[February 1738] Tuesd 6 fair. I went with Josh to Mr Wm Wheelers & he went with us & wee Run the Line & marked Trees & put heaps of Stones in Every 20 Rod from the Wallnut Tree by Stantons fence the N E Cornner of Fannings 100 Acres & a Side Line of Mr Wheelers (that was Robert Fannings 30 acres.) unto the great White oak on the Hill the S E. Cornner of fannings 100 acres. I sold my old ox to Mr Wheelar for £12 10s 0d & ye other to Stephen Bennet for £11 10s 0d. Wee Lodged at Stephen Bennets. I hear that my old uncle Greenfield Larabee aged 90 Last april Died on Saturday Night last & was buried a Monday.
Winter, of course, was the ideal time to do survey work in the field. With the leaves off the trees, one’s sight line could be much improved. How Hempstead learned the art of surveying is not mentioned in the diary, but he does make reference in 1722 to buying a needle for the compass and the wire to make the surveyor’s chain, these being the two most important pieces of equipment necessary for the task. The chain is made up of 100 links and is equal to 4 rods of 16 ½ feet, for a total of 66 feet. Thus 80 chains would equal one mile.
Of course there are other tools to measure lines and angles in the field, including stakes to mark the end of one chain and the beginning of the next as one surveys a line more the 66 feet in length, and poles to help provide a clear sight line where things are obscured by changes in elevation. People too were necessary, as this is a task which could not be performed alone; there need to be at least two other people to carry the chain while the surveyor stands at the compass to sight down the line. Hempstead usually notes in his diary the assistance of Joshua, his grandson, and sometimes Adam, his slave.
The piece of land being surveyed mentioned in this diary entry is one that Hempstead is familiar with. This is land in Stonington adjacent to Hempstead’s property which boundaries he needed to renegotiate and reestablish in 1720. Being able to measure land is not the only skill required in this process. As Pat Schaefer points out, “All of this activity needed judgment and negotiating ability as well as surveying skills. … there was much back and forth about the terms of ownership and the exact amounts of land involved.”
We have a copy of Geodaesia, the Art of Surveying, printed in London in 1783 in our collection. A researcher trained in surveying read it recently to see if she could identify some practices common to 18th century surveyors. “Not much has changed,” was her judgment, well, that is before GPS.