Jonathan Danforth (1628-1712)

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


(1628 - 1712)

Billerica, Massachusetts

One of the most influential surveyors in the Merrimack River Valley and its lower tributaries (in Massachusetts and New Hampshire) of the late 1600's and early 1700's was Captain Jonathan Danforth.  Born in Framingham, High Suffolk, England on February 29, 1627/28 to Nicolas and Elizabeth Danforth.  Jonathan moved with his family to Cambridge, England about 1634.  His father was a minister.  The date of Jonathan's arrival in New England is not known, but records in Boston indicate that he married an Elizabeth Powter in that city on November 22, 1654.  Within five years, Jonathan and Elizabeth moved to Billerica, where they raised their eleven children.  Elizabeth died there on October 7, 1689, and Jonathan married Esther Champney of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 17 of the following year.

New Hampshire records show that Jonathan Danforth was active as a surveyor as early as 1659.  Most of his known surveys date from the 1660's, though his last known plan is dated March 1702 (he was then 74 years old).  He gave bearings according to the 32-point compass (i.e. "South and by East, East North East", etc.) and distances in poles.

The late 1600's was also a period of heightened Indian raids in Massachusetts.  Like most able bodied men on the frontier, Danforth trained with the local militia, becoming a captain.  He also served his community as the town "recorder" (clerk) for more than 30 years.

Jonathan Danforth died at the age of 85 on September 7, 1712.  His surveys on the New England frontier helped define accurately what were once remote parcels, but are now the very densely populated towns of Nashua, Hudson, Litchfield, Amherst and Milford in New Jersey, and portion of Massachusetts north and northwest of Boston.


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