CONTENTS

Preface & Acknowledgments

Prologue

Who is Andrew Ellicott                          

  1. A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON
    SPAIN CONTROLS MORE LAND ON THE CONTINENT THAN THE NEW UNITED STATES
  2. GETTING READY
    ELLICOTT GATHERS HIS TEAM AND SUPPLIES
  3. TO PITTSBURGH AND DOWN THE OHIO
    FREEZING WEATHER, FOUR FLATBOATS AND A MILITARY ESCORT
  4. THE CONFLUENCE
    STUCK IN THE ICE FOR SIX WEEKS
  5. DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI
    FIRST CONTACTS WITH THE HOSTILE SPANISH
  6. NATCHEZ
    ARRIVING AFTER A DIFFICULT SIX MONTHS
  7. STEPPING ASHORE
    HOISTING THE AMERICAN FLAG IN U.S. TERRITORY
  8. NATCHEZ MARCH 1797
    NO SIGN OF THE SPANISH SURVEY TEAM
  9. NATCHEZ APRIL/MAY 1797
    DEALING WITH GOVERNOR GENERAL CARONDELET AND COMMANDANT GAYOSO
  10. NATCHEZ MAY/JUNE 1797
    SPAIN ISSUES A PROCLAMATION AND THE INHABITANTS GET ANXIOUS
  11. NATCHEZ JUNE 1797
    LOCAL CITIZENS FORM COMMITTEES FOR AND AGAINST THE UNITED STATES
  12. NATCHEZ JULYSEPTEMBER 1797
    ELLICOTT AND HIS TEAM MOVE TO THE COUNTRYSIDE TO AVOID THE FEVER
  13. NATCHEZ SUMMER 1797
    S. MILITARY REINFORCEMENTS ARE SENT TO NATCHEZ
  14. NATCHEZ OCTOBERDECEMBER 1797
    A GENERAL GETS EXPOSED
  15. NATCHEZ JANUARYMARCH 1798
    THE SPANISH COOPERATE AND MAKE PLANS TO EVACUATE NATCHEZ
  16. DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI TO CLARKSVILLE
    MEETING THE SPANISH SURVEY TEAM
  17. UNION HILL
    GOVERNOR GENERAL GAYOSO CONSECRATES THE BEGINNING OF THE SURVEY
  18. SURVEYING AND ASTRONOMY
    WHAT HE DID AND HOW HE DID IT
  19. POINT OF BEGINNING
    THE SURVEY BEGINS AT THE HIGH WATER MARK
  20. BIG BAYOU SARA
    WILLIAM DUNBAR GOES BACK TO THE EAST BANK OF THE MISSISSIPPI
  21. THOMPSONS CREEK
    THOMAS FREEMAN GETS FIRED
  22. DARLINGS CREEK TO THE PEARL RIVER
    A CHANGE IN SURVEYING METHOD
  23. NEW ORLEANS
    BUILDING THE SALLY TO CHART THE GULF OF MEXICO
  24. MOBILE BAY AND ESTUARY
    PLACING THE ONLY MONUMENT ON THE BOUNDARY LINE
  25. PENSACOLA AND THE COENECUH RIVER
    THE INDIANS POW-WOW WITH THE SURVEY TEAMS
  26. THE CHATTAHOOCHEE AND FLINT RIVERS
    TROUBLES WITH THE INDIANS ESCALATE
  27. FLINT RIVER JUNCTION TO ST. GEORGE SOUND
    THE INDIANS FORCE THE TEAMS TO SPLIT UP
  28. FORT ST. MARKS
    A SURPRISE MEETING WITH THE BRITISH
  29. SAILING AROUND FLORIDA
    AN ASTOUNDING ACCOMPLISHMENT
  30. MARYS VILLAGE
    FINDING THE HEADWATERS
  31. CUMBERLAND ISLAND
    EACH TEAM PREPARES THEIR REPORTS FOR THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT
  32. EPILOGUE

APPENDIX

NOTES

INDEX

SYNOPSIS

This story, ignored by historians for two hundred years, is about measuring and marking the first southern boundary of the United States as provided for in a treaty with Spain. The new nation, exhausted after her breakaway war with Great Britain now faced another powerful adversary with Spain, whose ambition was to control the people and property in North America as she had done in South America.

After the Revolutionary War, Spain controlled more property on the North American Continent than any other nation which included the old British colonies of East and West Florida, the lower Mississippi River and New Orleans, the huge territory known as Louisiana on the west side of the Mississippi, all the rivers draining into the Gulf of Mexico, and most of what would be California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Spain? How did Spain get so powerful? Here’s how.

With the war over in 1783 , the thirteen British colonies, now established as a confederation of states, occupied only that small part of the North American continent south of the Saint Lawrence River down to Georgia and as far west as the Mississippi River. Exhausted by the war, heavily in debt and still working to design a viable federal government, the young United States paid little attention to Spain as she quietly grew her hegemony. The biggest problem: Spain was stopping all U.S. commerce coming down the Mississippi River and passing through New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. Spain was a power to be reckoned with.

For a dozen years Spanish emissaries and U.S. diplomats sparred over the use of the Mississippi River and the exact boundary line between the two nations. Finally, in 1795, both issues were resolved in great detail by the Treaty of Friendship, Limits and Navigation between Spain and the United States – the so-called Pinckney Treaty, aptly named for its chief U.S. negotiator, Thomas Pinckney. The two major provisions of the treaty opened up the Mississippi River for free trade and delineated the boundary line between the six-year-old United States and the Spanish-held territory of East and West Florida. After the new Congress ratified the Pinckney Treaty, President Washington appointed Andrew Ellicott as commissioner for the survey and directed him to organize a team to meet the Spanish survey team in Natchez, a small village with a Spanish fort on the banks of the Mississippi River, and perform the survey of the new boundary.

Washington chose Andrew Ellicott,a second-generation Pennsylvania and the most famous astronomer-surveyor in America. He had no formal education and was self-taught in astronomy, the earth sciences, mechanics and mathematics. The Pennsylvania legislature appointed him to survey all their state boundaries, and he would eventually survey the boundaries of thirteen states, more than anyone in the history of the United States before or since. Elliott was chosen by Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to survey the ten-square-mile District of Columbia as well as many of the boulevards and squares in the new federal capital. Perhaps his greatest achievement, the subject of this book, was his survey of the first international boundary line of the United States dividing the thirteen states from the property owned by His Catholic Majesty, Charles V of Spain.

This is not a biography of Ellicott, but is a close study of what is unquestionably a major achievement.

His exploits in this monumental United States/Spanish survey of the boundary line provide a stunning record of a critical moment in American history. The dramatic stories of his four-year-long efforts are the stuff of fiction. Here are adventures into unknown territory fraught with physical hazard and personal danger, including encounters with hostile Indians, Spanish spies, and a cast of remarkable characters. Revealed in his letters home, there is also a warm tale of spousal devotion (he addressed his wife as “Dearest of All Earthly Beings”) despite his having a washerwoman as a mistress. The stories of Ellicott’s extraordinary work are peopled with men such as William Dunbar (a brilliant scientist and surveyor who lived in Natchez), Manuel Gayoso (the Spanish governor in Natchez and later New Orleans), Anthony Hutchins (plantation owner, obstructionist and English loyalist), Benjamin Hawkins (a former U.S. senator and agent to the Cherokee Indians), and Thomas Freeman (a rival surveyor who would make life miserable for Ellicott). Appearing in this story as well are officials at the highest level of the U.S. government who oversaw and financed his work.

After Ellicott finished the survey and returned to his home in Philadelphia, the capital of the United States, he spent two years writing his manuscript and creating maps of all the rivers and important places in the unknown southwest territory. In 1803 he published the 450-page Journal of Andrew Ellicott about his experience, which included a 300-page diary, 150 pages of astronomical observations and mathematical calculations, and the maps he drew of his travels. This book is based on the Journal and hundreds of his letters to and from contemporaries.

A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON

To understand the historical context and importance of the boundary line between the fledgling United States and the huge territories controlled by His Catholic Majesty Charles V of Spain, it is necessary to briefly unravel the political dynamics on the North American Continent between the major powers. Shortly after Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World in 1492, the Spanish established missions in Florida and along the eastern seaboard of North America. France followed with settlements in Canada and exploration down the Mississippi River to settle New Orleans. Belatedly, in 1607, the English showed up on the continent with their first permanent colony, which they named Jamestown in honor of King James I. For the next 150 years the three nations vied for property ownership and control over the Indians in a series of lethal battles known as the Intercolonial Wars. The English named each of these clashes after the reigning sovereign at the time but because King George II already had a war named after him, the last of these conflicts was named after Britain’s opponents; it was called the French and Indian War. This last war ended in 1763 with an overwhelming English victory. Spain and France gave up their property claims along the eastern seaboard, giving England complete control of the entire Atlantic coast line from the tip of Canada to the bottom of Florida and as far west as the Mississippi River. In October 1763, just months after the end of the French and Indian War, England created three additional colonies: East Florida, West Florida and Canadian Quebec.

England now had 16 colonies on the continent, and the new royal governors encouraged settlers to migrate to the new colonies to secure their holdings. East Florida was described as bounded to the Westward by the Gulph of Mexico and the Apalachicola River, to the Northward by a line drawn from that part of the said river, where the Chatahouchee and Flint River meet, to the source of the St. Marys River and by the course of the said river to the Atlantic Ocean and to the eastward and southward to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulph of Florida.[sic]”

01 East Florida 1763 copy

East Florida 1763 

 West Florida was described as bounded to the Southward by the Gulph of Mexico, including all islands with Six Leagues of the Coast, from the River Apalachicola to Lake Pontchartrain; to the westward by the said Lake, the Lake Maurepas and the River Mississippi; to the Northward by a Line drawn due east from that part of the River Mississippi which lies in 31 Degrees North Latitude, to the River Apalachicola or Chatahouchee; and to the Eastward by the said River.[sic]1

02 West Florida 1763 copy

 West Florida 1763

 In 1767, because of the population growth and potential for income from selling new land, the royal governor of West Florida, George Johnstone, increased the colony’s northern boundary from the 31º latitude to the 32º 28’ latitude. The new boundary was located almost 100 miles further north, near the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers, and extending eastward to the Chattahoochee River. This increase added hundreds of square miles to the colony even though it intruded into the western portion of Georgia. It was this addition to the original boundary of West Florida that would become a major reason for dispute between Spain and the United States after the Revolutionary War.

03 West Florida 1767 copy

 West Florida 1767

The 20 years after the end of the French and Indian War were a time of English control, expansion and taxation to support the colonies. At the same time, the citizens of the first 13 colonies developed a mutual trust, interdependence and an awareness of their own political ideology. The now second and third generation colonists had formed an American identity with greatly loosened ties to English society and culture. As communication among the colonies grew, so did their frustration with the draconian English rule. Every American schoolchild knows what happened next. Thirteen of the sixteen colonies banded together to declare their independence and after seven years of war, the ragtag American forces defeated the powerful English. It had taken 150 years for England to gain control of colonial America and only 20 years to lose it.

The Treaty of Paris of 1783 marked the end of the Revolutionary War between the colonies and Great Britain; its provisions dealt with such issues as property rights, commerce between the two nations, release of prisoners, removal of English forts from American territory and freedom of navigation on the Mississippi River for both nations. Under the Treaty, England would retain control of Canada, whereas the United States would own all the land between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean. The new northern boundary was the St. Lawrence River through the middle of the Great Lakes and then southerly down the middle of the Mississippi River. The southern boundary was the original northern boundaries of East and West Florida, defined as “the 31st latitude north from the Mississippi River to the Chattahoochee River and down that river to its junction with the Flint River and then eastward on a direct line to the headwaters of the St. Marys River.”2

04  U.S._Spain Boundary Line copy

U.S./Spain Boundary Line

The six years after the Revolutionary War were a time of confusion and disorganization for the newly independent colony-states. The policies of the old Second Continental Congress, now called the Confederation Congress, were in place. Unfortunately there was little unity or connection between the colonies, and the elected officials frequently failed to attend the congressional meetings. The Congress’s greatest achievement was to assume each colony’s Revolutionary War debt in exchange for their claims to any land west of the Allegheny Mountains. The idea was to sell that land to migrating citizens, which would bring income into the federal coffers. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 provided for a huge section of land – previously claimed by the northern colonies – between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes and as far west as the Mississippi River to be known as the Northwest Territory. The new nation would expand westward by adding more land rather than increasing the size of each of the existing colony-states. Soon new settlers began pouring across the mountains looking for a new beginning. As the ineptitude of the Congress became more obvious, the delegates voted to design an entirely new government, the upshot of which was the Constitution of the United States. Ratification by the required nine colonies followed, and the United States of America officially came into existence on March 4, 1789.

The presidential inauguration of George Washington brought the beginning of stability and direction to the infantile United States but also led to the enormous task of building a government. Within just a few months, the energetic Congress passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution – the Bill of Rights – which were sent to the states for ratification. The departments of state, war and treasury and their support staffs were established, and the immediate problems of massive debt and paying off loans to veterans, investors and merchants were addressed. By the end of Washington’s first term of office, two more states, Vermont and Kentucky, joined the Union and the once fragile nation was now on the way to solving its economic problems. If there ever was a question of whether the young nation would survive, most Americans now believed the United States would stay the course.3

There were storm clouds brewing, however, and the name of the storm was Spain. While the young post-war nation focused on her own growing pains, Spain was quietly building her North American empire. It wouldn’t be long before the United States took notice. Spain had entered the Revolutionary War more as an ally of the French against the detested English than as an ally of the colonists. While the concentration of the fighting was predominantly on the east coast, Spain enlarged her control over the Floridas and New Orleans and began building forts on the west side of the Mississippi River. At war’s end, in a separate treaty with England, and without any objection from the United States, Spain retained ownership over the Florida colonies and the lower part of the Mississippi River. Neither the boundaries of their property nor navigational rights on the Mississippi River were addressed in the treaty.

After the Revolutionary War, Spain controlled more property on the North American Continent than any other nation. This included the old British colonies of East and West Florida, the lower Mississippi River and New Orleans, the huge territory known as Louisiana on the west side of the Mississippi, all the rivers draining into the Gulf of Mexico, and most of what would be California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Historian Henry Adams summed it up best when he wrote:

Spain’s empire dwarfed that of the United States. From the sources of the Missouri and Mississippi to the borders of Patagonia, two American continents belonged to Spain. The flour and tobacco that floated down the Mississippi or any of the rivers that fell into the Gulf passed under the Spanish flag and could reach a market only by permission of Spain. Of all foreign powers, Spain alone stood in such a position as to make violence seem, sooner or later, inevitable and every southern or western state looked to the military occupation of Mobile, Pensacola and New Orleans as a future political necessity.4

In June 1784, only a few months after the end of the Revolutionary War, Spain closed the Mississippi River to all commercial traffic. Americans were warned if they attempted to come down the river they would expose themselves to arrest and have their property confiscated.5 The closing of the river quickly got the attention of the emancipated colonies, but the ineffectual Confederation Congress was no match to negotiate with the savvy Spaniards. The next decade would see growing Spanish influence on the North American Continent. To add insult to injury, Spain induced the rising tide of westward-bound frontiersmen to stay in the Mississippi Valley by giving them free grants of land, encouraging slavery, allowing non-Catholics to worship freely and guaranteeing a ready market for tobacco. In 1788 as an added incentive, Spain allowed all those who swore allegiance to Spain to travel down the Mississippi with their goods and deposit them at the port of New Orleans for a nominal fee.6

The French Revolution in the 1790s brought political, religious and social changes to France and created turmoil among the monarchical states in Europe as well as in the new United States. To stem the tide of overthrowing centuries of feudalism and aristocracy, Spain and England, mortal enemies for centuries, became allies against France. At the same time, in an effort to keep the United States neutral and prevent alignment with the new French government, England and the United States signed the Jay Treaty of 1794, resolving some issues left over from the Revolutionary War. The next year, Spain ended her alliance with England by signing a treaty with France to end the War of the Pyrenees, but now the recently signed Jay Treaty gave Spain cause for concern that the sudden Anglo-American alliance would unite against her. Spain had to act fast to begin fence-mending with the United States, and the best way to accomplish that would be to open up the Mississippi River. History has a way of making strange bedfellows.

ENDORSEMENTS

endorse1“Dr. Morton has done it again.  Taking a little known topic, he has given us a fascinating story that stands up to the drama that we associate with the great expedition of Lewis and Clark. The star of the story, Andrew Ellicott, is as fine a representative of the American Enlightenment as Jefferson and Franklin (both of whom he knew and worked with).  Over time, Ellicott’s star has fallen into relative obscurity and Morton now brings him back to life.  Bravo for this book – a witness to the politics, science, and history of our nation’s birth.”
Jamil Zainaldin is the president of the Georgia Humanities Council

endorse3“In his award-winning first book, William Morton provided a multi-faceted saga of the creation of Georgia’s borders. He now sets his sights on the longest and most critical boundary between the United States and Spain and on the remarkably accomplished man who undertook the daunting feat of surveying it over the course of four years.  The result is at once a lively tale of adventure and intrigue, a significant contribution to the frontier and diplomatic history of this crucial era, and a compelling portrait of Andrew Ellicott, the man who made it all happen.”
John C. Inscoe is the Albert B. Saye Professor of History, University of Georgia and Editor, The New Georgia Encyclopedia

John Ferling“Through a gripping narrative and careful analysis, William Morton has succeeded in capturing and telling the history of Andrew Ellicott’s late eighteenth century expedition to survey the southern boundary of the United States. In the course of his four year saga, Ellicott coped with the duplicitous Spanish, hostile Indians, impenetrable swamps and forests, and the snakes, and alligators that resided in the stretch from Natchez to coastal Georgia. Ellicott’s undertaking was important and his success in the face of severe difficulties and dangers is worth remembering. William Morton is the first historian to chronicle in detail what Ellicott faced, and accomplished. His account, based on massive research, is written with such verve and gusto that readers will have the sense of being part of Ellicott’s expedition.”
John Ferling is the award-winning author of several books on early America, including Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (2015)

endorse4“Through his extraordinary research and writing abilities, Dr. Morton has highlighted another chapter in Ellicott’s legendary exploits through a story not before heard. By focusing not only on the professional challenges faced by Ellicott, but also on the personal ones, Morton makes him come alive, while at the same time providing an important history lesson.”
Curtis Sumner is a professional land surveyor and the executive director of the National Society of Professional Surveyors.