Surveying Books 1600s - 1700s

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Prepared by:    Francois "Bud" Uzes



One important element in compiling a list of surveying books used in the United States is determining when surveying was first practiced in the colonies. The beginning of the 17th century corresponds with the first lasting settlement by the English in Virginia. That event took place in 1607 and was followed by the landing of the Mayflower in 1620 whereupon the colony of Plymouth was founded. Although the question of when surveying began remains unanswered, further insight is provided in a statement appearing in John Love's Geodaesia: or, The Art of Surveying and Measuring of Land Made Easie. (1688):

- - - and if you ask, why I write a Book of this nature, since we have so many very good ones already in our own Language? I answer, because I cannot find in those Books, many things, of great consequence, to be understood by the Surveyor. I have seen Young men in America, often nonplus'd so, that their Books would not help them forward, particularly in Carolina, about Laying out Lands, when a certain quantity of Acres has been given to be laid out five or six times as broad as long. This I know is to be laught at by a Mathematician; yet to such as have no more of this Learning, than to know how to Measure a Field, it seems a Difficult Question: And to what Book already Printed of Surveying shall they repair to, to be resolved?

While the information is meager it seems certain that surveying was being practiced in the American colonies during the 17th century. Lacking evidence of earlier work it was decided to begin the present compilation with the year 1600.

Surveying book entries dated before 1800 include all English-language works that were either used or were susceptible to having been used in America. Those after 1800 are limited to ones published in the United States with the exception of a few specialty books for which no local counterpart was then available. This compilation contains instructional or "how-to" books and does not include such items as manufacturer's catalogs, etc. The inclusion of government surveying manuals is limited to individually published works having either widespread application or particular significance.

1600's and 1700's

Hopton, Arthur, Speculum Topographicum, or the Topographicall Glasse, (London, 1611). This is a general treatise on land surveying and dicusses the instruments and methods then in use. There are many illustrations showing examples of horizontal and vertical triangles used for determining distances and heights. Hopton wrote another surveying-related work the previous year titled Baculum Geodaeticum Sive Viaticum.

Rathborne, Aaron, The Surveyor in Foure Bookes, (London, 1616), 228 pages. This is one of the all-time classics in surveying literature and set the stage for books that would follow for over 200 years. It contains much history on the manor system in addition to surveying fundamentals. The title page shows instruments of the period including an elaborate theodolite.

Leybourn, William, The Compleat Surveyor: Containing The whole Art of Surveying of Land, by the Plain Table, Theodolite, Circumferentor, and Peractor. (London, 1653), 279 pages with numerous illustrations and diagrams throughout. This was a major work of the period and was reprinted numerous times with the 5th edition of 1722 being substantially expanded upon by Samuel Cunn. The Cunn version included a number of fancied surveying illustrations of which some have been reprinted in recent times and at times incorrectly credited to the 1653 edition. Each edition of the book was larger in content and substance and brought the work to a standard that exceeded most others of the time.

Eyre, J., The Exact Surveyor: or, The whole Art of Surveying of Land, (London, 1654), 224 pages. This is a pocket size work that includes use of the plain table, theodolite and circumferentor. It also instructs on how to plot maps, calculate area, divide land, and account for the difference in length between the statutory and customary pole.

Atwell, George, The Faithful Surveyor, (London, 1658). Atwell was a surveyor and instructor and advocated using the chain and plain table in preference to other instruments.

Wing, Vincent, Geodaetes Practicus: or, The Art of Surveying, Surveyed and laid out in a more Accurate, Plain and Expeditious Plat, then hath hitherto been performed.(London, 1664), 325 pages. Wing is the designer of the 40-link two-pole chain that he stresses the value of when surveying tracts in rods or poles. The work is small in size and intended for use as a pocket book in the field. Almost all copies of the 1666 2nd edition were burned in the great London fire and only 3 are known to survive today. The fire damage is mentioned in William Leybourn's own 1674 surveying book, noting that Leybourn was the publisher of Wing's books. The imposing and much larger 3rd edition was published in 1700 by Vincent's nephew, John Wing.

Holwell, John, A Sure Guide to the Practical Surveyor, (London, 1678). The plain table and semicircle with Gunter's chain are considered sufficient and preferred over needle instruments due to the change in variation.

Martindale, Adam, The Country-Survey-Book: or, Land-Meters Vade-Mecvm, (London, 1682, 1702), 234 pages illustrated with copper plates. This is a pocket size book that focuses on surveying with the chain and use of the plain table. It is intended for youths who prefer a smaller and less expensive work. A number of subsequent printings were made into the 18th century.

Love, John, Geodaesia: or, The Art of Surveying and Measuring of Land Made Easie. . As also How to Lay out New Lands in America, or Elsewhere:, (London, 1688), xxii, 196, 52 . Love published his first edition after returning from surveying in America. He was particularly concerned about the lack of knowledge exhibited by young surveyors in Carolina. Later editions of the book appeared for over a century with the 12th (1793) and 13th (1796) editions being published in New York. The work changed little over the years, even considering the later revisions of Samuel Clark. Instructions are given in use of a Gunter chain and measuring angles with the circumferentor, plane table, and semicircle. There are also directions for taking field notes and measuring and calculating the acreage for plots of land. George Washington (1732-1799) studied surveying from Love's Geodaesia which was widely used in America.

Wyld, Samuel, The Practical Surveyor, or, the Art of Land-Measuring Made Easy, (London, 1725), 182+ pages with 5 plates plus a frontispiece that illustrates instruments made by J.Sisson including a theodolite, level, pantograph, protractor and scale. This is the first English-language text to picture the theodolite as a telescopic instrument capable of measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Subsequent editions followed in later years including a 4th edition in 1760.

Wilson, Henry, Surveying Improv'd: or, The Whole Art, Both in Theory and Practice, Fully Demonstrated. (London, 1726), 320 pages with 11 folding plates. This is a very comprehensive text and describes use of chains, surveying wheel, theodolite, circumferentor, semicircle, plain table and scales. Beginning in 1741 the later editions were supplemented with information provided by William Hume.

Gray, Vincent, The Art of Land-Measuring Explained. (Glasgow, 1757), 307 pages including an appendix explaining instrument, together with 9 folding plates. Gray preferred use of the chain for both linear and angular measure. He advocates that the chain should have 6-inch long iron spikes at the ends rather than wire ring handles that were likely to lengthen with use.

Hammond, John, The Practical Surveyor: Shewing, Ready and Certain Methods for Measuring and Mapping and Adorning All Sorts of Lands and Waters, by the Several Instruments Now in Use: Particularly, of a New Theodolite, 2nd ed., (London, 1731), 189 pages with 3 folding plates and a frontispiece illustrating instruments made by Thomas Heath including the new improved theodolite, double level and universal dial.

Laurence, Edward, The Surveyor's Guide: or, A New Introduction to the Whole Art of Surveying Land, Both by the Chain and all Instruments Now in Use, 3rd ed., (London, 1736), 231 pages of text, 145 pages of tables and 6 plates. This work was first published in 1716 as The Young Surveyor's Guide. Laurence was a surveyor and particularly fond of the theodolite with telescopic sight for taking angles and suggests that every practitioner will soon find the advantage.

Gardiner, William, Practical Surveying Improved: or Land Measuring According to the Most Correct Methods, (London, 1737). This book contains a detailed description of Sisson's improved theodolite. It also includes information on the plain table, chain and circumferentor.

Hawney, William, Hawney's Complete Measurer: or, The Whole Art of Measuring. In Two Parts . 6th ed., (London, 1748) 346 pages.. This work contains an Appendix on Land-Surveying and was first published in 1717. It was a standard work on the subject and widely used. Later editions were published in America including an 1802 edition in Philadelphia. It was published as late as 1820.

Milton, Abraham, The Farmer's Companion, Directing How to Survey Land After a New and Particular Method, (Annapolis, 1761), 34 pages. The author also published in the same year the book The Farmer's Companion; Instructing How to Run Land Without a Compass, and Plot the Same in an Easy Manner.

Noble, Benjamin, Geodaesia Hibernica: or an Essay on Practical Surveying, (Dublin, 1768); 108 pages of text, 47 pages of tables and 2 folding plates. The surveyor is cautioned to invest in a good instrument as many have faults such as unequal divisions to the circle, center wrongly placed, and iron particles in the brass. The focus is mostly on calculating area of irregular parcels.

Gibson, Robert, A Treatise of Practical Surveying; Which is demonstrated From its First Principles. Wherein Every Thing that is Useful and Curious in that Art is fully considered and explained, 3rd ed, (Dublin, 1768), 319 pages with 12 folding plates. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Gibson's Surveying was the American standard against which other works were compared. The earlier editions of 1739, 1752, 1768 and 1777 were published in Dublin. The first American edition was published in 1785 in Philadelphia. Gibson describes use of the circumferentor, theodolite, semicircle, and plane table. He also describes and gives examples for the taking of field notes and the calculation of areas. In the 1800's two versions of Gibson were being offered by different publishers. One was as revised by James Ryan and the other by John D. Craig. The Craig revision moved the individual diagrams into the text thus eliminating the problem of damage to folded plates.

Breaks, Thomas, A Complete System of Land-Surveying, Both in Theory and Practice, Containing the Best, the most Accurate, and Commodious Methods of Surveying and Planning of Ground by all the Instruments now in Use; with Regular Forms of keeping a Field-Book or Journal, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1771), 593 pages plus 17 folding plates. This is a monumental work that is head and shoulders above others of the period although probably too advanced for the average surveyor of that period. It is comprised of 11 sub-books and includes information on the improved theodolite with spirit level and nonius, plane table, sector, chain and perambulator.

Burns, Arthur, Geodaesia Improved; or, a New and Correct Method of Surveying Made Exceeding Easy, (Chester, 1771), 353 pages with 5 folding plates. Burns points out the one big advantage of his book is that it is written by a surveyor having practical experience in the subject.

Carter, John, The Young Surveyor's Instructor; or an Introduction to the Art of Surveying, (Philadelphia, 1774), 64 pages. This book was intended to assist one in becoming a teacher without the help of a teacher.

Waddington, R., The Land Surveyor's Companion; containing the Theory and Practice of Geometry, Mensuration, Land Surveying, Dividing, Leveling, Draining, &c., (London, n.d., c. 1778), 189 pages of text and 4 folding plates showing numerous figures. This book is unique both in its content and rarity. It contains very detailed and practical instructions for surveying by the chain and staff, leveling, angular measure, adjusting instruments, taking field notes and calculating area. It describes at length and draws comparisons between theodolites made by Sisson, Heath and Ramsden, and also of two types of circumferentor. This work does not appear in any authoritative book list nor are copies found in other large collections.

Moore, Samuel, An Accurate System of Surveying, (Litchfield, 1796), 131 pages of text including 8 pages of tables. This is the first substantive totally American work on surveying. It focuses on the need for mathematical skills by the surveyor.

Adams, George, Geometrical and Graphical Essays, Containing a Description of the Mathematical Instruments used in Geometry, Civil and Military Surveying, Levelling and Perspective; with many New Problems, (London, 1791), 500 pages of text and having a frontispiece engraving of a new theodolite capable of measuring both horizontal, vertical and oblique angles. This book came with a companion volume of 32 copper plates that was usually bound separately. Adams was a professional surveyor and instrument maker and produced here one of the very best surveying books of the period. Adams died in 1795 after which date William Jones published corrected and enlarged editions of the work in 1797, 1803 and 1814.

Redfield, Nathan, A Treatise of Surveying, (1796). No copy of this work is known although it is listed in a biographical work.

Ellicott, Andrew, Several Methods by Which Meridianal Lines may be Found with Ease and Accuracy: Recommend to the Attention of the Surveyors of the United States, (Philadelphia, 1796), 32 pages and 2 plates.

Little, Ezekiel, The Usher, Comprising Arithmetic in Whole Numbers; Federal Money; Decimal and Vulgar Fractions; A Description and Use of Coggeshall's Sliding Rule; Some Uses of Gunter's Scale; Superficial and Solid Measuring; Geometrical Definitions and Problems; Surveying; The Surveyor's Pocket Companion, or, Trigonometry Made Easy; A Table of Sines; A Table of Tangents; Miscellany; Tables of the Weight and Value of Gold Coins, Calculated and Designed for Youth, (Creter, 1799), sold by the booksellers in Boston, Newburyport, Portsmouth and other locations; 240 pages The author mentions the theodolite, semicircle and common compass and suggests that each of them may be better understood by a sight of them. A description is given for use of the plain table.

Dix, Thomas, A Treatise on Land-Surveying, (London, 1799), 193 pages with 9 folding plates. A separately bound set of sample field notes accompanied this work as plate 10. A November 1882 article appearing in Engineering News states this work was one of the three most widely used in America by colonial surveyors although copies are not seen today with the frequency of other texts. Subsequent editions appeared as late as 1841.

Jess, Zachariah, A Compendious System of Practical Surveying, and Dividing of Land: Concisely Defined, Methodically Arranged, and Fully Exemplified. The Whole Adapted for the Easy and Regular Instruction of Youth in our American Schools.(Wilmington, Bonsal and Niles, 1799). This was an adequate text for classroom instruction at the time. A second edition was published in 1814.

Dewey, Solomon, A Short and Easy Method of Surveying: Adapted to Every Capacity; Designed Chiefly for Schools and Common Practice: to Which is Added the Square Root, (Hartford, 1799), 24 pages.


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