Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Andrew Ellicott to Thomas Jefferson, 3 June 1812

From Andrew Ellicott

Lancaster June 3d 1811 [1812]

Dear Sir

I have just returned from determining the long disputed boundary between the states of Georgia, and N. Carolina.—The position of that part of the U. S. is laid down very erroniously in our maps, and the strip of country ceded by the state of S. Carolina, to the U. S. and by the U. S. to the state of Georgia, never had any existence but on paper; because, the most northern source of the Savannah river rises north of the 35th degree of N. latitude, and not south of it as has heretofore been supposed.

During this excursion, I have made a considerable number of astronomical observations, exclusive of those used for the determination of the boundary, particularly on the eclipse of the sun on the 17th of September last, and on the comet, which I shall forward to the National Institute as soon as I have leisure from the cultivation of my garden, (which I have to labour with my own hands), to make out the results—Our operations were performed in a very interesting part of the country, on account of the numerous mountains, stupendous precipices of granite rocks, and beautiful cascades.—The altitude of the Table mountain in S. Carolina, I found to be 1600 feet above the Saludy. The Table rock, which forms the top of the mountain, may be considered a real curiosity, its sides in some places are perpendicular, with an altitude1 of 300 feet.

As I intend publishing some account of that part of the U. S. it would now be unnecessary to go into any detail, as I shall furnish you with a copy.

I am sir, with due respect and esteem, your friend & Hbl servt

Andw Ellicott.

RC (DLC: TJ Papers, 193:34347); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; misdated; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 3 June 1812 received seven days later and so recorded in SJL.

Andrew Ellicott (1754–1820), surveyor, mathematician, and astronomer, was a native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who studied mathematics under Robert Patterson. He moved in 1775 to what became Ellicott City, Maryland, to work in his family’s clockmaking and milling enterprises. Ellicott rose to the rank of major in the Maryland militia during the Revolutionary War. He made mathematical instruments and taught briefly, but soon embarked on a surveying career spanning thirty-five years. Ellicott typically devoted himself to scholarly and domestic pursuits in the winter and to surveying in the warmer months. His most important assignments included work establishing or seeking to set the boundaries between parts of what is now West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania and New York, the United States and Spanish Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, and the United States and Canada. He laid out the town of Erie, Pennsylvania, and roads to it from Reading in the same state. In 1791 Ellicott surveyed the ten-square-mile tract for the nation’s new capital, an endeavor that TJ closely monitored in his capacity as secretary of state. A decade later Ellicott turned down TJ’s offer to appoint him United States surveyor general. Ellicott was the secretary of the Pennsylvania Land Office in Lancaster, 1801–09, and professor of mathematics at the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1813 until his death. He published almanacs, scientific observations, and descriptions of his surveying work, some of which TJ owned. Elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1785, Ellicott served as a vice president in 1801 and a counsellor for eighteen years. In 1808 he was elected to the Institut de France (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Catharine VanCortlandt Mathews, Andrew Ellicott: His Life and Letters [1908; repr. 1997]; Silvio A. Bedini, “Andrew Ellicott, Surveyor of the Wilderness,” Surveying and Mapping 36 [1976]: 113–35; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 22 Jan. 1785, 3 Jan. 1800, 2 Jan. 1801, 6 Jan. 1815 [MS in PPAmP]; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , esp. 19:68–71, 24:664, 25:54–5, 449; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends nos. 657, 3779, 4086; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:210, 211, 2:477, 509 [21, 24 May 1796, 17 Feb., 11 Mar. 1814]; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 2:401; New-York Evening Post, 29 Aug. 1820).

Ellicott had been engaged by Georgia to run its boundary with North Carolina. Unhappy with his discovery that the strip of country ceded from South Carolina to Georgia by way of the United States never had any existence, the governor of Georgia allowed him much less than the sum originally stipulated (Mathews, Andrew Ellicott, 176).

1Preceding three words interlined in place of “for the space.”

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • Ellicott, Andrew (1754–1820); as surveyor search
  • Ellicott, Andrew (1754–1820); astronomical observations of search
  • Ellicott, Andrew (1754–1820); identified search
  • Ellicott, Andrew (1754–1820); letters from search
  • Ellicott, Andrew (1754–1820); TJ offers appointment to search
  • Georgia; surveying of search
  • Institut de France; members of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as secretary of state search
  • North Carolina; surveying of search
  • Patterson, Robert; mentioned search
  • Pennsylvania Land Office search
  • South Carolina; mountains in search
  • surveying; and A. Ellicott search
  • surveying; of Washington search
  • United States Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.); faculty of search
  • Washington (D.C.); surveying of search