Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How we're using GIS II

The process of putting a land patent into ArcGIS from start to finish involves several steps. I downloaded patents from the website “The Library of Virginia’s Land Office Patents and Grants.”  I searched for keywords, including geographical features like “Deep Creek”, and names, such as “Francis Eppes.”  I also set up a base map using georeferenced*  topographic maps and aerial imagery.  The patents were then placed on top of the base map.  After being placed on the base map, property boundaries were evaluated to see where other patents might be located.  For example, on Eppes’ patent, Henry Anderson’s line is mentioned, so I searched for his patent next.  I also had to taken magnetic declination into consideration.  Since magnetic north today is not the same as magnetic north was in 1730, I had to account for this by angling the patent a specified degree.  Finally, to evaluate the accuracy of the patent, I measured acreage. 

Patents were surveyed differently in the 18th century than they are surveyed today.  Land surveyors used a compass and a Gunter’s Chain, which consisted of linked chains.  Surveyors measured distances using the measurement of chains, poles, and links.  If a patent reads “West seventeen degrees North seven hundred and thirty four poles”, the bearing is seventeen degrees north of west 12,111 feet. Once a map was digitized, I made notes in regards to boundary references, such as “Anderson’s line”.  Through this process, I was able to digitize patents and their neighbors.

Fitting a patent onto the base map in the best possible relation to its neighboring patents was one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of the process.  In most cases, it was easy to see how a patent fit in relation with its neighbors. Pinning a patent to a specific point on the map, however, was more difficult. I used several control points, mostly creeks, to try to establish the most accurate location for the patents on the landscape.  Pinning a creek as mentioned in a patent to a modern day creek on an aerial image or a topographic map was sometimes problematic, especially if the modern creek had not maintained its historic name.  I contacted multiple government (local, regional, and national) agencies to try and identify smaller creeks not identified on modern maps, with no success.  My educated guesses placed creek names with modern creeks.  The accuracy of the patent placement depends on the correctness of creek names, making this a significant step in the process.  Historic roads referenced in patents or land transactions were also identified in order to give the area a proper context, and intersections of roads were used as control points where possible.

In addition to land patents, I also traced land transactions in order to obtain an overall view of the land.  I spent time searching through deed and will books from Goochland, Cumberland, and Powhatan Counties and put these finding into ArcMap. It was necessary to search three counties’ deed books due to the division of the area from one large county into smaller counties over time. Knowing a patent’s history and its division over time could help fine-tune a patent’s placement, particularly when specific geographic markers were used. Part of the overall complexity resulted from the difficulties of keeping track of the changing land owners.  Land was frequently divided.  This impacted property boundaries, as they were constantly changing. 

Inconsistencies and errors within the deeds themselves, in addition to illegible handwriting and missing parts of pages, sometimes complicated this process.  Several patents were simply incorrect, while others were impossible to digitize into ArcMap due to their lack of specificity.  Sometimes a distance or a direction was omitted.  In many patents and transactions the phrase “down the Branch according to the Meanders” appeared, which provides no distance or direction.  A related problem was a lack of specificity in the documents.  To illustrate, Eppes’ will indicates that his daughter Ann was to receive the lower end of the moiety, while Martha was to receive the upper end of the moiety.  What Eppes meant by lower and upper was unclear.  However, by keeping track of boundary references over time, this issue can be partially solved.  Another inconsistency arose involving incorrect statements in the transactions.  Issues like these complicate the process.  However, more often than not, I could successfully digitize patents and transactions into ArcGIS.

Crystal Ptacek

*tied to map projections or coordinate systems


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How we're using GIS

The work that I’ve been doing for the NEH grant has so far included many components.  Recently, most of my time has involved collecting historical information concerning the neighborhood surrounding the Indian Camp property and then putting this information into ArcGIS, a computer program that allows us to better see spatial relationships.  This historical research is an important component of archaeology. As we have not found any maps or documents that show the exact location of the original property or its original slave dwellings in relationship to the modern landscape, this research is important.  Searching for slave cabins is difficult enough with a map, and without one can be even more difficult.  Any piece of information that can help us narrow down our search, in this case, the location of property boundaries, can be immensely useful. More broadly, I have been digging through the records of the past (pun intended) to recreate a dynamic neighborhood and to explore the relationships between members of this neighborhood.

Indian Camp was once part of the Virginia frontier.  Francis Eppes had one of the earliest land patents in the area.  Eppes patented the Indian Camp property including 2400 acres in 1730, but never lived there. In his 1733 will, Eppes divided this plantation into two halves, giving his daughter Ann 1200 acres, or “the lower moiety”, while his other daughter Martha received the remaining 1200 acres, the “upper moiety.” The land that I have been researching includes both halves of the property in addition to the neighborhood surrounding this property.

Our first goal is to find slave cabins associated with this site from the time that Eppes patented the property in 1730 until Jefferson, who married Eppe's granddaughter, sold the property in 1777.  Our second goal is to understand the social context of this property through its owners and the slaves who lived there. Studying Eppes’ property and the land around it helps show how land was consolidated by individuals and by families and how landowners controlled access to roads and navigable waterways.

Putting patents and their subsequent divisions into ArcMap has allowed us to gain a better understanding of the neighborhood dynamics that we can’t really understand from the documents themselves – who had the largest parcel, who had the best access to transportation, who had the shiniest Cadillac and the greenest grass (or their 18th-century equivalents).  Young men living on one piece of property might marry young women living a few properties over, so land was exchanged and consolidated between neighbors. Landownership was also divisive: people went to court over land and property disputes.  All of these transactions were documented in court records, which are the records that I’ve been researching.  Members of this neighborhood was highly involved in each other’s lives.  Plotting land patents and deeds in ArcMap has allowed us to see just how this was so.

After I made a series of maps from the historical resources, I could start looking for patterns. Combined with additional research, relationships between neighbors are clearer.  I could conduct a basic analysis of who were the more influential and powerful members of the neighborhood based on acreage, access to navigable waterways, streams providing good tobacco land, and access to roads.  The length of time that a specific piece of property stayed in a given family can also be evaluated. I also did some research to find out landowners' social rank prior to moving into the neighborhood. Most lived in other counties in tidewater Virginia and their holdings around Indian Camp were outlying quarters.

ArcGIS has helped visualize these spatial relationships.  The next part of this process for me will require additional research into these families’ histories. Many of these men who settled the lands around Indian Camp did not come because of a lack of opportunity in their home counties or due to failure in business or agriculture.  Instead, it appears these patentees were quite successful.  Other questions that continuing research will help clarify are the length of time land stayed in a family and the ways in which families dominated portions of the neighborhood by acquiring land in proximity to other family members.  Long-term connections between family members through land ownership have already been made clear.  These connections were a consequence of the expansion of family ties with marriages, births, and friendships. A final part of the process will be attempting to put enslaved individuals and families back on the landscape to try to understand neighborhood from their perspective. Barbara Heath is working with me on this research and is currently collecting information from wills, inventories and tithable lists.

People's shared experiences, networks, relationships, and connections actually make a lot of sense when they are viewed in conjunction with maps produced with ArcGIS and augmented with documentary sources.  Useful tools such as ArcGIS can help archaeologists better understand the power dynamics of the past.

Crystal Ptacek