Famous Surveyors

Here's a list of some famous people you probably never realized were surveyors.

Daniel Boone
Boone is one of the most famous pioneers in United States history. He spent most of his life exploring and settling the American frontier. Daniel had 10 brothers and sisters. He had no formal schooling, but he did learn to read and write. He became an expert hunter and tracker by the age of 12

In 1775 Boone and 30 other woodsmen were hired to improve the trails between the Carolinas and the west. The resulting route reached into the heart of Kentucky and became known as the "Wilderness Road." That same year Boone built a fort and village called Boonesborough in Kentucky, and moved his family over the Wilderness Trail to their new home.

Even before Kentucky was admitted as a state in 1792, its lands had become valuable. Boone laid claim to a number of tracts in Kentucky. Litigation arose that questioned many settlers' title to their lands. Boone acquired enormous land holdings in Kentucky by surveying lands on shares for wealthy gentleman in the East. In all such cases Boone guaranteed to secure good lands with clear titles. When he failed to do so he not only lost his own share but found himself in debt to the men whom he had given the guarantee. With all these elements combined against him, he soon found himself hopelessly loaded down with debt.

It was not long before the Kentuckians, who had once all but worshipped him, hated him savagely. His honesty as a surveyor was questioned. Boone was appointed magistrate of his district in 1800, and served until the territory was ceded to the United States in 1803. Again he lost his titles to his land. He gave up official life, withdrew more and more from the world. It is no wonder he was angry. As a member of the legislature he had always been going back and forth between the frontier and the settlements. On these trips he was always being importuned to make land entries for other people. Now the good natured help he had given his neighbors turned out to be a constant source of trouble. Whenever there was a dispute over a land entry - and there always was dispute over a land entry - he was blamed.

James Cook
Cook - sailor, surveyor, cartographer and explorer - was born in 1728, in Yorkshire. He was the son of a farm laborer. In the course of his illustrious career, he sailed into every ocean and was one of the first, if not the first, British explorers to set foot on most of the world's major continents. He was also the first to cross both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles.

In April of 1763, the admiralty, thinking him to be "a Person well skilled in making Surveys' instructed him to chart the coasts of Newfoundland; and this he did, resulting in charts that sea captains yet use today. The charts came about as a result of "five seasons of painstaking and conscientious survey work" (he spent the winters back in England with his family). It was this work that led to him being appointed to go to the Pacific and his multiple explorations in that area of the world.

Abraham Lincoln
Sixteenth president of the U.S. (1861-65) born in Kentucky in a backwoods cabin, Lincoln was almost entirely self-educated. In 1831 he settled in New Salem, Illinois and worked as a storekeeper, surveyor and postmaster while studying law.

Henry David Thoreau
In the early 1850s, Thoreau's facility as a land surveyor became widely known and he supported himself by surveying through the 50s. Thoreau published two books in his lifetime and often gave lectures, but these were never profitable enough for him to give up his surveying. He saw surveying as an opportunity to pursue his real interest: observing the natural world around him. "Surveying," he writes in the Journal, "seems a noble employment which brings you within hearing of [the birds]" (29 April 1856). In 1847, Thoreau described his life for the members of his Harvard class this way: "I am a School master--a Private Tutor, a Surveyor--a Gardener, a Farmer--a Painter, I mean a House Painter, a Carpenter, a Mason, a Day-Laborer, a Pencil-Maker, a Glass-paper Maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster."

George Washington
First president of the U.S., commander in chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, Washington was born in February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia into a wealthy family. He became a surveyor as a young man and was one of the principals of the Ohio Company whose purpose was the exploration of Western lands.

<Back to Land Survey Resources>