps of the United States. These surveying and mapping projects, supported by Washington, would help greatly in military operations and other activities in the new nation, as well as laying the groundwork for future surveys.
Charles Lee Iner, RLS
The History of Land Surveying
The history of land surveying is very interesting and diverse and it is in fact one of the oldest professions in the world. In today’s guide we shall look at the history of land surveying and how it has influenced modern land surveying.
About Land Surveying
Land surveying is the process by which land is surveyed and measured using mathematical means.
The history of land surveying dates back thousands of years and forms of land surveying have been around since ancient man in all major civilizations across the globe.
Ownership of land has and still is a very significant part of the lives of everyone in the world. Whether it was finding out which tribe owned which forest or the boundaries of major cities, the history of land surveying is incredibly interesting.
Where did the History of Land Surveying Begin?
The first examples in the history of land surveying date back to the ancient Egyptians during the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza in 2700 BC. There is evidence of the Egyptians using basic geometry to redraw boundary lines when the Nile overflowed its banks.
The Romans were the next civilization to advance on the initial land surveying techniques of the Egyptians. Historical evidence shows that the Roman Empire was the first civilization to employ an official land surveyor within their Empire. They used simple tools to create straight lines and angles. The land surveyors had a range of jobs in the Empire and some of their work is still evident today.
The Domesday Book, created by William the Conquerer in 1086 in England is another early example of the history of land surveying. The amount of information about the land was very impressive for the time, however the quality of land surveying was very poor and accuracy was lacking.
Possibly one of the best known characters in land surveying history was Napoleon Bonaparte – who was very enthusiastic about accurate land surveying. He always ensured that he had very precise maps, which were obviously very important when he was trying to conquer the world. He had maps produced that were drawn down to scale both at 1:2500 and 1:1250. The cadastres he had were used widely and spread quickly, however problems were encountered in built-up areas where things changed quite rapidly.
History of Land Surveying Techniques
As new technology and theories have become available, the techniques and methods used in land surveying have evolved.
Hundreds of years ago land surveyors would use all sorts of means for measuring distances – such as using chains with links that have a certain known length for example. Additionally land surveyors have to measure horizontal angles which in most cases was done using some form of compass. The quality and accuracy of compasses have increased as time has gone by.
In the past land surveying results were a lot less accurate – not due to the inabilities of the land surveyors themselves – but due to the inaccuracy of the tools that they had access to.
These days land surveyors have access to much more accurate tools such as GPS (global positioning systems).
Modern Land Surveying
As time has gone by, land surveying tools and techniques has advanced and the role of land surveyors is much broader than it was in the past. Below we shall look at how the history of land surveying has evolved into modern land surveying.
Although the fundamentals of land surveying haven’t changed, and the purpose is still the same – the techniques and methods have evolved drastically since the beginning of the history of land surveying.
As we mentioned before, one of the key changes in land surveying is the accuracy of the tools that are available to land surveyors. While in the past (up until the early 1900’s) most land surveyors had access to little more than a level, tape measure and a theodolite – modern land surveyors have access to some of the most advanced tools in the world.
Total Stations are very commonly used in modern land surveying. These include an EDM (electronic distance measurement device) which allows for more precise land surveying.