Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interpreting early county lines

Early legal definitions of county lines were often unclear or contradicted reality, due to rivers and other features not having been surveyed properly. In other cases, features have been renamed, making a historic county line hard to pinpoint.

Even the 1821 July 21 separation of Florida into just two counties presents such a problem:
All the country lying between the rivers Perdido and Suwanee, with all the islands therein, shall form one county, to be called Escambia; and all the country lying east of the Suwanee, and every part of the ceded territories not designated as belonging to the former county, shall form a county to be called St. John's.
The Perdido is, of course, the west edge of Florida (and still the Escambia County line), but the Suwanee (now spelled Suwannee) has been renamed above Ellaville. Contemporary maps (1823, 1834) label the present Withlacoochee as the Suwanee, while the present route of the Suwannee is the New River or Little Suwanee River (except below the mouth of the Alapaha River, where the Suwannee was the Alapaha). By 1840 the Suwanee followed its present course (an 1837 map switches the Alapaha and Withlacoochee, but keeps the Little Suwannee in place). The upshot is that the area now known as Hamilton County was originally in Escambia, not St. Johns, County. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries does not show this correctly. (But see Leon County below: it's possible that the maps were wrong and the Atlas is correct.)