Envisaging the West: Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark


Report of Commissioners.

Report of the Virginia Commissioners, 1780
Hening, William Waller, ed. The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, 1821.
Daniel Smith and Thomas Walker report to the Virginia Assembly on their mission to establish a line between Virginia and North Carolina.

To the Honourable the Speaker, and Gentlemen of the House of Delegates, In obedience to an Act of Assembly entitled "An Act for extending the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina,"

We the subscribers proceeded to run the said Line.-The Gentlemen from North Carolina did not meet us so soon as had been agreed; and after they came, many accidents happened which protracted the Business. The place where Messrs. Fry and Jefferson ended their line, on Steep Rock Creek Maps: , could not be found, owing we suppose, to so much of the Timber thereabout being since dead. We proceeded to observation in order to fix upon the spot on Steep Rock Creek Maps: where we should begin. On Monday 6th September 1779, having agreed with the Carolina Gentlemen in Ob-servation, the following Memorandums were entered on their Journal as well as ours, as proper preliminaries agreed upon, necessary for fixing this line, viz. "That the Sun's Meridian Altitude was this day Fifty nine degrees fifty two minutes-that this place of Observation was one Minute and twenty five seconds North of the proper latitude, or one Mile two hundred and one poles and an half-That at Steep Rock Maps: we were in superficial measure 329 Miles West of Currituck Inlet Maps: . That there should be an Abatement of twelve Miles for mountainous and uneven ground, or that we were 317 Miles or five degrees forty two Minutes West of Currituck Inlet Maps: , that a degree of Longitude in this Latitude was 4 23 geographic Miles or of Statute Miles 55 and 1083 yards. That Currituck Inlet Maps: was in 73° 30' West Longitude, this being the average of three different accounts and of course that the Longitude we were then in was 817 12' West of London" We measured off the Mile and 2014 poles and a due South course, and the beginning of the line was thus fixed to the satisfaction of all. We should not have troubled you with these particulars, but for some subsequent events which make us think it our duty. After running the line as far as Carter's valley 45 miles West of Steep Rock Creek Maps: the Carolina Gentleman conceived the Line was farther South than it ought to be, and on trial, it was found that the Variation of the Needle had altered a little, which must have happened very lately, and was owing, we believe, to our being just then near some Iron Ore, because on observing the sun's Meridian Altitude the line was not too far south. As the Carolina Gentlemen by their Observations, made out otherways, they proposed that the Surveyors, on each side, should observe and fix the Latitude. This was agreed to by one of us, induenced by a knowledge of a small Chang, of the variation, and was not dissented to by the other, as most of the Observations on the part of Virginia had been made by him. But quite contrary to our expectations, they agreed we were more than two Miles too far South of the proper Latitude, which distance was measured off directly North, and the line ran Eastward from that place superintended by two of the Carolina Gentlemen, and one of us while from the same place it was continued Westwardly, superintended by the others for the sake of expediting the business. The Instruments proper for ascertaining the Latitude, were mostly taken hack on the eastern part of the line in order that those who super-intended it might be farther satisfied, but after going back more than twenty miles, and observing every day on this line, his judgment was unalterably fixed that this line was wrong, although the Carolina Gentlemen could not seem to be of this opinion, and he returned and overtook his Colleague on the Western part of the Line on Black Water Creek or thereabouts, to whom he imparted his sentiments, proposing that he also should observe for some days-which he did.-The result was that we concluded our first line right, and we brought it up accordingly from Carter's Valley where it had been left and continued on with it to the Westward.

It was once after this proposed by us, and agreed to by the Carolina Gentlemen, that as we differed so much in Observation we would each run his own line, encamp as near together as we could and let future observers, hereafter to be appointed, determine which was right; which might be done at a small expence. But this they afterwards declined altho' they carried their line as far as Cumberland Mountains protesting against our line.-This protest was received in a letter after we had crossed Cumber-land Mountain. We continued however as far as the Clear fork, being 1233/1 Miles from Steep Rock Creek Maps: , marking a Poplar and two Hackberry trees with Initials of our names and with November 22d 1779 and had serious thoughts of going no further. But when we considered that, perhaps, three fourths of the whole expense was already incurred, that a number of People were settling to the Westward, who imagined they were in North Carolina, while we thought they were on the Lands reserved for our Officers and Soldiers;-These, and some more of the like considerations, made us think it more conducive to the good of the State in general that we should keep on, than that we should return. But as the Season was far advanced, and the Country before us, as far as it was known, was very Mountainous and barren, not yielding a sufficient quantity of Cane for our pack Horses, which for some time had been their principal support; these, among other reasons, made us judge it best to leave off running the line here, and go farther to the Westward into a better Country, where by reason of many People being about to settle, it might be of importance to run the line speedily. The Map will shew our rout to a place on Cumberland River, where we built Canoes to carry our Luggage and rest the Pack Horses, which were too much reduced to do service that way. And here, to add to the number of our difficulties and misfortunes, we were froze up more than forty days in a River never known to be frozen before. We went by Water from this place until we got into the proper Latitude (as we judge one hundred and nine miles West of the Clear fork) and began the line on two Beech trees marked with our Names and Feb'y 25, 1780, on the West Bank of Cumberland River, a Creek coming in about a Mile above us on the West Side, and another one somewhat smaller about half a Mile below us on the East Side. From this place we extended the line across the heads of Green River Maps: and Red River Maps: , through a Country called the Barrens from there being little or no timber in it, in many places; crossed the Cumber land again at 131 Miles, where there is a cliff on the North East side and a bottom about three quarters of a mile broad on the other side, and at the end of one hundred and forty miles, one quarter and eight poles from the two Beech trees, on the twenty third day of March found our-selves on the Bank of the Tennessee River, and of course had run the line as far Westward as we were authorized to do, notwithstanding the Hard-ships and difficulties we had to contend with.-One of us kept through the woods with the Surveyor, while the other went down by water, by which means a tolerable Map of the Cumberland River is taken; a fine River being navigable at least 700 Miles from the mouth upwards. When we had returned homewards about 160 Miles we met with orders from his Excellency the Governor to do another piece of service, which we suppose he has made you acquainted with.

We have also since seen Col. Henderson one of the North Carolina Commissioners, who with another of his Colleagues has been examining our line, and he has repeatedly given us much reason to believe their State will establish the line as we ran it.

Thomas Walker
Daniel Smith
From a paper filed in the clerk's office of the House the Governor's Communications, 1780.