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Surveyors Compass

Surveyor's Compass
Goldsmith Chandlee, Winchester, Va., c. 1805.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Surveyors measure out parcels of land for the owners of the land. According to the Autumn 2004 issue of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Daniel Boone operated as a surveyor from 1783 to 1797, and in that time he performed 163 surveys to a total of almost 400,000 acres. Boone surveyed mostly areas of Virginia and Kentucky that had not yet been settled by Euro-Americans.

Daniel Boone would have carried a surveyor's compass much like this one on his surveying journeys. A survey party would consist of the surveyors and usually two assistants. The surveyor would put the compass on wooden legs, and use the internal spirit levels to make sure the compass was level. Then he would use the detachable sights to view the line of the property. His assistants would carry a 100-link piece of chain which was four poles long (sixty-six feet), and would measure out the distance. Then the surveyor would move the compass to the end of the chain and repeat the procedure to the end of the property boundary.

This compass has a counting dial with which the surveyor could keep track of the number of chain lengths he had travelled (up to 16). The compass comes with a table to help the surveyor make easy calculations of distance based on the number of chain lengths. Eighty chain-lengths equaled a mile.

Surveyors kept notebooks to record their work. In these books, they would map out key features of the plot of land they were measuring, so that maps could be made and the plots would be easier to locate later.