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|Ellicott's perilous voyage from Pittsburgh to Natchez, 1796|
Andrew Ellicott was a surveyor and mapmaker who took a perilous journey down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Natchez in 1796 to mark the new boundary line separating American and Spanish lands.
That east-west line, which began on the east side of the Mississippi River six miles below Fort Adams in Wilkinson County, ran to the Atlantic and separated the U.S. to the north and Spanish Florida to the south. Some of you will cross that boundary next week when heading to the LSU-Alabama national championship game. It's the Louisiana-Mississippi border along Hwy. 61 South below Woodville.
Ellicott was 41 when he began his journey to Natchez in 1796. A Pennsylvania native, he was the eldest of nine children of modest means who grew up in the Ouaker faith. His father was a miller and clockmaker.
Showing an understanding of mathematics and mechanics at an early age, Ellicott became a surveyor and mapmaker. Despite the anti-war stance of the Ouakers, he served in the Revolutionary War in the Maryland militia and rose to the rank of major.
After the war, in 1784, he helped extend the survey of the Mason-Dixon line and later taught math at a Baltimore academy. He also served in the legislature. But surveying was his true calling and his projects included marking the boundary of western Pennsylvania and conducting the first topographical study of the Niagara River, including Niagara Falls. One of his most recent projects prior to the Natchez journey was the 1791-92 survey of the future city of Washington, D.C.
So respected was Ellicott's work, that in 1803 President Thomas Jefferson asked him to train Meriwether Lewis in preparation for what became known as the Lewis & Clark Expedition following the Louisiana Purchase.
But before the U.S. purchased Louisiana, the U.S. and Spain in 1795 signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as Pinckney's Treaty and the Treaty of Madrid. The agreement defined the boundary separating the two countries in North America along the 31st parallel and gave the United States, which possessed no lands west of the Mississippi, free navigation of the great river. The treaty also provided the U.S. a right of deposit at New Orleans, which remained a Spanish possession, and included an agreement that both nations leave the Indians be. Additionally Spain was required to remove it's military posts on the east side of the river
On May 4, 1796, President George Washington appointed Ellicott to survey the boundary on behalf of the U.S. Ellicott departed Philadelphia on a horse on September 16, 1796, arriving 12 days later. He had arranged for his baggage, instruments and equipment to be transported by wagon to Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.
Pittsburgh was then 25 years old and contained 200 houses, 50 bricked and framed, the remainder log cabins. The town was the center of western emigration and housed a rapidly-growing boat-building industry.
According to the journal of Thomas Chapman, boat building was the "chief industry...At either river bank could be procured at a moment's notice canoes cut from a single log, pirogues able to carry fifteen barrels of salt, skiffs of from five hundred to twenty thousand pounds burden, bateaux, arks, Kentucky broadhorns, New Orleans boats for use on the Mississippi river, and barges and keel boats with masts and sails."
Ellicott recorded in his journal that Pittsburgh "stands at the confluence" of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, "the junction which forms the Ohio...a great thoroughfare and the trade, of course, considerable - being a point of land and a large river on two sides."
There, Ellicott procured four boats, one with a cabin that was "new and spacious...very elegant," and included "glass windows" and a wood stove. His baggage and instruments arrived at Pittsburgh on Oct. 3. His flotilla included a military escort, his son and other surveyors, and 25 woodsmen to do the back-breaking work of clearing a path through the southern forests to mark the boundary.
Ellicott's party left Pittsburgh on Oct. 24. In his journal, Ellicott recorded detailed information on what he saw and who he talked to along the way down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He took the air and water temperatures, described the geography, made scientific observations and calculated his position with the instruments of a surveyor.
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