An Account of James Monroe's Land Holdings

© Copyright and All Rights Reserved
By Christopher Fennell

Surveying Terminology

Many of the deeds quoted here set forth the "metes and bounds" of a property, which consist of a surveyor's description of the boundaries of the tract. These terms, such as "N 63 W 141 po. to pointers," require some explanation to be useful.

Surveyors in Virginia in the 1700's and 1800's followed surveying (measuring) and platting (drawing) methods, and used standardized units of measure, that were created in England and elsewhere. A surveyor measured the size and boundaries of a property using lengths of measures such as "chains" and "poles." In 1620, Edmund Gunter developed and introduced into use a measuring chain which was later called a "Gunter Chain." He based the length of this chain on the English statute which set one "pole" equal to one "rod" and both equal to 16 1/2 feet. He created the chain as divisible by 100 by making it in lengths of 100 links totalling 4 poles, or 66 feet. A surveyor could thus take physical measurements in the field using these lengths of chain and divisible numbers of links, and then convert the measurements to poles or feet for later drawing of a survey of the property's boundaries. This made much easier the physical measurements in the field and later conversion of units for making the drawings (Hughes 1979: 32).

The following linear equivalents apply when reading surveys and legal descriptions in deeds from this time period in Virginia:

  • 1 link of a chain = 7.92 inches.
  • 25 links = 1 pole (or 1 rod) = 16.5 feet.
  • 100 links = 1 chain = 66 feet = 4 poles (or 4 rods).
  • 10 chains = 1 furlong = 660 feet = 40 poles.
  • 80 chains = 1 mile.
Similarly, 1 square chain equals 16 square poles, and 10 square chains equal 1 acre (ibid.: 32).

A notation such as "N 63 W 141 po." in a deed refers to a compass direction of 63 degrees to the west from magnetic north, and a distance of 141 poles. The surveyor would thus be standing at a reference point, and plot the next reference of "N 63 W 141 po." by finding magnetic north and rotating 63 degrees toward the west from that point, and then walking out 141 poles distance on that compass bearing. Such uses of transverse compass bearings, measured by 360 degrees, and related distances in poles, were introduced into Virginia surveying in the 1670's and became a predominant practice by the 1690's (ibid.: 50). References to "pointers" concern distinct features close by the corner stakes or trees that marked the boundary turning points.

To view a particular topic on Monroe's land holdings,
click on the desired subject below

1. The Ash Lawn-Highland plantation
2. Monroe Hill, site of the University of Virginia
3. Parcels in Downtown Charlottesville
4. The Limestone Farm in Albemarle
5. The Oak Hill plantation in Loudoun County
6. A residence in Fredericksburg
7. A residence and land in Henrico County
8. Other speculative land holdings in Kentucky and elsewhere
9. A List of Sources and References Cited

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Last Modified: September 2, 2012