When first asked to name famous land surveyors, most people assume that there aren’t any. However, this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many famous land surveyors throughout history, though they usually achieve fame for other activities. In fact, most professionals from centuries ago worked concurrently in several different professions, such as politics, military careers, exploration, or land surveying. In fact, several U.S. Presidents may be found among the ranks of famous land surveyors.
Did you know that George Washington was a land surveyor? At the age of 17, future president George Washington was appointed as the Surveyor General in Virginia in 1749. In that year, the English colony of Virginia planned to promote expansion by offering land speculators a thousand acres for every family they could convince to move west. He became the first Registered County Surveyor in America.
Benjamin Banneker, a self-taught African American mathematician, astronomer, and surveyor, was appointed in 1789 by President George Washington to survey the area which would become Washington D.C. The project to survey the national capital was completed between 1791 and 1793. Like many land surveyors of this time, he also enjoyed several other professional pursuits at the same time, including clockmaking and publishing an almanac.
Another famous surveyor, Thomas Jefferson, was also a U.S. President later in life. He was appointed County Surveyor for Albermarle County in Virginia in 1773. As Secretary of State under George Washington, and later as President, his appointment of surveyors later gave the young nation the direction to promote the settlement of the frontier. One of his most famous acts as president was in organizing the Lewis & Clark Expedition to explore and survey the west. Meriwether Lewis & William Clark, who explored the area of the Louisiana Purchase from 1804 to 1806, contributed greatly to land surveying in America. They mapped the area with considerable accuracy for the time period, allowing for the western expansion of the United States.
Daniel Boone, who lived from 1734 to 1820, is famous for his pioneering and exploration, like Lewis and Clark. He, too, was a land surveyor. Most of his land surveying efforts occurred in Kentucky, to resolve settlers’ claims to land titles. British explorer Captain James Cook, who was born in 1728, sailed into every ocean. Not only did he explore, but he also surveyed the areas he found. These are just a few of the land surveyors who you may not have realized were land surveyors, as they achieved fame as explorers and not land surveyors.
Charles Mason & Jeremiah Dixon’s land surveying efforts survive in the “Mason-Dixon line”, the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania. This line divided the “slave states” from the “free states” during debates in Congress over the Missouri Compromise in 1820. Today, this line is still used to distinguish the South from the North.
Another president to previously hold a position as land surveyor was Abraham Lincoln, who served as Deputy County Surveyor, as well as Postmaster and operator of a general store. In fact, Lincoln was working as a surveyor when he was elected to the Illinois legislature at the beginning of his political career.