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.)

Two new counties were created on 1822 August 12: Jackson County out of the part of Escambia east of the Choctawhatchee River, and Duval County out of the part of St. Johns "lying north of the river St. Johns, and north of a line, commencing at a place called the Cowford, on said river, and terminating at the mouth of the Suwaney river".

The Cowford was the site of a ferry at the foot of Liberty Street in downtown Jacksonville. The mouth of the Suwannee is easy to locate. The only problem: when you draw the line connecting the two places, it crosses the Suwannee several times. This "no man's land" south of the line and north of the river, presently swampland southeast of the Suwannee Palms subdivision, has probably never been settled. Thus there was almost certainly never any problem with the definition of this line, which in any case lasted less than a year before it was shifted north to the Santa Fe River. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries solves the problem by using East Pass for the Suwannee-mouth endpoint (but always using the modern Suwannee for all other boundaries). It also seems to place the Cowford too far north, near May Mann Jennings Park.

References to the head of a river present particular problems, since contemporary maps rarely show the exact path a river takes in its upper stretches. This first comes up on 1823 June 24, when Gadsden County was created and several existing boundaries were moved.

Gadsden County was created from the portion of Jackson east of the Apalachicola River. The boundary that had formerly followed the Suwanee (now Withlacoochee) was shifted east to the Alapaha, so Gadsden also included the triangle of former Duval between the Withlacoochee and Alapaha Rivers (including the modern town of Jennings). Finally, the previously-mentioned direct line separating Duval from St. Johns was completely redefined:
a line commencing at the mouth of Black Creek on said river [St. Johns] and extending up said Creek to where its head waters interlock with the Waters of Alligator Creek, thence in a direct line to the most Eastern waters of said Creek thence down said Creek to its junction with the Santa fe river, thence down said river to its confluence with the Suwanee river, thence northwardly along the margin of said river to the mouth of the Alapaha thence up said river to the point where it intersects the northern boundary line of said Territory
Black Creek (north of Green Cove Springs) is still known by that name, but Alligator Creek is now partly the Sampson River. An 1823 map shows the "interlock" of the two creeks to be a lake near the present city of Starke. Later maps (e.g. 1834) more correctly show that the creeks do not share a source, and have enough differences to make it impossible to pinpoint exactly where the source was thought to be. It's also worth noting that I haven't found any maps that show this as a county line; even the 1834 map, which shows Alachua split out from St. Johns, places the boundary on the old direct line (in fact it was moved again at the end of 1824 to a completely different route). My best guess for the "interlock" is Kingsley Lake, but it could have been anywhere in that general area. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries places it a bit to the south, near the 90 degree curve in SR 230.

About a week later, on 1823 July 3, Monroe County was created out of the southern part of St. Johns. This too referred to a nonexistent river connection: the so-called Charlotte River, which was supposed to drain Lake Macaco (now Okeechobee) into Charlotte Harbor. Wikipedia has more information, but in effect it was supposed to follow Shell Creek and one of its tributaries on the west, and Fisheating Creek on the east. Maps starting in the 1840s mostly show the county line on the Caloosahatchee River, which does actually reach Lake Okeechobee.

The line then followed the north bank of Lake Okeechobee to "its most eastern limits" and then followed a direct line to the head of the Potomac River (now in part the Hillsboro River: see 1842 map). The river has been replaced by a canal, making this line particularly difficult to draw. An 1856 map puts the head somewhere in the general area of the modern Boca Corporate Center and Campus.

Five counties were created on 1824 December 29, the most on any single day (second-most was 1921 April 23, when Charlotte, Glades, Hardee, and Highlands were split out of DeSoto). The Escambia-Jackson line was removed from the Choctawhatchee River, and a new Walton County was created from portions of each. The west edge of Walton County was a direct line north from the east end of Santa Rosa Island (at the mouth of the Choctawhatchee), while the east edge began at
a point on the said line [between Florida and Alabama], whence a line running south East will strike the south east side of Hickory Hill, thence a direct line to Wood's ferry on Bear creek, thence down said creek to St. Andrew's Bay, thence through the middle of said bay to the Gulf of Mexico
Hickory Hill probably refers not to the current settlement at the intersection of CR 162 and CR 181, but to the present Orange Hill, "the most imposing elevation between the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers". A line drawn perfectly northwest from the hill crosses the state line some 4-5 miles west of the Choctawhatchee. A literal interpretation of the description results in a line running south-southeasterly, passing through the present city of Vernon, about 12 miles from Hickory Hill. However, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries draws the border southeast from the state line to Hickory Hill and then south to the ferry, which I believe to be incorrect. Bear Creek is now an arm of Deer Point Lake, but the location of Wood's Ferry is unclear. It was most likely on a road approximating the present CR 2301, which crosses Bear Creek at Cherokee Landing.

The majority of Gadsden County (the portion east of the Ochlockonee River) became Leon County. The east boundary was defined as the Suwannee River, which I've previously discussed. In this case, contemporary maps (two from 1827) show the line moved back west from the Alapaha to the Withlacoochee, but this contradicts the 1827 December 26 law creating Hamilton County "of the County of Jefferson" (which was itself created "out of the county of Leon" on 1827 January 20). So logically the future Hamilton County was now in Leon County, implying the maps to have been incorrect (and also raising the possibility that the earlier maps were also wrong, and Hamilton County was part of Escambia in 1821).

Other than Monroe, the peninsular counties were almost entirely redrawn (even though many contemporary maps show no change to the Duval-St. Johns line). The only portion of a border that remained was the St. Johns River between Black Creek and Julington Creek. The east line of the new Alachua County, which included roughly the west half of Duval and the west third of St. Johns, was defined from
the mouth of big creek, thence up said creek to its southernmost head, thence due south to the main road from Tallahassee to Picolata, thence along said road to a point eight miles distant from the western bank of the river St. John's thence southwardly to a point on the river Oklawaha, where deep creek enters into the same, thence up the western bank of the river Oklawaha to the point where the Indian boundary line intersects the same, thence west and south along the said Indian boundary line to the waters of Charlotte harbour
Big Creek, now called Deep Creek, is a tributary of the St. Marys River, which forms the Florida-Georgia border. But where was its southernmost head? In other words, how far upstream into the swamps do you go before it stops being a creek? Survey maps (e.g. 1848) show it reaching about halfway into Township 3 South, which is about where the creek permanently becomes a swamp on modern USGS topos. A line drawn directly south from this spot intersects the old Bellamy Road (Tallahassee to Picolata) just north of Swan Lake. The Bellamy Road is still the county line for about halfway to the St. Johns River, and most of the remainder still exists as a road. It is therefore not difficult to measure eight miles from the old ferry landing on Bayard Road to a point about 1/2 mile beyond the power lines from Middleburg to Palatka. On the other hand, the description can be interpreted as where the road is 8 miles from the St. Johns on a direct line, which would place the turning point at about the edge of the old strip mine, just west of the line between Ranges 25 and 26 East. This appears to be the interpretation used by the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries.

The next couple segments are simple: a presumably direct line to the mouth of Deep Creek (now under Ocklawaha Lake near the center of Section 29), and then the western bank of the Ocklawaha (as it's now spelled). But the Indian boundary line presents a problem. I may write a separate post about it later, but for now I'll mention that it was defined on 1823 September 18, expanded on 1824 July 29 and in 1826, and eliminated on 1832 October 11 (though portions continued to be used by county lines until 1844 March 14). The best map I've found comes from a federal report named "Indian Land Cessions in the U.S., 1784 to 1894", but I'm unable to match it to the legal description of the boundary (which doesn't seem to exist at all for the two expansions). The south end of this is also problematic: the boundary as shown on the map never gets anywhere near Charlotte Harbor. One possible interpretation is that it picked up the Peace River near Bowling Green and followed that down to Charlotte Harbor. Another is that it merely followed the boundary all the way to Lake Okeechobee; the advantage to this is that it doesn't leave any unclaimed land between Indian territory and Monroe County. Contemporary maps show all sorts of different routes, some intersecting the Gulf at Sarasota Bay (1834) and others following a direct line from the Tampa area to Charlotte Harbor (1836, 1837, 1842). The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries goes to the southwest corner of the reservation and then turns southwesterly to a point along the so-called "Charlotte River".

Nassau County came from the part of Duval north of a line from the St. Marys (Georgia border) at
the point of intersection of a line extended due west from the most westernmost stream of the middle branch of Nassau river, thence along the said middle branch, and main stream of Nassau river, including the islands to and by the north point of Talbot island
The Nassau River no longer has a middle branch, but an 1823 map shows north and south prongs, with the main branch splitting into Alligator and Mill Swamps (now creeks). The west edge of this drainage basin is about 1/2 mile east of the line between Ranges 23 and 24 East, but several distinct tributaries approach the line, and it's not clear which is the "most westernmost". Contemporary maps are all too late, apparently all showing the 1828 November 23 definition along Thomas Creek (the south prong). The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries simply begins the line along Alligator Creek several miles east of Callahan.

The remaining line between Duval and St. Johns was moved, beginning on the Atlantic Ocean at
the point of the intersection of a line passing from the cow-ford road at a point twenty miles from the cow ford, thence through a point three miles north of the dwelling house of Philip Solano in Diego plains, and along the said line to the said point on the cow-ford road, thence to the nearest waters of Julington creek westwardly, thence down the north bank of Julington creek to the mouth of the same, thence due west, across the river St. Johns to the west bank of the same, thence southwardly along the west bank of the river St. Johns to the point opposite Picolata, where the main road from Suwannee intersects the said bank, and thence along the said main road westwardly, to the boundary line of Alachua county.
References to former landowners are particularly annoying, since land records can be hard to come by, and even if they can be accessed, older ones are usually handwritten in chicken scratch. However, in this case, I was able to find a 1993 report stating that the location is near the east corner of irregularly-shaped Section 42 in Palm Valley (page 13 of 17). Three miles north of here is close to the modern intersection of Palmera and Alta Mar Drives. Presumably the "cow-ford road" is the original Kings Road out of Jacksonville, now known in part as St. Augustine Road and Old Kings Road. A rough approximation places the present county line at almost exactly 20 miles from the cow ford (on the old highway, which is still visible just northeast of the ramp from Nocatee Parkway to US 1). A line through these two points intersects the Atlantic just north of Solana Road. At the other end, it's simple enough to draw a line west to Durbin Creek (the primary tributary of Julington Creek, which is too far north), and then follow those creeks and the St. Johns River to the previously-discussed Bellamy Road.

Many contemporary maps (e.g. 1856) place the line on a much shallower angle, but others (e.g. 1882, which is actually after the line was changed to a stairstep) agree more with my analysis. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries completely ignores Philip Solano and draws a line straight east from what USGS topos show to be the head of Durbin Creek as a defined waterway.

Finally, the present Orange County, then known as Mosquito County (spelled Musquito in the law), was created from roughly the east third of St. Johns County, lying east of the Indian boundary and south of a line from the Atlantic at
the point of intersection of a parallel of latitude passing from a point three miles south of the head of Matanzas south river, at Fishe's landing, low water mark, thence westwardly to Dunn's lake, north of Haw creek, thence down the said creek to the south end of Dunn's lake, thence to the mouth of sulpher spring, at the north west side of lake George, thence to the mouth of deep creek, on the river Oklawaha and line of Alachua county
My guess is that "the head of Matanzas south river" is where the Intracoastal Waterway now becomes the Matanzas River just south of Washington Oaks State Gardens, putting the parallel of latitude at about the Hammock Dunes Bridge. The next bit is unclear - exactly where north of Haw Creek did it meet Dunns Lake (now Crescent Lake)? And how could it run down Haw Creek if it's in the lake north of Haw Creek? Most contemporary maps (e.g. 1856) and the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries show it actually running from the Atlantic to near the head of Haw Creek (probably at the split into Black Branch and Black Point Swamp), then along the creek. But after that is the oldest straight-line county border in Florida, from the southernmost point in Crescent Lake directly to the mouth of Salt Springs Run (then Sulphur Spring). Last is another direct line northwest to the Ocklawaha at Deep Creek.

Both edges of Walton County were moved on 1825 December 9. The west boundary was changed from a direct north course from the east end of Santa Rosa Island to a north-northwesterly course to the place where Black Water Creek (now the Blackwater River) crosses the Alabama state line. The east boundary was put back along the Choctawhatchee River, where it had been until 1824, and the northern part of Jackson County became a new Washington County. The dividing line was defined to run from the Apalachicola River at
Hamley's trail; thence Northwardly the nearest direction to the Oakyhill, leaving the settlements of the same to the Southward and westward; thence a direct course to Bunkers, on the Choctawhatchie
I can't find any other references to Hamley's Trail. Contemporary maps (1832, 1834) show the county line leaving the Apalachicola at a trail from Aspalaga to Chipola. Aspalaga Landing is still labeled on modern USGS topos, lying on the east shore of the Apalachicola River about a mile south of the present I-10 bridges (there's still an Aspalaga Road in the area). Chipola was not the present community with that name, but was on the west shore of the Chipola River northwest of Altha. An 1856 map shows both communities and the trail, as well as "Oakey Hill", now known as Oak Hill. The only complication is that the line between Aspalaga Landing and Oak Hill is much more west than north; it's possible that the intended route followed Hamley's Trail to a point south of the Oakyhill and then went directly north (as it was in fact amended to in early 1827). It's also possible that the trail did not actually go to Aspalaga, but was farther south, crossing the Apalachicola where the later Bellamy Road did at Ocheesee Landing (this is where the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries draws the line). I have no idea where "Bunkers" was; the 1830s maps linked above show the county line ending somewhere north of Holmes Creek.

Three separate laws were passed in the 1826-7 session. The first one, passed 1826 December 30, shifted the Duval-Nassau line to the south. Instead of running west from an indeterminate head of the Nassau River to the Georgia line, it followed the Thomas Creek tributary to its head and then took a direct line to the head of Big Creek (now Deep Creek), previously mentioned as the Alachua-Nassau border. As is to be expected, it is unclear where the head of Thomas Creek was considered to be. Most maps appear to place it somewhere around Dahoma, but don't show the curves southeast of Dahoma that are on modern maps. On 1857 January 2 the head was defined to be the southwest corner of Township 1 North Range 25 East, which is not quite on the creek but is in the adjacent swampland.

On 1827 January 12 the line between Jackson and Washington Counties was redefined to begin at the Alabama-Florida line at
the East line of range the fifteenth; thence a direct line to the Oaky Hill, so as to include the settlements thereof: thence a south course to Hamleys trail; thence along said trail to where it intersects the Appalachicola river
I've previously discussed the problems with Hamley's Trail. The rest of the border is simple enough to draw, as it's the first of many laws to use the Public Land Survey System.

Finally, Jefferson County was created on 1827 January 20 out of the eastern part of Leon County. The dividing line was defined as follows:
begining at a point on the Gulf of Mexico, where the line between Range two and three South and East strikes the same: thence, north with said Range line to the South west corner of township one, Range three South and East; thence, in a direct line to where the Mickasuky sinks; thence up the west side or bank of the said Mickasuky to where dry creek empties into the same; thence up said creek to the Georgia line
The Mickasuky is now known as Lake Miccosukee and Lake Drain. Presumably "where the Mickasuky sinks" is what USGS topos call "Lake Drain Sink". Given this, the lines are simple to draw, although Dry Creek appropriately has no continuous waterway to trace.

The 1827-8 session also saw three laws modifying county lines. Two new counties were created from Jefferson County on 1827 December 26: Madison County was east of the "Oscilla [now Aucilla] river, and its most eastern branch or fork" and west of the Withlacoochee, and Hamilton County was the same as it is now: bounded by the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers and the Georgia state line (this is the source of my earlier statement that the 1824 boundary of Leon County probably followed the modern Suwannee). But what was the "most eastern branch or fork" of the Aucilla River? As expected, contemporary maps are unclear; a state-produced map from 1856 shows it on the main branch, even though the boundary was clarified in 1833 to follow Gum Creek, which is an eastern branch of the Aucilla. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries places the 1827 boundary along the Little Aucilla River, a more easterly branch than Gum Creek.

The first of many changes to the Jefferson-Leon line was made on 1828 January 19, moving it east from Dry Creek to a section line. Also on 1828 January 19, the east boundary of Alachua County was clarified to follow the changed (1826) Indian boundary line.

The Jackson-Washington County line was modified again on 1828 October 29, moving it from Hamley's Trail to a sequence of township and range lines and a direct diagonal to Oaky Hill. There is a typo in the description ("the Range line dividing the twelfth and tenth Ranges"). The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries interprets it as the line between Ranges 11 and 12, but I think 12 and 13 is more likely for two reasons: all other townships and ranges are mentioned in numerical order, and Oaky Hill is in the west half of Range 11.

Except for a post-statehood law passed 1845 July 24, the last almost-complete codification of county lines in an act, rather than an after-the-fact statutory compilation, was passed on 1828 November 23. Most counties remained the same, but Duval County's northern boundary (with Nassau County) was modified to run "due west from Thomas' swamp" to the St. Marys River. Presumably the point where this line began was the head of Thomas Creek. But the codification was sloppy: the description of Nassau County includes, verbatim, the redefinition from 1826. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries calls this an "overlap area", but most maps show the new east-west line only, and I believe this was the legislative intent.

In addition, Leon County is said to be bounded "on the north and east by the county of Call"; the Governor vetoed this part of the act. Apparently a new Call County was to come from the northeast part of Leon County, including the entire portion bordering Georgia and Jefferson County, but it was left out of the final version of the law. I can find no other references to this county, though there may be something in the legislative records if they still exist.

That's it for the detailed chronological information; future posts will look at the county lines on a geographic basis.

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