Early American Systems of Measurement

This thread started on H-Urban and continued on H-Rural

In the past few months, a few friends and I have been increasingly encountering early systems of measurement used in the United States. These systems encompass increments including the Rod and the Chain as well as the Vara. Accordingly, we are curious to discover whether there has been any work published describing these systems (or other important systems) in general terms and/or whether there have been works that specifically describe their impact on the American landscape. We'd greatly appreciate any sources pointed out by the contributers to H-Urban.

Thanks,

Sean M. O'Donnell University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee sod@csd4.csd.uwm.edu



Date:         Tue, 29 Mar 1994 09:25:02 -0600                                   
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From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Early American Systems of Measurement                         

Two suggestions: Witold Kula has written a fascinating book on the subject, *Measures and Men*, but it doesn't deal with early America at all. On the measures used by surveyors, look for a book written about that group in colonial Virginia by Sarah Shaver Hughes (the title escapes me) and published, I believe, by the Virginia State Library about ten years ago.

Doug Deal History, SUNY-Oswego



Date:         Tue, 29 Mar 1994 11:07:55 -0600                                   
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From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Early American Systems of Measurement                         

[From: IN%"ALBAN%delphi.com@UICVM.UIC.EDU" 29-MAR-1994 02:16:23.05 [To: IN%"H-RURAL%UICVM.BITNET@uga.cc.uga.edu" [Subj: RE: Early American Systems of Measurement <fwd from H-Urban>

rods, chains, sections, and such are still being used in many rural parts of the nation. i live in the middle of missouri, and am in the process of buying 146 acres. part of the legal description goes "mumble, mumble, and all of that part of land except a strip of land 245 feet long and two rods wide."

1 township is 36 square miles 1 section is 1 square mile, also 640 acres 1 acre is 4840 square yards, 160 square rods, 10 square chains 1 rod is 16.5 feet 1 chain is 66 feet 80 chains makes a mile, as do 320 rods there are 100 links in 1 chain, and 25 links in a rod 1 vara is 33 inches, or 2 3/4 feet.

<sigh> some counties put out what is called a Plat Book, which contains all the landowners for that county, usually in pictorial form, and usually section by section, that is, square mile by square mile. some are by township by township, which helps a bit. the definitions for the rods and such, above, come from the 1994 Howard County (missouri) Plat Book.

ted eisenstein, near fayette, missouri.



Date:         Tue, 29 Mar 1994 11:13:48 -0600                                   
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From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Early American Systems of Measurement <fwd from               

H-Urban>

Thanks to Dale Wharton for sending along the discussion on early measurements from H-Urban.


**

> > [...] early systems of measurement used in the United States. [...] > describe their impact on the American landscape.

> Thanks, > > Sean M. O'Donnell

How about French system of measurement and French way of settlement In early XVIIIth century, the territory under French influence covered half of North America. At its zenith (circa 1713-14, on the eve of the Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession), it extended from Acadia and Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains and from the Hudson Bay in the north through the Plains, the Great Lakes, the Ohio and Mississippi valleys down to Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, except for Spanish Florida and the New England corridor between the Atlantic and the Appalachian Mountains, the rest was controlled by the French and their Amerindian allies.

Casanova (1975) shows the imprint of the French way of settlement in a lot of now "american" regions.

Casanova, J.-D. (1975). Une Amerique francaise

     Quebec: Editeur officiel du Quebec and Paris:                              
         La Documentation francaise                                             

Pierre J. Hamel Institut national de la recherche scientifique INRS-Urbanisation 3465, rue Durocher Montreal Quebec H2X 2C6 telephone: (514) 499-4014 telecopie: (514) 499-4065 HamelPJ@INRS-Urb.UQuebec.ca

[The English translation of Casanova's work is:

Casanova, Jacques Donat. America's French heritage with the collaboration of Armour Landry. &Parisa : La Documentation francaise, 1976. 161 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 24 cm. Bibliography: p. 158-160.

For the complete copy of the earlier query, send a note to Listserv@uicvm or Listserv@uicvm.uic.edu with the message:

GET COLONIAL MEASURES

  • Wendy Plotkin, H-Urban Co-Moderator]

    Date: Tue, 29 Mar 1994 11:14:47 -0600 Reply-To: H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list

    <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET> Sender: H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list

    <H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET> From: "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,

    U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU> Subject: Re: Early American System of Measurement

Cross-posted from H-Urban....


A quick search of the University of Illinois on-line library catalog reveals a smattering of books on the subject of surveying in English practice, ancient Rome, and 19th Century Chicago. At another time, a search of a Canadian on-line library catalog is likely to reveal more about French surveying practices in North America, and, of interest to H-Urban, in North American cities.

Wendy Plotkin H-Urban Co-Moderator U20566@uicvm.uic.edu

Richeson, Allie Wilson, 1897-1966. English land measuring to 1880; instruments and practices. Published jointly by Society for the History of Technology and

M.I.T. Press <1966> Series: Society for the History of Technology. Monograph series, no. 2

O. A. W. Dilke. The Roman land surveyors: an introduction to the agrimensores Newton Abbot, David and Charles, 1971. 260 p., 17 plates; illus. (incl. 1 col.), maps. 23 cm. Bibliography: p. 234-250.

Nicholas Raimondi. Chicago surveying before and after the Great Fire Chicago : National Survey Service, <1989>. 43 p. : ill. ; 28 cm. "Presented to the 32nd Annual Conference of the Illinois Registered Land Surveyors Association in Springfield, Illinois on February 16, 1989." Bibliography : p. 41-43.



Date:         Wed, 30 Mar 1994 08:56:58 -0600                                   
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From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Early American Systems of Measurement                         

[From: IN%"LKDYSON%ERS@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "lowell dyson" 29-MAR-1994 12:59:59.57 [To: IN%"H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discussion list <H-RURAL@UICV M>" [Subj: RE: Early American Systems of Measurement <fwd from H-Urban>

>In the past few months, a few friends and I have been increasingly encountering early systems of measurement used in the United States. These systems encompass increments including the Rod and the Chain as well as the Vara. Accordingly, we are curious to discover whether there has been any work published describing these systems (or other important systems) in general terms and/or whether there have been works that specifically describe their impact on the American landscape. We'd greatly appreciate any sources pointed out by the contributers to H-Urban. > >Thanks, > >Sean M. O'Donnell >University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee >sod@csd4.csd.uwm.edu

Earlier in my checkered career I was a land surveyor in the Midwest. Since federal legislation of 1785, official surveys had been done with Gunter's chains (66 ft), which were real chains of 100 links (7.92 inches each). They were subject to a good deal of wear and stretching, and in actuality, very few miles laid out were ever very close to 80 chains (5280 feet). Carelessness or greed (eagerness to get on to the next contract) often led contractors to lose count of the number of chains they had measured. The government surveyors took contracts to lay out counties, usually made up of 16 townships, made up in turn of 36 square miles (sections). They left markers each half mile (section corners and quarter-section corners). On the prairie, like Iowa, lacking trees and even large stones, they used the "pit and mound", digging a little hole with a mound of dirt next to it. One of the first jobs of officials ina newly organized county was to try to put in permanent markers. In my day, we usually found stones, and as we built roads above them we put iron pipe vertically over them so that they could easily be located with a "dipping needle" (a sensitive magnet). The carelessness of early surveyors often led to serious land disputes. Old time roads were almost invariably a chain (66 feet ) wide; old time farmers often set their fence posts a rod (16,5 feet or one-fourth of a chain) apart, so that sometimes we would count fence posts to try to locate where we were.


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Date:         Wed, 30 Mar 1994 18:38:36 -0600                                   
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From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Early American Systems of Measurement                         

[From: IN%"0006351762%mcimail.com@UICVM.UIC.EDU" "David Beiter" 30-MAR-1994 17:57:17.01 [To: IN%"H-RURAL%UICVM.BITNET@uga.cc.uga.edu" "H-Rural Rural & Agricultural History discuss" [Subj: RE: Early American Systems of Measurement

Here is more info on traditional land measure units. This info brought to you by the surveying underground.

In Kentucky, land boundaries are given in "degrees and poles". The degrees are measured with a magnetic compass, with respect to the magnetic north of the local time and place.

Feet. USA feet are defined as 1200/3937 Paris metres.

Poles, perches, or rods. 16.5 USA feet.

Ropes. 20 USA feet.

Gunter's chains. 66 USA feet. 100 links of 0.66 USA feet. Note that there is also a Ramsden's chain which is 100 USA feet, for sesquipedalian surveyors.

Vara. New Mexico vara of 2.742 USA feet. La vara of Texas is closer to 2.78 USA feet. Variable.

Paces. 2.64 feet (1000 double paces per mile). Variable.

Fathom. 6 feet.

Area:

The acre is 10 square chains, or 43560 square feet. That is, unless you are speaking British. In that case, an acre is 4 roods, which is only 0.999997123 of the American acre or 43559.87471 USA square feet.

A square rod [or perch, or pole] is 272.25 square feet, or 0.00625 acre.

A rood is 40 square perches, or a quarter acre. A section in Township and

Range territory is one square mile, 640 acres. A quarter section is 160 acres. That assumes that the section is not an irregular section.

If you are interested in plotting a map from a land description and determining the area, I suggest (toot toot) DEEDPLOT. If you need to actually determine corners and lines on the real ground, use (-: TOOT TOOT TOOT ;-) SURVEY LAND YOURSELF. These are available from better PC shareware vendors everywhere, or direct from the author (that's me) for five bux.

Incidentally, a mess of pork would be enuf for one mess (meal) for however many there are. For a lone prospector, cooking in his mess kit, it might be one porkchop. For an Army mess officer feeding a whole mess hall full of hungry soldiers, it might be a lot more. Think "one meal pack for the 'hole pack".

David P Beiter      .=-.    byter@mcimail.com    .-=.                           
Geochemist      _..-'(                             )`-.._                       
CAVE, Inc    ,/./'-'.]]]\\.       (\_/)       .//[[[.`-`\.\,                    

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Date:         Thu, 31 Mar 1994 13:44:07 -0600                                   
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From:         "Jim Oberly, History Dept.,                                       
              U of Wisc-Eau Claire" <JOBERLY@CNSVAX.UWEC.EDU>                   
Subject:      Re: Colonial Surveying                                            

[From: IN%"daraws%mail.wm.edu@UICVM.UIC.EDU" 31-MAR-1994 12:44:18.93 [To: IN%"@uga.cc.uga.edu:H-RURAL@UICVM.BITNET" "H-RURAL" [Subj: Surveyors in Colonial Virginia

The title Douglas Deal was searching for in his post of 29 March is: Sarah S. Hughes, _Surveyors and Statesmen: Land Measuring in Colonial Virginia_ (Richmond: Virginia Surveyors Foundation, 1979). As he suggests, this book has a notable discussion of surveying practices, but it also discusses the socioeconomic standing gained by surveyors in Virginia as a consequence of their work.

David A. Rawson


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Posted: 9 Jul 1994
 

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