Behind the scenes with the authors
Clinton Terry and Dan Patterson
Clint interviewing Ron Bolser
The outline for the book came from our discussion on the trip back from our interview with Ron Bolser. As a historian of the long 19th century in America (in my mind, French and Indian War to the administration of Teddy Roosevelt), I had already determined that there was no standard narrative on surveying history. Andro Linklater’s volume, Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History, which I had read shortly after it was published in 2003, told the story of how the adoption of the rectangular grid system affected the development of the United States going forward. In preparation for our interview, I had been reading from Linklater’s bibliography and from general online searches. In the interview, Ron confirmed that I had started well, but that I had a long way to go. One thing that became clear was that there was quite a bit of contemporary literature that I could access that could recreate what 18th century surveyors had to learn and know. Dan and I decided that, whenever possible, we would rely on 18th century sources to write the text. The books by John Love, John Roberson, and M. Bion became the main sources for what surveyors did and had to know.
Here's the one image of Dan and Clint at Conkle's Hollow. Dan is meeting a man from Columbus who asked what we were doing. His name is also Dan Patterson
I had used the basics of plane geometry in estimating jobs for a business I once owned, but had to revisit my old high school and college mathematics to reacquaint myself with the concepts of logarithms and trigonometry. I was able to work through the 18th century instructional texts, slowly, but over time much of it came back. The narratives I consulted made short mention of the tedious calculations that had to be made in the evening and on bad weather days, but they were a constant part of the process and could not quite be captured in a photograph. A surveyor, measuring a plot of land could rely on the Pythagorean Theorem and the rules of triangulation, but the geographer’s work had to be much more precise and calculated by hand. Over time, tables became available, commercially, but much of the calculation was done by hand, in the field. Period images from the Library of Congress, available digitally, supplemented the textual sources.
Clint’s desk with books
The importance of the life of George Washington became apparent immediately and our interviews with Ron and Paul confirmed by our conversations with Ron and Paul. Washington was near the center of the development of the profession and, by extension, the growth of what would be the United States. The George Washington Papers, available digitally from the Library of Congress and the National Archives, have been mined by historians over the years to understand the life and activities of our first President. The papers reveal a man closely connected to the land and its role for the individual farmer and planter as well as the new nation. As a surveyor, as a military officer, as the nation’s first chief executive, Washington’s actions often set, or helped set, precedent. Dan and I recognized the dangers of creating another celebratory recitation of the deeds of a great man, but Washington’s role in how the narrative played out cannot be ignored. He established the Department of the Geographer and ultimately accepted the rectangular grid system, despite being contrary to his own self-interest, as the best system of measuring and recording land ownership in the new United States.