Surveys, Early Trails & Traces of Perry County

United States Survey of Perry County - 1805

The settlement and formation of Perry County were regulated by two Acts of the Continential Congress: The Land Act of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Because of numerous amendments to the Act of 1785 (1796, 1800, 1804, 1805, 1820, etc.) some, but not all of the original Act was implemented. Most of the differences had to do with the methods of imposing boundaries formed by N-S and E-W grids of mile-square sections on land surfaces of every possible geological formation and also with revisions in the sales procedures. This system of measuring land surface was an all-time first; prior to this directions of boundary lines were determined by the physical formation of each area. [Similarly, while the provision of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 were not followed to the letter, the fundamental principles governed the formation and admission to the union of territories and states from that time forward. The first state to be admitted under these principles was Tennessee in 1796, though it was not a part of the Nortwest Territory. Oddly enough, between 1777 and 1787 Canada could have been made part of the United States merely by agreeing to do so.]

The first principle for any system of surveying is to determine a "point of beginning." As chairman of the committee which eventually developed the Land Act of 1785 Thomas Jefferson proposed a fairly comprehensive plan for measuring and selling the "Western lands." Two of thies provisions -- the establishment of principal N-S meridians at practical intervals and the N-S, E-W boundaries of congressional townships -- remained at the core of future surveying. His proposal of 10-mile square townships was gradually reduced to those measuring 7 miles square, then 6 miles; the latter prevailed.

After at least six experiments with surveying systems in Ohio in the 1780s and 1790s the First Principal Meridian was set at the boundary line for Ohio and Indiana. In 1784 Thomas Jefferson recommended that the Second Principal Meridian extend north from the point where Little Blue River meets the Ohio River at present Alton, Indiana, in Crawford County. This nearly came to be but through entirely unrelated circumstances.

Around 1742 Indians living in the neighborhood of Vincennes (dating from around 1710) agreed that a sizeable tract of land there should be given for the use of the French settlers. After several attemps by those settlers this was finally recognized by the United States in 1802 and the appropriate treaty was signed at Fort Wayne on 7 June 1803. In the autumn of 1802 surveyor Thomas Freeman began outlining the 1,600,000 acres of the since-called Vincennes Tract lying in Illinois and Indiana. (He had surveyed the northern boundary of Florida in 1796 and in the 1820s would survey much of the region south of Tennessee.)

MAP - Treaties

Immediately after 7 June 1803, Deputy-Surveyor Ebenezer Buckingham set about establishing the "point of beginning" for surveying Indiana. Starting as near to the SW corner of Freeman's Vincennes Tract in Illinois as he could locate it he ran an E-W line 67 1/2 miles to a point around 235 feet west of the present Dubois-Orange County boundary. On 15 October 1804 he began at the SE corner of the Vincennes Tract (around 2 1/2 mile ENE of Bristow) and ran a line 22 2/3 miles to the E-W Base Line previously established. Apparently, at this time he intended this N-S line to be the Second Principal Meridian. It is now the line between Range 2W and Range 3W.

A treaty signed at Vincennes on 18 and 27 August 1804 gave the United State control of the region between the Vincennes Tract and the Ohio River extending east to near Louisville. In September 1805 Buckingham extended the E-W Base Line east a distance of 12 miles (2 ranges). A N-S line through this point became the Second Principal Meridian. This Meridian falls around a quarter-mile west of the NE corner of the Vincennes Tract. This point is around 5 1/2 miles south of Paoli and is called Initial Point, the reference point for nearly all surveys in Indiana. Coincidentally, this Meridian lies less that 2 1/2 miles west of the point where Little Blue River meets the Ohio, Jefferson's suggested Meridian point.

As soon as Buckingham completed the line north from the SE corner of Vincennes Tract (the line between R2W and 3W), surveyors Levi Barber, Nahum Bewl, A. Stone, Tupper, and others began subdividing the Vincennes Tract into ranges, townships, and mile-square sections. The Land Act of 1800 prescribed the medthod for subdividing congressional townships: After outlining a township surveying the sections was to begin at the SE corner (Section #36) and progress to the NW corner (Section #6) so that any excess or deficiency is placed on the west or north sides.

After the Treaty of August 1804 this new United States acquisition was subdivided: Range 3W - William and Elias Rector, beginning 26 June 1805. In early July 1805 William Rector left to run the boundary line from Louisville to the Vicennes Tract north of the Buffalo Trace, leaving Elias Rector to complete Range 3W. Range 2W - Stephen Benton, beginning 26 June 1805. By 1810 he was conducting a school for surveyors in Ohio. Range 1W - Ebenezer Buckingham and Elias Bent beginning 2 August 1805. Ranges 4W and 5W - Arthur Henrie, 1805.

Before this subdividing could begin William Rector had to establish and E-W Baseline 24 miles south of Buckingham's Base Line. This extended approximately between Alton and New Harmony. The present boundary between Anderson and Clark Townships is the remainder of this line, the oldest still in use in the county.

Rector's Base Line was the first use of the solution to the problem of convergence of N-S meridians and range lines as they approach the magnetic north. This problem had been recognized from the first years of implementing the Act of 1785: The impossibility of imposing a square checkerboard design on a global surface.

MAP - Districts & Townships (Ebenezer Buckingham, Jr., 1804)

This 20-year-delayed solution is as follows: Every 24 miles a new E-W base lie is run upon which to reset the range lines at 6 mile intervals from the Principal Meridians. This remedy would become less satisfactory somewhere in Canada as the North Pole was approached. Either the number of 6-mile ranges between the meridians must be reduced or the range lines must be less than 6 miles apart. Even these adjustment must be abandoned at some point but by then only miles of snow and frozen ocean will be the geological features which will not demand grid-line surveying.

The sale of Congress Land in Perry County began at Vincennes after 1805 except for approximately 4 sections lying east of the Second Meridian east of Dexter. These parcels of land were for sale at Jeffersonville after 1807.

The Land Act of 1796 was the first to present specific instructions regarding the information to be recorded in the surveyors' field notes. "Each surveyor shall note in his field book the true situations of all mines, salt licks, salt springs, and mill seats, which shall come to his knowledge; all waterstreams over which the lines he runs shall pass: and also the quality of the lands."

In subdividing the area of Perry County south and east of the Vincennes Tract Elias Rector was the least faithful in following those directions. In running the meanders of the Ohio River in Range 3W from east of Troy hill to west of Deer Creek he noted at 3 2/3 miles upstream just below Dozier Creek a coal bank 175 feet long and a "Clift of Rock 30 feet high" between Camp Koch and Lafayette Spring. He did not note crossing the mouth of Windy Creek between Troy and Tell City, Dozier Creek downstream from Cannelton, or Castlebury Creek in mid-Cannelton. The surveyors in Ranges 1, 2, 4, and 5 were more faithful in adhering to the directions. As a bonus they also noted when they crossed a discernible trace. With these bonus nots it is possible to plot the 1805 course of the so-called Rome Trace through Perry and Spencer counties except for the 6 miles of Range 3.

On 19 November 1889 Indiana State Auditor Bruce Carr completed a "True copy of field notes of the U. S. Survey" of Perry County in 1805. Carr did not copy the notes in the order in which they were surveyed. Instead, he grouped them according to the bounds of the sections within each township, so that the data would be more accessible.

A list of the 1805 traces noted in R1W and R2W and a map showing these locations follow. The present-called " Rome Trace " [There was no Rome until 1819] is listed as "The Vincennes Trace," "The Road to Vincennes, " "The White River Trace," and "The Trace from Sinking Creek and White River." (Sinking Creek enters the Ohio River at Stephensport, KY, directly across from Rome.) Item "L" on the list may have been moved from the outlining of Township 6S, 3W by William Rector before he departed in early July. Each township was outlined before it was subdivided into sections.

The earliest available map of Perry County showing the approximate locations of roads is by P. O'Beirne in 1861. on the following maps is shown the actual and probable locations of the 1805 traces, and the 1861 roads, and present-day roads.

MAP-1861 with Rome Trace

MAP -Present day with Old Traces

A. P. 310 South between Sec 8 &9, T7, R1 - 11.25 chains: Road to Vincennes.
B. P. 311 East between Sec 5 &8, T7, R1 - 61.25 chains: Road to Vincennes.
C. P. 309 West Boundary of T7, R1: South on Eastern Boundary [T7, R2] 59.5 chains: crossed a trace...Set post corner Sec 1 & 12, T7, R2 South on Eastern Boundary - 23 chains: Struck the bank of the Ohio, Sec 7, T7, R1 & 2
D. P. 234 South Boundary, T6, R1: East between Sect 31, T6, R1 and Sec 6, T7, R1 - 31 chains: Road leading NW from South
E. P. 254 North between Sec 35 & 36, T6, R2 - 16 Chains: Crossed White River Trace
F. P. 255 North between Sec. 34 & 35, T6 & R2 - 33 chains: crossed a trace.
G. P. 257 East between Sect 28 & 33, T6, R2 - 32 chains: crossed a trace.
H. P. 260 North between Sec 28 & 29, T6, R2 - 29.5 chains: crossed White river Trace
I. P. 261 East between Sec 20 & 29, T6, R2 - 36 chains: crossed a trace.
J. P. 264 North between Sec 19 & 20, T6, R2 - 33 chains: crossed White River Trace.
K. P. 266 West between Sect 18 & 19, T6, R1 - 45 chains: crossed trace from Sinking Creek & White River.
L. P. 253 South on east side of Sec 13, T6, R3 - 50.50 chains: a trace blazed NW.
M. P. 182 North between Sec 25 & 26, T5, R2 - 4 chains: crossed a trace
N. P. 182 North between Sec 26 & 27, T5, R2 - 42 chains: crossed a trace
72 chains: a spring
O. P. 237 South on Eastern Boundary of T6, R2 - 70.50 chains: crossed a trace.
P. P. 320 South between Sec 26 & 27, T7, R2 - 30 chains: crossed a trace.
Q. P. 324 East between Sec 16 & 21, T7, R2 - 16 chains: crossed a trace.
R. P. 327 East between Sec 9 & 16, T7, R2 - 71.5 chains: crossed Vincennes trace.
S. P. 317 South between Sec 34 & 35, T7, R2 - 20 chains: A plantation.


1. Early Indian Trails and Surveys - George R. Wilson (Reprint), Indiana Historical Society - 1986

2. Order Upon The Land - Hildgard Binder Johnson, Oxford University Press - New York, London, Toronto - 1976

3. Public Land Surveys - Lowell O. Stewart, Collegiate Press, Inc. - Ames, Iowa - 1935

4. The Public Domain And Its Survey - J. O Henderson, Audior of Indiana. Wm. B. Burford, Indianapolis - 1893

Spencer County Survey - 1805