Ohio History Journal




VOLUME 68         *   (NUMBER 2                   A P R I L   1 9 5 9





The Survey of the Seven Ranges







lished in the land ordinance of 1785 was first put into effect

in the Seven Ranges of eastern Ohio. Despite the publication

of important contributions to the history of Ohio which

have dealt with various aspects of the Seven Ranges, inter-

esting and significant parts of the survey story have remained



* William D. Pattison is assistant professor in the department of geography at

the University of California, Los Angeles. His article is based upon Part II of his

doctoral dissertation, which has been published in a limited paperback edition by

photo-offset from the original typewritten copy as Beginnings of the American

Rectangular Land Survey System, 1784-1800 (Department of Geography Research

Paper No. 50; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957).

1 Serious inquiry into the origin of the Seven Ranges dates from Charles Whit-

tlesey's First United States Land Surveys, 1786 (Western Reserve Historical

Society, Tract No. 71, 1886), a work greatly improved upon by the following three

publications; A. M. Dyer, "First Ownership of Ohio Lands," New England His-

torical and Geneaological Register, LXIV (1910), 167-180, 263-282, 356-369, LXV

(1911), 51-62, 139-150, 220-231; C. E. Sherman, Original Ohio Land Subdivisions

(Columbus, 1925), 38-50; and Benjamin H. Pershing, "A Surveyor in the Seven

Ranges," Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, XLVI (1937),

257-270. Correspondence and other important source material were published for

the first time in Archer B. Hulbert, Ohio in the Time of the Confederation

(Marietta, Ohio, 1918). On the basis of this material, in part, the story of the

Seven Ranges has been placed in the context of early Ohio history by Beverley W.

Bond, Jr., in The Foundations of Ohio (Carl Wittke, ed., The History of the State

of Ohio, I, Columbus, 1941), 252-274. Recently, the survey of the Seven Ranges

has received attention in Walter Havighurst, Wilderness for Sale: The Story of

the First Western Land Rush (New York, 1956), 62-88.



The land ordinance passed by the old Continental Congress

in May 1785 was a measure aimed at the raising of revenue

through the sale of large quantities of land.2             Members of

congress were persuaded to adopt, in the hope of increased

income, a system of property location which required sur-

veyors to divide the land, before either sale or settlement,

into squares bounded by "lines running due north and south

and others crossing these at right angles."3 This was the

heart of the system. This novel plan, accepted from a com-

mittee report of the preceding year, apparently owed its

adoption to the successful urging of two beliefs: one, that

it would be relatively inexpensive to put into effect, and two,

that it would afford security of title to purchasers of the land

because of the simple regularity of the property boundaries

deriving from it. To save money congress decided to require

only the lines bounding townships, six miles square, to be

surveyed in the field; on drawings called plats, lines bounding

square-mile sections within the townships were to be added

at the office of the board of treasury. The township bound-

aries were to be run according to true north and marked on

trees, and their location relative to watercourses "and other

remarkable and permanent things" was to be noted, along

with the quality of the lands over which they passed.

Often overlooked is the fact that, just as the newly sur-

veyed land was to be made available at auction in each of

the thirteen states, so thirteen surveyors were to go west,

one from each state, that they might be able "to communicate

information to the states for which they were appointed of

the quality of the lands, and such other circumstances as

2 The land ordinance resembled, in many important respects, a land law largely

attributable to Thomas Jefferson which had failed of passage one year earlier.

The drafting of both laws was prompted by a hope for the removal of a burdensome

public debt through the sale of lands which had begun to accumulate in the hands

of the federal government with the acceptance of Virginia's cession northwest of

the Ohio River in March 1784.

3 The text of the land ordinance of 1785 quoted in this article appears in Clarence

E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Vol. II, The Territory

Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787-1803 (Washington, 1934), 12-18.



may direct the citizens in making their purchases."4 Over

the surveyors congress set the holder of an office which sur-

vived from the Revolutionary War, that of geographer of

the United States. The incumbent, Thomas Hutchins, was

summoned by congress as the time for passage of the land

ordinance approached.5

The geographer and the surveyors were to proceed to the

country west of Pennsylvania and Virginia of which George

Washington had said, "This is the tract which, from local

position and peculiar advantages, ought to be first settled in

preference to any other whatever."6 He had in mind, perhaps

first of all, its accessibility by way of the Ohio River to

Pittsburgh, which in turn was connected with Philadelphia

by the Pennsylvania Road. Downstream from Pittsburgh,

within a few miles of the point where surveying was scheduled

to begin, was a stockaded outpost built during the Revolu-

tionary War called Fort McIntosh. Farther downstream, on

the Virginia side of the river, were several very small settle-

ments, where aid and comfort, already being dispensed to

emigrants bound for Kentucky, awaited the federal surveyors.

The final favorable circumstances were that the Indians had

largely evacuated this area by 1785, and that the tribes which

might have insisted on their claims to the territory -- the

Delawares and the Wyandots -- had officially yielded those


4 Connecticut Delegates to Governor of Connecticut, May 27, 1785, in Edmund

C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (Washington,

1921-36), VIII, 130-131.

5 During the American Revolution each of two men was styled "Geographer

to the United States of America": Simeon De Witt and Thomas Hutchins. After

the war De Witt resigned to become surveyor general of New York. Notice of

Hutchins' summons to administer surveying under the new land law appears in

Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress,

1774-1789, Edited from the Original Records in the Library of Congress (Wash-

ington, 1904-37), XXVIII, 291.

6 Washington, who had viewed the Ohio country from the Ohio River in 1770,

was particularly concerned about the settlement of veterans of the Revolution when

he ventured this opinion. See Washington to President of Congress, June 17, 1783,

in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original

Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, 1931-44), XXVII, 17.



claims in a treaty signed at Fort McIntosh in January 1785.7

Not everything was promising about the country contem-

plated for survey. The land itself, representing an extension

beyond the Ohio River of the Allegheny Plateau, was un-

usually rugged. The military strength concentrated at Fort

McIntosh was slight. Troops stationed there fell below one

hundred in number during the summer following passage

of the land ordinance, as expected reinforcements of militia

failed to arrive and as many of the men, "for want of con-

fidence in the public treasury respecting pay," declined to

re-enlist.8 Settlers downstream from the fort, furthermore,

had not all obediently stayed on the Virginia side of the Ohio;

those who had made their homes on the federal side were

under congressional ban and subject to forcible ejectment.

They, of course, had no reason for friendly feeling toward

the surveyors.9 Further afield, the friendship of the Dela-

wares and Wyandots, upon which reliance was placed after

the treaty of Fort McIntosh, should have been very little

depended upon. As Hutchins and his men were soon to

discover, these two tribes could withstand neither the pressure

of the hostile Miamis and Shawnees, nor the influence of

the British at Detroit.

Congress, with an appreciation of some of the difficulties

in store, none the less anticipated a rapid advancement of

survey work at the time the land ordinance was passed.

A specific beginning point was designated in the ordinance,

and, though Hutchins and his men were going to be obliged

to wait for others to establish it on the ground, no delay

7 This treaty, a well-known early landmark in the federal policy of piecemeal

acquisition of territory from the Indians, confined the Wyandots and Delawares to

a broad zone along Lake Erie, from the Cuyahoga to the Maumee. Its signing

cleared the way for passage of the land ordinance of 1785 by freeing a specific

area for survey and sale.

8 See correspondence of Colonel Josiah Harmar, commandant at Fort McIntosh,

August 1784-June 1785, in Consul W. Butterfield, ed., Journal of Captain Jonathan

Heart . . . to Which Is Added the Dickinson-Harmar Correspondence of 1784-5

(Albany, N. Y., 1885), 46-74.

9 On these Ohio pioneers who lived in defiance of federal authority, see Randolph

C. Downes, "Ohio's Squatter Governor: William Hogland of Hoglandstown,"

Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, XLIII (1934), 274-275.


THE SURVEY OF THE SEVEN RANGES                 119

was anticipated as a result. But it was in this connection

that the first of many delays developed. The federal sur-

veyors were to start off westward from the north, or right,

bank of the Ohio River at the point where Pennsylvania's

western boundary intersected it--just as soon as that bound-

ary had been run. The southwestern corner of Pennsylvania

had been established in 1784, and the boundary commis-

sioners of Virginia and Pennsylvania had agreed to meet

there in the middle of May 1785 to run a line due north to

the Ohio River; but they were unable to convene until early

in June, and it was not until August 20 that they reached the

Ohio River.10 On that same day field hands were sent across

to "set a stake on the flat, the North Side of the River."11

Many miles of the Pennsylvania boundary remained to be

run northward, but public land survey by the United States

could now begin.

The summer of 1785 was nearly gone when the geographer,

Thomas Hutchins, arrived in Pittsburgh from New York.

Receiving an assurance from Colonel Josiah Harmar, com-

mandant at Fort McIntosh, that surveying could be safely

undertaken, Hutchins joined several surveyors who had been

in the village for a week or more in "engaging Chain Car-

riers, purchasing provisions, and Buying Horses etc." This

was on September 4. Within two weeks a general movement

down the Ohio River to an encampment at the mouth of

Little Beaver Creek was under way.12

Thomas Hutchins was distinguished from the surveyors

who accompanied him down the Ohio by more than the fact

that he was head of an executive agency of the national


10 For a first-hand account of the surveying expedition which brought Pennsyl-

vania's western boundary up to the Ohio River in the summer of 1785, see the

journal and letters of Andrew Ellicott in Catherine V. C. Mathews, Andrew

Ellicott, His Life and Letters (New York, 1908), 40-46.

11 Entry for August 20, 1785, in the journal of one of the boundary surveyors,

Andrew Porter, in William A. Porter, "A Sketch of the Life of General Andrew

Porter," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, IV (1880), 268.

12 Hutchins to President of Congress, September 15, November 24, 1785. Papers

of the Continental Congress, No. 60, pp. 189-191, 193-200, Record Group 11,

National Archives.



government known as the "Geographer's Department."

Earlier in his life, as a British officer, he had served at Fort

Pitt, and had undertaken exploratory expeditions from that

point northward to Lake Erie, overland to Lake Michigan

and the upper Wabash Valley, and down the Ohio River

to the Mississippi.13 A  general map of the West which he

compiled largely on the basis of these expeditions had estab-

lished Hutchins as an authority on the area. It served in

the present instance as the surveyors' guide to the country

they were about to enter.14

Thirteen surveyors accepted appointments to serve under

the geographer in response to invitations sent out by congress

during the summer. But of these representatives of the

several states, one fell ill, one stayed at home--due probably

to a doubt that his services would be needed that year--and

three failed to appear for reasons unknown.15 The eight

surveyors who reported for duty in the West were Edward

Dowse for New Hampshire, Benjamin Tupper for Massa-

chusetts, Isaac Sherman for Connecticut, Absalom Martin

for New Jersey, William W. Morris for New York, Alex-


13 Hutchins, born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1730, was an officer

in the British colonial service beginning in 1756. After serving at Fort Pitt, Fort

Chartres, and Pensacola, Florida, he sailed for England in 1777. In 1778 he deserted

the British service, departing secretly from London and finding his way at length

back to America, where his services were welcomed by the Continental Congress.

Anna M. Quattrocchi, "Thomas Hutchins, 1730-1789" (unpublished doctoral

dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1944), 1-208.

14 Hutchins' map, A New Map of the Western Part of Virginia, Pennsylvania,

Maryland and North Carolina, may be found in Thomas Hutchins, A Topographi-

cal Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, edited

by Frederick C. Hicks (Cleveland, 1904). The extended biographical note in this

work has been superseded by the dissertation of Miss Quattrocchi, cited above.

15 The five appointees who failed to appear for service in the West were Caleb

Harris of Rhode Island, Adam Hoops of Pennsylvania, Mark McCall of Delaware,

Absalom Tatom of North Carolina, and William Tate of South Carolina. Notices

of their election appear in Journals of the Continental Congress, XXVIII, 398,

XXIX, 539-540. Their letters of acceptance are in Papers of the Continental Con-

gress, No. 78, Vol, 12, p. 403, Vol. 16, p. 459, Vol. 18, p. 561, Vol. 22, pp. 305-306.

It was Harris who fell ill (ibid., No 78, Vol. 12, p. 356), and Hoops who seemed

to believe that no surveying would occur. Hoops to Hutchins, April 30, 1786.

Thomas Hutchins Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


THE SURVEY OF THE SEVEN RANGES                          121

ander Parker for Virginia, James Simpson for Maryland,

and Robert Johnston for Georgia.16

Of the first four of these surveyors, in the order named,

Dowse alone was a man of minor importance.17 Tupper was

a general recently retired from the Continental Army and

a close friend of Rufus Putnam,18 Isaac Sherman was the

son of the influential Roger Sherman, to whom credit is

often given for the success of Connecticut's claim to the

Western Reserve,19 and Absalom Martin represented the

interests of prominent men in New Jersey and enjoyed the

recommendation of the governor of the state.20 All three of

these men were, in fact, harbingers of great colonization

movements. Tupper was the first of a series of advance

scouts who acted on behalf of the Ohio Company of Asso-

ciates. The young Sherman, though he may not have gone

west primarily to gather intelligence concerning Western

Reserve lands, addressed a letter on that subject to the

16 Statements of expense submitted by most of the surveyors who came west in

1785 may be found in Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 41, Vol. 4, pp. 305,

307, 309, 315, 317, 319. For other evidence of the presence of the men named, see

Hutchins to President of Congress, September 15, 1785, ibid., No. 60, pp. 189-191;

and "Journal of General Butler," The Olden Time, II (1847), 435.

17 Dowse, an obscure surveyor who had been "lately in the western country,"

was accepted only after Nathaniel Adams and Ebenezer Sullivan, both prominent

citizens of New Hampshire, declined the appointment. Papers of the Continental

Congress, No. 77, Vol. 1, p. 461; New Hampshire Delegates to President of New

Hampshire, May 29, July 24, 1785, in Burnett, Letters of Members, VIII, 130-

131, 169.

18 Putnam, the original congressional appointee (Journals of the Continental

Congress, XVIII, 398), having already accepted the post of surveyor general for

Massachusetts lands in Maine, sent Tupper to the Ohio country as his substitute.

Putnam to Congress, June 11, 1785, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 56,

p. 161; Rufus King to Henry Knox, June 27, 1785, in Burnett, Letters of Mem-

bers, VIII, 153.

19 The young Sherman, who had retired from the Continental Army with the

rank of lieutenant colonel, followed his father's precedent in practicing surveying.

E. D. Kingman, "Roger Sherman, Colonial Surveyor," Civil Engineering, X

(1940), 514-515. As a federal surveyor he was second-choice to General Samuel

Holden Parsons. Journals of the Continental Congress, XXIX, 542.

20 William Patterson, James Ewing, and others, to Congress, May 19, 1785,

Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 42, Vol. 5, p. 327; Gov. W. L. Livingston

to Thomas Hutchins, May 18, 1785, Hutchins Papers. Martin, who had been a

captain in the Continental Army, was the first and only appointee for New Jersey.

Journals of the Continental Congress, XXVIII, 466.



governor of Connecticut before completing his tour of duty

as a federal surveyor.21 In the appointment of Martin we

can recognize an early expression of interest in western lands

on the part of New Jersey speculators which culminated a

few years later in the acquisition by Judge John Cleves

Symmes and associates of that large tract in the southwest

corner of present-day Ohio known as the Miami Purchase.

The remaining four from among the surveyors who went

west in 1785 deserve attention more for their individual

attributes and activities than for their significance as repre-

sentatives of states or special groups. Morris of New York,

a young man apparently seeking employment appropriate to

his technical training, was the single surveyor who could

participate as an equal with Hutchins in what the latter

called "the Astronomical business of the Geographer's De-

partment." And he gained the geographer's special com-

mendation for assistance in the field work of 1785.22 Parker

of Virginia appears to have belonged to that class of woods-

wise men to whose independent surveying activities Virginia

already owed the subdivision of much of its own territory.23

Simpson, though a representative of Maryland, was a sur-

veyor from York County, Pennsylvania.24 It was through

him that the party of federal surveyors made their only

known contact with the men occupied in laying out Penn-

sylvania's boundary north of the Ohio River. He visited

the camp of the Pennsylvania commissioners early in October

21 Sherman to Governor of Connecticut, December 31, 1787, in New York

Journal and Weekly Register, May 1, 1788 (handwritten copy by C. A. Burton in

Miscellaneous Collection, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio).

22 Hutchins to Congress, December 27, 1785. Papers of the Continental Con-

gress, No. 60, p. 225. For the appointment of Morris, a former lieutenant in the

Continental Army and a subsequent applicant (in 1789) for the post of geographer,

see Journals of the Continental Congress, XXVIII, 398.

23 On the deportment of Parker, formerly a captain in the Continental Army,

see "Journal of General Butler," 435. His appointment is noticed in Journals of

the Continental Congress, XXVIII, 398.

24 For Simpson's appointment, see ibid.; for his place of residence, see the entry

for December 3, 1786, in the Journal of John Mathews, Marietta College Library,

Marietta, Ohio.


THE SURVEY OF THE SEVEN RANGES                  123

1785.25 Johnston, a doctor and resident of Baltimore, who

managed to join in the surveying as a representative of

Georgia, was apparently a man of means looking for land

in which to invest personally. Nearly eighteen square miles

of land in the Seven Ranges were later purchased in his


By September 30, Hutchins, his eight surveyors, and a

retinue of about thirty helpers were all assembled at the

mouth of Little Beaver Creek, within easy walking distance

of the scheduled initial point of survey. A visitor in camp

expected them to progress rapidly with their work, yet he

found cause for misgiving. Hutchins was openly apprehen-

sive of Indian hostility, expressing himself as disposed to

"instantly quit the business" if danger threatened.27

Hutchins made a beginning on September 30 at the post

on the north bank of the Ohio River set up by the state

boundary commissioners somewhat more than a month

earlier. Acting on his instructions in the land ordinance to

attend personally to the running of the first east and west

line, he proceeded westward until October 8, when, having

surveyed less than four miles, he suspended operations due

to the receipt of "disagreeable intelligence" concerning the

Indians.28 Though the fact was not yet apparent, the season's

surveying had come to an end.

The intelligence which reached Hutchins told of an Indian

depredation at "Tuscarawas," a Delaware village located

about fifty miles west of the beginning point. At a trading

post near the village, according to the report, two traders

had been set upon by a band of Indians, who left behind

25 Hutchins to President of Congress, November 24, 1785, Enclosure No. 1.

Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 66, pp. 201-204.

26 On Johnston's appointment and place of residence, see Journals of the Conti-

nental Congress, XXVIII, 466; Johnston to Congress, October 27, 1785, Papers of

the Continental Congress, No. 41, Vol. 4, p. 319. Record of purchase by a "Doctr.

Robt. Johnston" appears in Schedule of Sales of Lands in the Western Territory

of the United States, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 59, Vol. 3, p. 137.

27 "Journal of General Butler," 435.

28 Hutchins to President of Congress, November 24, 1785. Papers of the Conti-

nental Congress, No. 60, pp. 193-200.



them all the signs of war.29 Hearing this, Hutchins super-

vised the shifting of the surveyors' camp to a safer site on

the south side of the Ohio; yet hope remained that chiefs of

the Delawares and Wyandots would consent to come and

attend the surveyors at their work, thereby guaranteeing

their safety. Hutchins had dispatched a messenger to these

two tribes in the second week of September, but it was not

until October 15 that a letter of response, "spoken by Captain

Pipe," was received.30 More apologetic than threatening in

tone, it simply declined the invitation. Hutchins, who had

placed the greatest reliance upon the chiefs, prepared almost

at once to decamp, and within a few days the entire survey

company had returned to Pittsburgh, where field hands,

recruited earlier in that village, were paid off and discharged.

It might seem strange that the troops at Fort McIntosh,

who had been expected by congress to protect the surveyors,

were of no help on this occasion. This lack of support was

due in part to the reduced strength of the garrison. Unfor-

tunately, the few remaining troops were needed at the site

of a prospective treaty conference with the Shawnees farther

down the Ohio River. On the day before surveying began,

all of the infantry based at Fort McIntosh had floated past

the surveyors' camp on their way downstream to the treaty


Having returned to Pittsburgh about one month after set-

ting forth for the field of survey, the frustrated surveyors

started home, traveling once more the Pennsylvania Road,

with nothing but debts to show for their time and trouble.

Last to depart was Thomas Hutchins, who, upon arriving in

New York, submitted a map to congress showing the country

along the few miles of line surveyed. Perhaps in an attempt

to give congress a sense of value received for money expended,

29 Ibid., Enclosure No. 1, pp. 201-204.

30 Ibid., Enclosure No. 2, pp. 209-212.

31 The treaty grounds were at the mouth of the Great Miami River, where

the treaty of Fort Finney was signed four months after this date. The passing-by

of the troops is noted in "Journal of General Butler," 434.



he tendered with the map an unusually copious verbal descrip-


Despite the inconsequential nature of this first attempt

at surveying under the land ordinance, congress had not yet

lost faith in the enterprise. Hutchins was given, in effect,

a vote of confidence when in May 1786 congress passed a

resolution authorizing the geographer to try again.33

By the time of the geographer's return to Pittsburgh in

June 1786, a new military outpost, Fort Harmar, had been

constructed at the mouth of the Muskingum River, the treaty

conference with the Shawnees had been brought to a seem-

ingly successful conclusion, and the Wyandots and Dela-

wares, who had attended the conference, appeared to be

resigned to the survey of their ceded lands. Prospects for

surveying were further brightened by Hutchins' success in

dispatching an invitation to chiefs of the Delawares and

Wyandots nearly three months in advance of the schedule

of the preceding year.

Thirteen ranges of townships, Hutchins now expected,

would be surveyed by the end of the season. He seemed

justified in this hope for at least three reasons. First, the

potential extent of each range had been greatly curtailed by

congress. The resolution which had authorized the resump-

tion of field work ordered that surveying be confined to the

area south of the east-west line which Hutchins had begun

to lay out in 1785.34 Second, the prospective work involved

in surveying had been greatly simplified by the repeal of the

requirement that township boundaries be run "by the true

meridian," that is, according to true north.35 Third, Hutchins

had been led to expect that thirteen surveyors, one for each

32 Hutchins to President of Congress, December 27, 1785. Papers of the Conti-

nental Congress, No. 60, pp. 225-236. Nearly all of Hutchins' description is re-

produced in Hulbert, Ohio in the Time of the Confederation, 130-137.

33 Resolution of May 9, 1786, in Journals of the Continental Congress, XXX, 248.

34 Ibid.

35 Resolution of May 12, 1786, ibid., 252.



range of townships, would come west in this year of renewed


As the surveyors arrived in Pittsburgh, they once more

undertook purchasing provisions and hiring field parties.

When preparations were complete, each of the states but

Delaware was represented by a surveyor equipped and ready

to take the field.37 Four states--Rhode Island, Pennsylvania,

North Carolina, and South Carolina--were represented for

the first time.  Two states--New Hampshire and Virginia--

were now served by new men. Of the six men thus added to

the roster of pioneer federal surveyors, four deserve special

note,38 beginning with Winthrop Sargent, surveyor for New

Hampshire and replacement for Edward Dowse. Major

Sargent, whose application for a surveyorship was sponsored

by the secretary of war, was a Massachusetts man soon to

be elected secretary of the newly organized Ohio Company

of Associates.39 A second noteworthy newcomer was Colonel

Ebenezer Sproat, surveyor for Rhode Island, who later be-

came an important stockholder and surveyor of the Ohio

Company. He was among the men who landed at the mouth

of the Muskingum River to found Marietta in 1788.40 Thirdly,

there was Colonel Adam Hoops, representing Pennsylvania,

a professional surveyor and land speculator from Philadel-

phia and a friend of Hutchins, who probably owed his ap-


36 Hutchins to President of Congress, August 13, 1786. Papers of the Continental

Congress, No. 60, p. 249.

37 Entries for July 5-July 21, in the Journal of Thomas Hutchins. Hutchins


38 The other two were Charles Smith, who took the place of Alexander Parker

of Virginia, and Samuel Montgomery, a man already on hand in the West, who

was engaged as a substitute for the again-absent Absalom Tatom of North

Carolina. Tupper, Sherman, Martin, Morris, Simpson, and Johnston returned.

39 The recommendation of Sargent to Hutchins by Henry Knox, secretary of

war, June 4, 1786, may be found in Society Miscellaneous Collection, Historical

Society of Pennsylvania. On Sargent's election to the secretaryship of the Ohio

Company, March 1787, see Archer B. Hulbert, ed., The Records of the Original

Proceedings of the Ohio Company (Marietta, Ohio, 1917), I, 4.

40 Sproat served as substitute for Caleb Harris, whom illness had prevented

for a second time from coming west. For notice of Sproat's subsequent appoint-

ment as surveyor for the Ohio Company, see ibid., 26.


THE SURVEY OF THE SEVEN RANGES                     127

pointment to Hutchins' influence.41 Lastly, there was Israel

Ludlow, appointed to fill the vacant surveyorship for South

Carolina. A young man from New Jersey who came west in

1786 to make his fortune on the frontier, Ludlow later became

actively interested in the Miami Purchase.42 By the time of

his death in the early 1800's he had surveyed more land in

the Ohio country than any other federal surveyor.

After a considerable delay, due to the failure of the Indians

to send an answer to Hutchins' invitation, and due as well

to Colonel Harmar's reluctance to provide an armed escort,

surveying began again on August 9, 1786. From that date

to September 18, Hutchins pushed steadily westward, mark-

ing a course which approximated a parallel of latitude. He

reached a point six miles from the Pennsylvania boundary

on the second day, and here Absalom Martin of New Jersey

directed a line southward, setting out independently to com-

plete the first range of townships. He was followed by other

surveyors, in launching off southward from Hutchins' base

line, at intervals of six miles in an order determined by lot.

An entire range of townships, according to plan, was to be

the responsibility of each of these surveyors.43

By the end of August, Hoops, Sherman, and Sproat had

followed Martin's example. Then Sargent and Simpson

took their turns, and Morris was about to set off on his

assigned strip of country--the Seventh Range--when the

first sign of trouble appeared. On September 13 a message


41 Hutchins had earlier made an employment request on behalf of Hoops.

Hutchins to John Montgomery, May 26, 1784. John Montgomery Papers, Chicago

Historical Society. Hoops-Hutchins correspondence may be found in the Hutchins


42 Ludlow replaced William Tate, who had for a second time failed to come

west. Much light is thrown on Ludlow by two letters written a decade later in

support of his application for the office of surveyor general of the United States:

Robert Morris to Timothy Pickering, July 18, 1796, and Jonathan Dayton to

Pickering, July 18, 1796, both in Applications for Office Under President Wash-

ington, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.

43 Entry for July 14, 1786, in typewritten copy of Diary of Winthrop Sargent,

Sargent Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; entry for August 5,

1786, Journal of Thomas Hutchins; and Hutchins to President of Congress, Au-

gust 13, 1786, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 60, pp. 249-252.



reached Hutchins in which the chiefs of the Delawares and

Wyandots declined, for the second and last time, to come

forward and guarantee the safety of the surveyors. Hutch-

ins pressed westward none the less, dispatching Morris to

work on his appointed range and advancing into the Eighth

Range himself. Transfer of his headquarters camp ahead

to a convenient creek not only brought Hutchins' party into

the immediate neighborhood of "Tuscarawas" but separated

them by about forty-five miles from their principal military

support. Despite the fact that three companies of infantry

had been assigned to Hutchins, all but thirty soldiers, under

the command of a lieutenant, were confined to a camp on the

Ohio River for want of supplies.44

The geographer and his followers were now in a danger-

ously exposed position. On the morning of September 18

they awoke to find that a pole marking the conclusion of the

previous day's surveying had been broken during the night,

apparently as a warning from hostile natives. Then that

afternoon intelligence reached the camp that warriors were

gathering at the Shawnee towns, about one hundred and fifty

miles to the southwest, intending "to cut off Hutchins and

all his men."45 Thoroughly alarmed, Hutchins abandoned

the field and sent messengers to the surveyors on their several

ranges asking them to lose no time in following his example.

The retreat which followed was almost comic in its confusion.

Sargent, on the Fifth Range, hearing that "the Geographer

had run away and all the surveyors after him," viewed the

proceedings with scorn, and was persuaded only with diffi-

culty to leave his work. At length, however, the surveyors

were collected together at the house of one of the pioneers on

the Virginia shore, William McMahon, and all of the troops


44 Entries for July 14, September 9, Diary of Winthrop Sargent; entries for

September 2, 6, 11, Journal of Thomas Hutchins; and Hutchins to President of

Congress, October 12, 1786, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 60, pp.


45 Depositions of George Brickell and Thomas Girty. Papers of the Continental

Congress, No. 60, pp. 277-278.



were concentrated at a fortified position on the federal side

of the Ohio downstream from the point of beginning.46

By the beginning of October, when Hutchins was ready to

recross the Ohio, the objective for the season had become a

modest four ranges of townships. The troops at Hutchins'

disposal were now, for the first time, sufficiently provisioned

to take the field, and he assigned about seventy of them to

the protection of the surveyors who were to accomplish this

objective. The First Range had been completed by Martin

before the retreat.   Into the next three ranges Hutchins

sent six surveyors and as a concession to the headstrong

Sargent he allowed that surveyor to venture into the Fifth

Range once more. A handful of soldiers went with Sargent,

and the remainder were held in reserve in a central position

behind hastily erected earthworks.47 Meantime, in the distant

Shawnee country, an expedition of Kentucky militia under

the command of Colonel Benjamin Logan was spreading

terror and destruction thus preventing the threatened Shawnee

attack upon Hutchins and his men. The Kentuckians, in

executing an act of local vengeance, apparently made possible

the first effective season of national surveying.

By the middle of November four ranges of townships had

been successfully surveyed, without Indian incident, though

on the Fifth Range Sargent's work was cut short by a small

band of Indian marauders who stole nearly all of his party's

horses. Hutchins now seriously considered rounding out

all of the seven ranges upon which work had been begun,

but the surveyors were generally averse to the idea, nighttime

temperatures having dropped to the freezing point. The troops,

many of them "barefoot and miserably off for clothing," were

in no condition to continue in the field.48 In consequence, the

46 Entries for September 20-October 3, Diary of Winthrop Sargent.

47 Entries for October 5-11, Diary of Winthrop Sargent; entries for October

1-16, Journal of Thomas Hutchins.

48 Entries for October 23-November 6, Diary of Winthrop Sargent; Hutchins

to President of Congress, December 2, 1786, Papers of the Continental Congress,

No. 60, pp. 281-283; Colonel Harmar to Secretary of War, November 15, 1786,

in William Henry Smith, The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair

(Cincinnati, 1882), II, 19-20.



soldiers were allowed to embark for winter quarters at Fort

Harmar, and the surveyors retired to the comfort and security

of McMahon's house on the Virginia shore.49

At McMahon's, Hutchins soon set about marshaling the

documentary evidence of the surveys. Under his direction

the notes which the surveyors had taken for the first four

ranges were transcribed and rearranged in a form suitable

for submission to the board of treasury. Martin, Sherman,

and Sproat, to whom had fallen the official responsibility

for the first four ranges, stayed at McMahon's house until

their signatures could be affixed to the completed transcrip-

tions. By the first week in December most of the surveyors

had departed for their homes in the East, and the final stage

of operations had begun--the preparation of plats, or draw-

ings of boundaries, of each township, as required by the land

ordinance. Isaac Sherman, who withdrew to the house of

Charles Wells, about ten miles down the Ohio from Mc-

Mahon's, is believed to have prepared the plats for the Third

Range. The remaining plats were very possibly drawn by

Hutchins himself.50

Late in January 1787, seven months after his arrival in

the West for a second attempt at surveying, Hutchins de-

parted from his quarters on the Ohio River. Traveling by

way of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Road, he reached

New York on February 21 with "the Plats and descriptions

of four Ranges completely surveyed into Townships."51

Hutchins later declared, in a locution characteristic of the


49 Entry for November 25, 1786, Journal of Joseph Buell, in Samuel P. Hildreth,

Pioneer History (Cincinnati, 1848), 148; entries for November 8-December 3,

1786, Journal of John Mathews.

50 Entries for November 8-December 3, 1786, Journal of John Mathews; entry

for November 21, 1786, Journal of Thomas Hutchins; Hutchins to President of

Congress, December 2, 1786, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 60, pp.

281-283. The survey plats and notes produced by Hutchins and his men are in

Record Group 49, Cartographic Records Division, National Archives.

51 Hutchins to President of Congress, February 22, 1787. Papers of the Conti-

nental Congress, No. 60, p. 293.



period, that he "flattered himself that he had performed his

duties to the entire satisfaction of Congress."52

Hutchins may have vindicated himself to the satisfaction

of congress, but that body had understandably lost faith

in the rectangular land survey system by the spring of 1787.

With only four ranges of townships ready to be advertised

for sale after a lapse of nearly two years, congress was pre-

pared to consider the sale of large tracts without survey as

a means of realizing an immediate income from the national

domain. Finding that congressional delegates had no inten-

tion of supporting surveying beyond the Seven Ranges,

Hutchins applied for leave to fulfill an engagement else-

where.53 His request was granted, and the task of complet-

ing the Seven Ranges was left to such of the surveyors of the

preceding year as might be willing to assume the risks in-

volved in the venture.

First in the field in 1787 were two men who had wintered

on the Ohio River--Absalom Martin and Israel Ludlow.

They went into the woods early in April, and were followed

within two weeks by James Simpson, who had returned to

the West from his home in York County, Pennsylvania.54

Two other surveyors later appeared on the scene, but these

three men had preempted the surveying which remained to

be done. Throwing caution to the winds, they at first led

their survey parties into the interior without an armed escort,

but by the middle of May they had pulled back and were

applying for the protection of the army.55

The surveyors expected aid from a new army post which

seemed ideal to their purposes. This was Fort Steuben, which


52 Hutchins to President of Congress, March 19, 1787. Papers of the Continental

Congress, No. 60, p. 297.

53 Hutchins to President of Congress, June 25, 1787. Papers of the Continental

Congress, No. 60, p. 185. The assignment to which Hutchins turned was the

survey of a boundary within New York State, a meridian, westward of which

New York retained jurisdiction while Massachusetts held land-title.

54 Entries for April 10, 21, 1787, Journal of John Mathews, in Hildreth,

Pioneer History, 178.

55 Colonel Harmar to Secretary of War, May 14, 1787 (photostat). Papers of

General Josiah Harmar, William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan.



had been built on the Ohio River within the First Range and

garrisoned by ninety men during the previous winter. Colonel

Harmar, however, was holding this detachment in readiness

for removal to Vincennes. As a sign of the times, Harmar

was more interested in extending American influence farther

down the Ohio than in accommodating federal land sur-

veyors, but he responded to their request by sending up sixty

men from Fort Harmar. After making rendezvous at a

point opposite Wheeling, these troops set off with the sur-

veyors to cover them in the completion of their work.56

Within two weeks after resuming operations Israel Ludlow

finished the Seventh Range, striking the Ohio River about

seven miles above the mouth of the Muskingum. Simpson

and Martin brought the Sixth and Fifth ranges, respectively,

to completion soon after, and the escorting troops were able

to rejoin their companies at Fort Harmar before July 10.

Although incidents of scalping and horse-thieving occurred

in their vicinity both during and after this period, the survey-

ors were untroubled in their final efforts by Indian maraud-


Records of survey, once again, were prepared at William

McMahon's house on the Virginia shore. Ludlow, Martin,

and Simpson stayed there until the end of August, by which

time Ludlow may have been able to complete all of his paper

work--both plats and notes--for the Seventh Range. Martin

and Simpson were prevented from finishing even their notes

for the Fifth and Sixth ranges by the lack of records on

hand for surveying done in 1786. After their sojourn at

McMahon's the three surveyors made their way to New


56 Major Hamtramck to Harmar, May 22, 1787, Surveyors to Harmar, May

25, 1787, Harmar to Surveyors, June 2, 1787 (photostats), Harmar Papers; entries

for June 6, 8, 1787, Journal of John Mathews, in Hildreth, Pioneer History, 181.

57 Major Doughty to Harmar, June 24, July 10, 1787, Harmar Papers; entries

for June 23, August 4, 1787, Journal of John Mathews, in Hildreth, Pioneer His-

tory, 182-183.



York,58 where Hutchins apparently assisted in incorporating

the needed earlier data into the records for 1787.

Yet many months still were to pass before final returns

would be filed. Martin delayed his work, piqued by the

board of treasury's refusal to permit him an extra allowance

for "protracting the townships."59 Hutchins seems to have

been diverted by the preparation of a report on the personal

surveying assignment which had occupied him during the

summer of 1787. After all of the records for the final three

ranges were in his hands, Hutchins took additional time to

draw up a general plan covering all of the Seven Ranges. At

last, on July 26, 1788, Hutchins submitted the general plan

and the concluding notes and plats to the board of treasury,

and the first phase of United States public land surveying

came to an end.60

*           *          *

The foundation, so to speak, upon which the Seven Ranges

were constructed was the line which Hutchins initiated in

1785, and ran westward in 1786 until caused to flee the field.

Called simply the East and West Line at the time of survey,

it has come to be known as the Geographer's Line, in honor

of Hutchins. In laying it out Hutchins was required by

law to determine the latitude of the point of beginning and

then to make the line conform to a parallel of latitude.

In meeting the first problem Hutchins took "a great num-

ber" of observations on the sun and the North Star, and as

a result determined his latitude to be 40?? 38' 02" North.61


58 Entries for July 31, September 3, 1787, Journal of John Mathews, in Hildreth,

Pioneer History, 182, 186; Memorial of Surveyors to Congress, September 22,

1787, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 41, Vol. 9, p. 461.

59 Martin to Hutchins, October 3, 1787. Hutchins Papers.

60 Hutchins to Commissioners of the Board of Treasury, July 26, 1788. Record

Group 49, Natural Resources Records Division, National Archives. The notes and

plats for Ranges Five, Six, and Seven may be found with the records for the

first four ranges of the Seven Ranges in Record Group 49, Cartographic Records

Division, National Archives.

61 Hutchins to President of Congress, November 24, 1785. Papers of the Con-

tinental Congress, No. 60, p. 194.



He mislocated his position by about 25" of arc, or as measured

on the ground, by somewhat less than one-half mile, a magni-

tude of error which suggests that he employed a sextant, an

instrument in common use at that time. The second prob-

lem, that of laying down a parallel of latitude, was familiar

to Hutchins we can be sure, if only because it is known that

he had engaged in extending westward the Mason and Dixon

line--a parallel of latitude--in 1784.62 Whether he attempted

to repeat the relatively accurate technique employed in that

earlier work or not--and there is strong evidence that to save

time he did not--his results were much less satisfactory. The

Geographer's Line failed to conform to the proper curve of a

parallel of latitude, and it ended fully fifteen hundred feet

south of its beginning point.

In laying out township boundaries south of the Geograph-

er's Line the surveyors directed their lines of sight with an

instrument called a circumferentor. It was a simple compass,

measuring about six inches in diameter, graduated to give

readings in degrees, fitted with sight vanes, and mounted by

means of a ball and socket upon either a staff ("Jacob's staff")

or a tripod.63 By the time surveying began in earnest, it will

be recalled, congress had relieved the surveyors of the neces-

sity of adjusting their lines to "the true meridian." Given

this license, the surveyors used the circumferentor's magnetic

needle to establish initial direction, and in extending a line

they appear to have simply taken a new compass reading at

each advance of the instrument. In setting off a right angle

at each township corner they almost certainly read directly

from the needle instead of turning the angle on the instrument.

This was free-style surveying.64


62 Hutchins to President of Congress, April 21, 1785. Papers of the Continental

Congress, No. 60, p. 181.

63 A few places in Ohio where circumferentors may be seen are Campus Martius

Museum, Marietta; Wooster Museum, Wooster; and Ohio Historical Society,


64 These remarks are based upon an extended examination of the survey notes

for the Seven Ranges.



In the measurement of distances, approximation again was

the rule. The means employed, normal for the period, was

a surveyor's chain made of iron wire formed into one hundred

straight segments, each segment joined to its neighbor by

two rings.65 The chains were checked for length by Hutchins

at the outset of surveying, but their results were far from

consistent. While it is well known that such chains were

subject to alteration in length through use, a more important

source of error was the roughness of the terrain, or, more

exactly, the lack of care taken by the surveyors in safeguard-

ing against errors arising therefrom. What with an almost

casual determination of distance as well as direction, the

surveyed lines generally failed to join satisfactorily at the

corners of the townships, as would be expected. The sur-

veyors failed to meet this problem of poor closure, in turn,

in any agreed-upon way; they did not regularly complete their

townships in one specified corner; and they did not retrace

their lines in search of error when a faulty closure occurred.66

Inaccuracies in the survey of the Seven Ranges should not

be thought of as wholly or even mainly the consequence of

an inadequate technology. When the federal rectangular

survey system was revived and extended, only about a decade

later, distinctly improved results were obtained; and among

the sharpest critics of the original surveyors were men who

followed after them, with no better instruments, to further

subdivide the townships of the Seven Ranges.67 The work

of the original surveyors suffered principally from a lack of

regular operating procedures and clearly stated standards of


*   *    *


65 Chains of the kind described may be found in county surveyors' offices; at

the Ross County Historical Society, Chillicothe; and at the Ohio Historical

Society, Columbus.

66 These statements are based upon the surveyors' notes, letters, diaries, a map

of the survey lines compiled by the author, and United States Geological Survey

topographic maps.

67 See Rufus Putnam to Zaccheus Biggs, April 22, 1801, in Carter, Territorial

Papers, Vol. III, The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787-1803, Conti-

nued (Washington, 1934), 130-132.



As is well known, the direct contribution of the survey of

the Seven Ranges to the settlement of the Northwest Territory

was very slight indeed. The first and only sale of land in

the Seven Ranges under the land ordinance of 1785 was held

in New York City, September 21-October 9, 1787, after an

impatient congress had voted to wait for the completion of no

more than four ranges of townships, and to offer the parts

of those townships not reserved from sale at a central place

of auction rather than in the several states, as originally

planned.68 At the sale, land immediately bordering the Ohio

River found a fair market, and two townships near the

Ohio were sold as whole units, but buyers could not be tempted

very far inland nor induced to take up all of the land along

the river so long as a minimum price of one dollar per acre,

established by law, prevailed. With less than one-third of the

land spoken for, the auction was closed.69 About half of this

purchased land was soon forfeited for lack of completed pay-

ment, and on the remainder settlement was almost negligible.

The single noteworthy extension of the American frontier

immediately resulting from this sale occurred on the Ohio a

few miles upstream from a point opposite Wheeling late in

1787, when Absalom Martin, official federal surveyor from

New Jersey, founded there the settlement known today as

Martins Ferry.70

To appreciate the indirect and highly important influence

of the survey of the Seven Ranges upon the advance of set-

tlement in the Northwest Territory, we must turn our atten-

tion to the Ohio Company of Associates, that celebrated or-

ganization whose representatives contracted to buy a large

tract adjacent to the Seven Ranges a few days after the

public auction in New York was closed. Benefits conferred

on this group began in 1785, when General Benjamin Tupper,

68 In changing its policy, congress followed recommendations in a report of the

board of treasury, for which see Carter, Territorial Papers, II, 24-25.

69 Accounts for this auction appear as "Schedule of Sales of Lands in the Western

Territory," in Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 59, Vol. 3, pp. 135-140.

70 For record of purchase of over three hundred acres of land in Martin's name,

see ibid., p. 135.



by adopting the role of surveyor for Massachusetts, found

an opportunity for learning at first hand about the route to

Pittsburgh and the country downstream from that settle-

ment for a distance of about forty miles. The Ohio Company

had not yet been formed, but its prospective organizers, among

them Tupper, were known to be contemplating the founding

of a colony. In the summer of 1786, by which time provi-

sional articles of the Ohio Company had been drawn up at a

meeting in Massachusetts, federal surveying began to look

as though it were specifically meant to serve the exploratory

interests of this association. No less than five Ohio Company

men, including Tupper, appeared among the surveyors in

1786, and one of them, Winthrop Sargent, detached himself

from the rest to reconnoiter the district on the lower Muskin-

gum River which the company was soon to apply for in con-

gress.71 The fact that this tract of land lay immediately

west of the Seven Ranges should not lead one to suppose that

Sargent thought of it as an area beyond the scope of federal

surveying. Rather, he viewed it at this time as land included

within the breadth of the thirteen ranges of townships

scheduled for survey in 1786.72 By 1787, however, the out-

look had changed. With only seven ranges of townships

begun by the national surveyors, the Ohio Company, appar-

ently impelled by a new determination to obtain land in a

single block, threw its influence behind a move in congress

to halt any further extension of surveying to the west.

Deciding to apply to congress for a direct grant of land,

directors of the company declared, "We . . . wish, if possible,

to have our eastern bounds on the seventh range of town-


71 Sargent recorded this side trip, which took him down the Ohio and up the

Muskingum, in his Diary, entries for July 23 to August 1. The Ohio Company men

in addition to Tupper and Sargent, were Ebenezer Sproat, of previous mention,

and two young men who came west as chainmen: Tupper's son Benjamin and

Putnam's nephew John Mathews.

72 Sargent to Samuel Parsons, August 1, 1786. Samuel Parsons Papers, West-

ern Reserve Historical Society.


THE SURVEY OF THE SEVEN RANGES                     139

ships."73 The company succeeded in obtaining a grant with

this boundary and went on to conduct township surveying

privately, but otherwise in general conformity to the require-

ments of the land ordinance of 1785.

In a rather elaborate advertisement of its new purchase,

the Ohio Company drew freely upon the opinions and obser-

vations of its representatives who had engaged in the survey

of the Seven Ranges, a procedure justified by the fact that

the Ohio Company lands comprised a continuation of the

Allegheny Plateau country wherein the Seven Ranges lay.

By way of further reliance upon the federal surveys, this

same advertisement exploited the reputation of Thomas

Hutchins by including his testimonial that descriptions ap-

pearing therein were "judicious, just and true," and consistent

with "observations made by me."74

Nor did the services rendered to the Ohio Company by the

federal surveys end here. In the course of the survey of the

Seven Ranges, the army's influence had been brought down

the Ohio to the mouth of the Muskingum River, where the

Ohio Company's first settlement would soon be made; the

Indians had been introduced to the kind of surveying which the

Ohio Company would be continuing; and the squatter popula-

tion of the Ohio country had been confronted by the deter-

mination of congress to deny the right of preempting land by

"tomahawk claim," a legal position which the Ohio Company

was resolved to perpetuate.75


73 Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler to Winthrop Sargent, May 1787, as

quoted in Hulbert, Records of the Ohio Company, liii.

74 The advertisement, titled "An Explanation of the Map Which Delineates That

Part of the Federal Land Comprehended between Pennsylvania West Line, the

Rivers Ohio and Scioto and Lake Erie . . .," may be found in Philip Lee Phillips,

The First Map and Description of Ohio, 1787, by Manasseh Cutler: A Biblio-

graphical Account (Washington, 1918), 25-41.

75 In the very month that the Ohio Company made its first settlement, congress

renewed its denial of the right of roving pioneers to take up land at will on the

public domain. Resolution of April 24, 1787, in Journals of the Continental Con-

press, XXXII, 231.



If the founding of Marietta at the mouth of the Muskin-

gum River by the Ohio Company, in April 1788, is to be

accepted as the beginning of organized American settlement

in the Northwest Territory, then the Seven Ranges should

be recognized with appropriate honor as the bridgehead

which made the success of this pioneer venture possible.