Editorial: Rendezvous in Winston-Salem

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When it comes to human nature, some things never change. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the EDM that one of my crews was using quit working. Rather than breaking out the chain, the crew simply returned to the office!

Attendees at last summer’s Surveyors Rendezvous in WinstonSalem, North Carolina learned of a similar account of one survey party’s dedication to its mission while working on the 100,000 acre Wachovia tract in the fertile Yadikin Valley. Alcohol was prevalent on such early-day surveys, with wine and rum being a staple. We learned that when supply of cherry brandy had been lost in an accident, serious consideration was given as to whether the survey should continue until it could be re-supplied. "To the success of the next day!" was a frequent campfire toast.

Founded by a religious group called the Moravians in 1753, the tiny settlement of Bethabara in the Wachovia tract endured many hardships as it grew into the vibrant cities we see today. Early day surveys in the region created land boundaries that exist to this day.

Surveys in those days went for three shillings per 100 acres. A shilling was 12-16 cents, so a 300-acre survey cost around 30 shillings. Surveyors of the day could do three to four surveys a day, and earned around $15 for a day’s work. In Virginia, surveys ran between five and six dollars, and George Washington stated that he could perform as many as four surveys in a day. In a humorous anecdote, it was reported that Washington was offered 500 pounds of tobacco scrip for a survey, to which he replied, "I’d rather have the cash."

The agony of working in the area was amply illustrated. The Great Dismal Swamp was nearby, and one account related that it took eight days to survey ten miles. The estimation of the swamp varied: William Byrd called it a "vast body of dirt and nastiness," while Washington described it as a "glorious paradise." Roger Woodfill, Executive Director of the Surveyor’s Historical Society, said the swamp had been described as "full of whatever will bite and scratch you." Snakes were a problem, most notably canebrake rattlers, but no accounts mention copperheads or cottonmouths. Washington bought 40 acres in the swamp, intending to drain and farm it, but never did. He did, however, make money from cypress shingles that were made from logging the tract. With the exception of very remote areas, the swamp is completely logged today, its massive cypress trees only a memory.

Although early relations with the Cherokee Indians were good, over time the treaty lines, each ending with the phrase "forever and day," kept moving west. John Standing Deer, a present-day Native American surveyor, was once asked what the term "forever and a day" means. He quickly replied, "It means two years."

Native Americans had been trading on the continent for thousands of years prior to the establishment of the Great Wagon Road. Starting in Philadelphia, the road went west to the Allegheny Mountains, then skirted the mountains south to the Carolinas. Local trade was made on plank roads between Bethabara and the Cape Fear River. Because rivers were wide near the coastlines, river crossings were critical, and houses sprung up around fords with inhabitants often charging tolls for help with a crossing.

The Moravians came from Czechoslovakia, and were also known as Hussites after John Huss, a preReformation religious leader who was martyred in 1415. They were pacifists, but were also known for their social, cultural, spiritual and planning skills. At the time, the French, Spanish and English were vying for the territory. The Law of Effective Occupation applied. The French helped start the French & Indian Wars. The English, who wanted all the land lying between 30º and 47º latitude, were occupying the center of the eastern half of the country, and had moved into Charleston in 1670 as a means of keeping the Spanish, who had long-standing claims, at bay. Charleston became an international sea port.

The Moravians already had settlements farther north, most notably at Bethlehem, Nazareth and Littitz in Pennsylvania. When the opportunity for land arose in the Carolinas, they chose a large tract, which was 12 miles on a side and bisected by the navigable Dan River. The earliest survey, performed by William Churton in 1753, consisted of only north-south and east-west lines because Churton was incapable of surveying non-cardinal lines. The 98,985acre tract was composed of 14 deeds, and the name Wachovia, which means "land of streams and meadows," was selected.

In the early days, the church controlled the land and leasing lots. A person wanting to build had to be in good standing with the church, which strictly controlled what could be built and where. In instances where disputes arose, the church would simply buy the improvements. Craftsmen were the backbone of the economy as smiths, carpenters, potters, and others plied their trades. The town of Salem was established in 1766, and by 1772, people started moving in. Winston was established in 1849, and shortly thereafter, R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco giant, came to town. Cotton and woolen mills sprang up, and the town had hydroelectric power by 1897. The town fathers in Salem didn’t want the jail or the courthouse in their town because of their aversion to hangings, so these were established in Winston. Over time, the two towns merged, and today, is the home of one of our nation’s largest banking companies, Wachovia N.A. It also has a thriving tourist trade centered on many of the original buildings.

There is still plenty of time to plan to attend this year’s Rendezvous, to be held at George Washington’s Birthplace National Park in Virginia. It coincides with the celebration of Virginia’s 400th anniversary, and promises to be an excellent event. For the first time, the National Park Service will be a partner as we explore more of the fascinating history of surveying and the development of our country. Here’s to "the success of the next day!"

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