When the Connecticut Land Company survey team located the Eastern boundary of their Western Reserve (also the Western boundary of Pennsylvania) on the fourth of July, 1796, it was already marked in the woods. Surveyors Andrew Ellicott and Andrew Porter had been there 10 years beforein the employ of the state of Pennsylvania. Proceeding from the southern baseline begun by the English surveyors Mason and Dixonand using the same careful methods they had establishedthe Ellicott party traveled north, cutting a swath through the wilderness 20 to 30 feet wide along the entire side of the state to Lake Erie, where Seth Pease and his party came upon their work. At intervals in the center of this strip of clearing were stone markers indicating the boundary line. (Some of these markers still exist and are now being restored and resituated by Ohio volunteer surveyors.)
Excerpts from Letters of Andrew Ellicott and Andrew Porter1787
Following are excerpts from letters written by the surveyors during the second and final season (1787) of their survey of the Pennsylvania Western boundary line. Ellicott's first letter was written to his wife from Philadelphia, where the U.S. Constitutional Convention had just convened behind closed doors. It contains some pithy observations on Noah Webster (who happened to be in town) and on Yankees in general. His second letter was written from Wyoming in Pennsylvania, a settlement made by a Connecticut land company before the Revolution, over which bloody battles had been fought with Indian tribes and Pennsylvania backwoodsmen during and after the War. A federal court of law had recently awarded the area to Pennsylvania and the state of Connecticut had officially renounced its jurisdiction as part of the same political arrangement that secured her Western Reserve. This left the rights of the Connecticut settlers to their land and "improvements" up in the airand frontier Yankees were as tough and contentious as their Western Pennsylvania neighbors.
Philadelphia, May 10, 1787My Dear
Tomorrow morning I shall set out for Lancaster in the StageI have been delayed some days longer than I expected in this City, on account of getting our Instruments in the best order . . . The people of this State continue much divided on the subject of Government; and Politics run highMr. Webster the Lecturer, and authour of the Grammatical Institutes, has been here but a short time; but in that time has had the fortune to enter into the spirit of the contending parties, and has already got his hands full. I yesterday saw three attacks against him. These northern gentry appear mightily pestered with a restless, and uneasy spirit, which some good people who are now lodging with me, suppose must proceed from the remains of that witchcraft, which formerly prevailed in their country . . . .
I am My Dear your
Wyoming, May 29, 1787My Dear
. . .Last evening General Pickering, and several Gentlemen of distinction arrived at this Place from Philadelphia; and on this day the Court is to be opened under the jurisdiction of Pennsylvaniathis circumstance must be one of the most pleasing kind to the honest well disposed People of this unhappy district, which has constantly been in a state of anarchy, and confusion since its first settlementGeneral Pickering has great merit for his exertions to bring the Connecticut claimants to a quiet submission to the jurisdiction of the Stateword is this moment brought in that some of our Saddles was stolen last night, I hope the Villains have left our Horsesthis People fly from the Idea of Government like Pidgeons from a Stormthe thought of a Court of Justice is to the consciously guilty, as terrible as the Talons of a Lion to the Shepherds FlockOur Horses are all safe but every Bridle is gone
I am my Dear your
Observatory on the West side of the Conawango, August, 29, 1787
To: The President and Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania
We arrived at the Cawwanishee Flats on the 11th day of June where the 90th milestone was set up last season. The Susquehannah was remarkably low, which prevented our Boats making the necessary expedition. From the 90th milestone we sent our Instruments up the Thysesa in Canoes about 10 miles, our water carriage then failed, and we had recourse to our Pack-horses, but the ruggedness of the country at the Heads of the Susquehannah, Genesseo and Allegany Rivers soon killed and rendered useless about two thirds, but fortunately for our business, when the Horses failed, we found ourselves on a small branch of Allegany River, necessity then pointed out the propriety of using water carriage as much as possible. We immediately set about making canoes, and by the spirited exertions of our men, with no other implements than three felling axes, two or three Tomahawks and a Chisel, 1 1/2 Inch wide, we compleated in six days for the use of our Pennsylvania party 5 excellent Canoes, two of which are between 40 and 50 feet in length. These Canoes with our Stores, Instruments and Baggage, we hauled 10 miles down a shallow stream to the main Allegany River, our progress now began to appear less difficult and we prepared to proceed down the River to a proper place for correcting the random Line by Astronomical observations, but the day preceding our intended movement, we were ordered by the Indians to discontinue the Line till a Treaty should be held. We met them at the time and place appointed, explained the nature and propriety of the business we were about, and were finally permitted to proceed. We have notwithstanding these difficulties compleated the Line to the 167th milestone from the Delaware and expect to have 28 miles more finished in a few days and the fullest expectation of finishing the business this season in good time, if not impeded by some Uncommon difficulty or accident.
We have the Honour to be
Your very Hbl Servants
Venango, Septr 13th, 1787
. . . We arrived at this place the day before yesterday . . . The Commandant Capt. Hart of Connecticut treated us with every respect we could desire. . . . Lake Erie makes a grand appearance, and lashes the surrounding shores with Billows as large as those formed in the vast Atlanticthe sight of the Human Eye is bounded by the convex Waters and lost over the deep,Could I but convey to you the pleasing sensations I had in this excursion, I should think my time better spent than when employed in Observing the heavenly Bodies,
The United States of America have more natural advantages than any other Governments, or Powers in the World, and if they Judiciously turn to their own account those advantages which they have from the nature of the Country, they must become both rich and powerfull. . . . My constant prayers are for your health and happiness and that of our Dear Children. . .
I am my Dear your
Lake Erie, Oct. 12, 1787
We arrived here on the 8th and the same day began our course of observations which will probably be completed in 5 or 6 daysThe random Line passed between Le Beauf and Presque Isle about 5 miles north of the former, and we conjecture about 6 miles south of the latter. Considering the unexpected difficulties we had to encounter for want of a competent knowledge of the Geography of the Country, the death of our Horses, time taken up in making Canoes, and treating with the Indians, our business has gone on beyond our most sanguine expectations, and will be completed in 14 or 15 days. . . . Neither attention nor exertions have ever been wanting on our parts towards Scientific and permanent completion of the business entrusted to us, and the general behaviour of our men has been such as to entitle them to our thanks.
We are Sir
Your humble Servants
Excerpted from Andrew Ellicott, His Life and Letters by Catherine V.C. Mathews. The Grafton Press, New York, 1908.