History of Surveying

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 opened land for settlement "north and west of the Ohio River and south of the Great Lakes" ceded to the United States by Great Britain at the end of the Revolutionary War.

Present-day Indiana was part of the Northwest Territory, a vast area that eventually became five Midwestern states, and the United States' first territorial possession in 1783 by the Treaty of Paris.

The Northwest Ordinance governed lands encompassed by lines refined from those originally laid out by Thomas Jefferson in his 1784 Report of Government for Western Territory. Jefferson's plan would have divided the lands between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River into 14 new states. Evansville, Vincennes, Tell City, New Albany, Louisville, Lexington, and Henderson would all have been in a state called "Pelisipia."

A rectangular system of surveying, ordained by the Continental Congress on May 20, 1785, enabled the first public surveys of the new western lands. The office of Surveyor General, established by the Act of May 18, 1796, supervised the surveying of lands northwest of the Ohio River.

The Northwest Ordinance, and subsequent Congressional land acts, established order upon territorial lands using the Federal Township and Range System of land grids composed of square mile sections arranged in tiers of townships grouped into ranges measured westward from a prime meridian of longitude.

Surveyors contracted by the U.S. Congress, using relatively primitive equipment and working in brutally rustic conditions, set wooden posts markers every half mile (nine markers per section) to establish the individual townships comprising 36 sections each across Indiana Territory.

The county surveyor keeps the original plat book of Vanderburgh County containing outline maps of the sections, and displaying the locations of the original government corners set in 1806 by U.S. Congressional Surveyors, John Broathitt, Daniel Sullivan, and Jacob Fowler.

The outline maps contain the original measurements of each section in chains, show the line variations from true north followed by the government surveyors, and give the corrections they made along the baseline, range lines, and township lines to compensate for measuring horizontally along the earth's curved surface.

The plat maps also show the locations of the Ohio River, streams, bogs, sloughs, and the trace from Red Banks (Henderson, Kentucky) to Vincennes at the time of the survey. The fragile condition of the original plat book requires additional precautions prior to scanning it into this file.

The local political townships should not be confused with the congressional townships established by the federal township and range survey system.
• The federal system institutes a system of orderly land surveying.

• The political townships are subdivisions of local county government.
Vanderburgh County is divided into eight (8) political townships established by the Board of County Commissioners between 1818 and 1845.

OTHER HISTORICAL LINKS:

The Act Dividing Indiana Territory, 1805, detached Wayne County from Indiana Territory and made it into Michigan Territory, setting the stage for Indiana statehood.

Indiana attained statehood on December 11, 1816, with its capitol at Corydon, where the Territorial Convention

had convened, on the second Monday of June, 1816, "for the purpose of forming a constitution and state government."


Virtual Museum of Surveying

Indiana Historical Bureau

George Washington as a Surveyor

Abraham Lincoln the Surveyor


Last updated: 4/27/2017 11:42:23 AM
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