18th Century Tract Map - Mt. Jackson, Shenandoah Co., Virginia

Jeffrey La Favre


use this link to view the map

use this link to view selected histories of tract ownership

Surveying during the 18th century in America was challenging and hard work. By modern standards, the instruments used were primitive: a compass to measure direction and a chain, commonly two poles (33 feet), to measure length. With this equipment, the surveyor was expected to establish tracts of hundreds of acres, typically in a day or less. The surveyor was a professional but his crew often included the landowner's family and neighbors. And it was these unskilled laborers who might measure length with the chain (chain carriers) while the surveyor used the compass to measure direction. When the surveyor had a paid crew of his own, the landowner and neighbors where likely to witness the survey. The corners of the survey were usually selected to coincide with trees or groups of trees, if available. Otherwise, a stake might be set. If available, a distinctive geographical feature might be selected as a corner: the mouth of a creek, the fork in a creek, the bank of a river, etc. Or the surveyor might specify a short length from a corner to a geographical feature.

Landowner and neighbor participation in the survey served the purpose of informing the parties concerned as to the actual location of a tract's boundaries. Mutual agreement at the time of the survey could be beneficial in preventing future border disputes. And the knowledge of the landowner and his neighbors could be of value to a future surveyor in cases where the recorded survey data were flawed.

After transcribing hundreds of surveys from the original grants in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, and drafting these out on paper, I have been able to gain some appreciation for the accuracy (or lack thereof) in these old surveys. Clearly some of them have serious errors while others appear to be fairly accurate (nevertheless, a survey that closes properly on paper is not proof of an accurate survey). The errors could have occurred at the time of the survey. It is easy to imagine that the chain carriers could miscount on occasion, for example, in keeping an accurate count of how many times a chain was laid out to measure a line 300 poles in length (150 chain-lengths). It is not unusual for surveys of adjacent tracts, surveyed at different times, to contain different values of angle or length for the same line and the difference in some cases can be significant. There are a number of examples of this situation on this tract map. We are left to wonder why the measurements don't agree. Did one or both of the chain carrier crews make a mistake in measuring the same line? Or was there a confusion regarding which were the correct corner trees, thus measuring two different tract boundaries? Or did the error occur in recording the survey data or later when the survey data was copied by a scribe? All of these and more are possible sources of error in the surveys.

In most cases, the old markers of tract corners selected for these surveys are long gone. In a few cases the markers still exist, usually because they are distinctive geographical features. For example, the mouth of a creek that empties into a river can still be found. However, in this case we must be cautious because waterways can change course over time. We need to judge the surrounding terrain in order to decide how much a waterway might have changed course over the past 250 years. In some cases, old roads, that coincided with old tract lines, have survived to the present. That is particularly evident for some of the tracts plotted on this map: Mary Denham, Joseph Dennum, John Dodson, Jacob Coile, Henry Kelkner (385 ac), George Lindanwoood and John Pennewitz (419 ac).

I have made a concerted effort to place these old tracts on a modern topographic map, as accurate as I can, given the nature of the survey data available to me. For those who need to know the exact boundaries for a tract, this map will not suffice. A detailed study of subsequent deeds and the survey data contained therein might establish more accurate boundaries than found in this map. However, I am unable to devote the hundreds or even thousands of hours necessary to make a more accurate map. This map does establish the approximate location of each tract, and in most cases the tracts are probably located with a fair accuracy. But I can make no guarantees or specification of accuracy.

I would suggest that the aims of most genealogical endeavors, in regards to property ownership, are satisfied by a map of this type, where exact location is not needed. Perhaps more importantly, the map reveals the names of neighbors and provides in a sense, a map of the community.

The tracts on this map are the grants provided to individuals by the Colony and later State of Virginia. It is a convenient starting point in tracking land ownership because the grants, with survey data, are available online from the Library of Virginia. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that the person granted the land was, in many cases, not the first white settler to live on the land. But it is possible to work back in time from the date of the grant to discover others who held the land, for instance in a survey record or a warrant, or an entry placed with a surveyor. After the land was granted by Virginia, further transactions (sales) were recorded in county deed books, which for the most part have survived. I provide selected tract histories, that supply the names of subsequent owners, on a separate page.

I have labeled many tract corners and lines on the map and provide a key below. The descriptions provided are derived from the survey data, containing key geographical information that can be used in judging the accuracy of my tract placements.

Creating a map like this is similar to working on a jigsaw puzzle. In this specific map we are fortunate to have two key waterways: Mill Creek and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Some of the tracts border these waterways, and provide a convenient starting point for placement of the "puzzle pieces." The county surveyors used two approaches to describe a tract boundary on a waterway, one very useful and the other not nearly as useful. In the more useful approach, the surveyor set out a set of short line segments with corresponding corners on the bank of the waterway. In the less useful approach, the surveyor merely specified that the boundary followed the bank of the waterway. I suspect the latter approach was used when the surveyor was in a hurry, or perhaps his standards were not as high as other surveyors. When the first approach was used, we have a nice set of lines that can be matched to the bank of the waterway. And when the waterway has some distinctive bends, it becomes an easy matter to plot the tract upon a modern topographic map (assuming the waterway course has not changed significantly since the time of the survey). Fortunately, there are some tracts that fit well upon the banks of the modern North Fork of the Shenandoah River: Joseph Hawkins (310 acres), Abraham Collett (550 acres), Joseph Allen (153 acres) and George Counts (320 acres). There are also two tracts that follow the bank of Mill Creek, but these are not as useful: John Pennywitz (500 acres) and John Dering (50 acres). The problem here is that Mill Creek is relatively straight, with no distinctive bends. Nevertheless, the survey data seems to fit as I have placed the tracts. The only caveat is that there appears to be a problem with the survey data in the John Dering tract (perhaps a missing line segment or two, or an incorrect specification of the west end of the series of line segments on the creek).

You will note from the map that some of the tracts do not fit well against each other. In these situations it is difficult to decide on the method of plotting the tracts. In most cases I have just plotted the tracts as they are specified in the survey. Of course all surveys should close, even when the survey data does not produce a closed survey. Since most of the surveys do come close to closure, it is only necessary to make small adjustments to make them close. But we are still left with some tracts that don't fit well against each other. The result is that tracts overlap (for example Jacob Powesley and Michael Henley 51 acres) or just fit poorly against each other (Jonas Rynehart 222 acres and his neighbors).

I could just plot the tracts, forcing them to all fit perfectly, a method I have seen before. But then others can't see where the problems are in the surveys and may have a false impression that the tracts are placed with accuracy and precision. My maps depict the tract mismatches, which reflect the inaccuracies inherent in the old surveys. Only when it is fairly clear to me that an old tract border probably follows a modern road, have I slightly altered the tracts to fit perfectly with the roads.


Tract key for selected corners and lines:

Benjamin Allen 400 acres

BM [corner] north side of river
BN [line] crossing the river
BO [corner] south side of the river
BP [line] crossing the river
BR [corner] on a hill side

Jackson Allen 270 acres

BS [corner] side of a hill
BT [corner] at foot of a hill

Jackson Allen 202 acres

CA [corner] beginning at a post, beginning corner of Benjamin Allen's patent, also beginning of Reuben Allen's on SE side of the North River of Shenandoah [to be consistent with the other two mentioned surveys and even this 202 acre survey, this corner could not have been on the southeast side of the river, but the northwest side as I have plotted the corner]
CB [line] extending across the North River of Shenandoah

Joseph Allen 153 acres

CJ [corner] near the bank of the River
CK [corner] on the bank of the River

Joseph Allen 286 acres

CR [corner] by a small drain

Joseph Allen 118 acres

CS [corner] near the North River of Shenandoah

Reuben Allen 625 acres

BU [beginning corner of survey] at a post, northwest side of the North River, near Frankford
BV [corner] on the south side of a ridge
BW [corner] on the northwest side of the river - [then from this corner] up the said river the several courses and distances binding thereon [to the beginning, corner marked BU]

Henry Burkhard 279 acres

AY [corner] by a valley
AZ [corner] in a valley
BA [corner] east side of a hill

Jacob Coile 400 acres

D [corner] south bank of [Mill] creek
E [corner] by a glade
F [line] - crossing [Mill] creek
G [corner] - by a glade

Abraham Collett 550 acres

BF [corner] on the river bank by the great Waggon Road about 30 poles above the mouth of a branch [presumably the creek named Jumping Run]
BG [corner] by a valley
BH [corner] in a valley

George Counts 320 acres

CL [corner] on the bank of the River
CM [corner] on the bank of the River

Joseph Dennum 420 acres

B [line] crossing the branch called Allens Mill Creek

John Dering 50 acres

F [corner] above Richard Marlin's house

John Dodson 260 acres

C [corner] side of Mill Creek

Jacob Funkhouser 10 acres

BX [corner] on the south bank of Mill Creek
BY [corner] on the south bank of Mill Creek

Adam Giger 158 acres

CN [corner] by the edge of a valley

Joseph Hawkins 310 acres

BC [corner] on the river bank
BD [corner] on a level
BE [corner] on a knowle

John Hootzel 344 acres

H [corner] on a hill
K [corner] in a glade
M [corner] - edge of a deep sink hole

John Hough 385 acres

AD [corner] in a glade

Henry Kelkner 385 acres

AW [corner] by a small drain
AX [corner] by a small drain

George Lindanwood 400 acres

A [corner] on a small knoll

Richard Merley 265 acres

L [corner] side of a sink hole
P [corner] - corner of said Pennywhite's on Mill Creek
R [corner] - on a hill on the south west side of [Mill] Creek just above where the said Merley lives

Reubin Moore 230 acres

CH [corner] in a marsh

Ryley Moore 175 acres

CE [line] North 29 degrees East 164 poles, crossing the Mill Creek near the end of the said course and ending in the line of the old grant from the King to Benjamin Allen, thence with that line....
CF [corner]...
South 65 East 46 poles to the North River of Shannondoah [the corner labeled CF] thence up the said River the several courses and meanders on the westerly side to where the line of William Whites old grant crossed the said North River of Shannondoah [the White grant is below the bottom edge of the map].

Jacob Pennywitz 286 acres

J [corner] on a ridge
N [corner] - in a sink hole

John Pennywitz 500 acres

O [corner] on the bank of Mill Creek 2 poles above the mouth of a small valley
CC [corner] on a spur of a ridge
CD [corner] on a ridge

John Pennywitz 425 acres

CG [corner] on a ridge

John Penny[wite] 240 acres

AA [corner] just below the fork of Jumping Run
AB [corner] near the head of a small drain
AC [corner] on the north side of a hill

John Pennewitz 419 acres

AS [corner] by a sink hole
AT [corner] on east side of a hill
AU [corner] west side of a glade

John Pennywite 390 acres

BJ [corner] on west side of creek
BK [corner] east side of a road
BL [corner] Allens Mill Creek

Jacob Powesley 314 acres

BB [corner] just below the fork of Jumping Run

Jonas Rynehard 222 acres

AF [corner] near a sink hole
AG [corner] on a ridge
AH [corner] on the side of a hill
AJ [corner] on a level
AK [corner] in a valley
AM [corner] on the side of a hill
AN [corner] on a hill
AO [corner] on the side of a hill
AP [corner] near a valley
AR [corner] in the edge of a field

Griffeth Thomas 93 acres

CO [corner] on the River opposite to the lower end of a small island

Griffeth Thomas 265 acres

CP [corner] near the North River of Shenandoah

George Weaver 163 acres

AE [corner] on a hill