The Library of Virginia

 Survey of 330 Acres for Edward Hogan

From the founding of the colony, Virginia's surveyors and mapmakers charted westward expansion, internal development, and natural resources. Colonial surveyors were generally literate men who learned their craft from books on surveying or through experience. Among Virginia's early surveyors were John Henry (father of Patrick Henry), Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson), and George Washington. Surveyors, especially those who were appointed as surveyors for a county, were key figures in colonial society. George Washington was not the only surveyor to use skill to increase his holdings of land, the basis of wealth and social status in colonial Virginia. A Treatise of Practical Surveying

Virginians' pattern of settling land in advance of surveying was common to the southern colonies. A person interested in acquiring a land patent was not required to choose land contiguous to land already surveyed or land of a regular shape. Surveys by metes and bounds created tracts that reflected the owner's desire to choose the best land, no matter its location. The resulting surveys were irregularly shaped. Surveying on the frontier entailed considerable risk to the members of the surveying party as they tramped through unexplored swamps and forests and battled mosquitoes, disease, and snakes. 

The Virginia Company of London appointed a surveyor general for Virginia in 1621, and the crown continued to appoint surveyors general after Virginia became a royal colony in 1624. From 1693 until the Revolutionary War, the College of William and Mary was responsible for the Office of the Surveyor General, which appointed official surveyors and received one-sixth of the fees that they collected. The new Commonwealth of Virginia established the Land Office on 22 June 1779, which continued the earlier practice of transferring title to land only after a survey had been executed. Survey of 765 Acres for Charles Carter

Confusion arose in the case of the Northern Neck Proprietary, more than five million acres controlled by the Fairfax family from about 1685, which the colonial government was forced to recognize after 1660. The Proprietary recognized titles granted previously by the government but maintained a separate land office until 1781. Surveys became part of the legal documentation that determined the boundaries of the Proprietary. Thomas, sixth baron Fairfax, retained control of the Proprietary through the Revolutionary War because he was not recognized as a British loyalist. At his death in 1781, however, the Commonwealth of Virginia considered Fairfax's heirs as loyalists and claimed control over the Proprietary. Ownership of Northern Neck Proprietary was finally decided in favor of Virginia in 1816



Mapping Virginia

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Surveyors and Mapmakers

Mapping Technology

Vision of Empire

Building the Commonwealth

The Geography of Culture

Educators' Lesson Plans

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