Tuesday, January 6, 2015

#54 The Ellicott Line (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Ellicott Line marker on US 231 north of Campbellton
Although the marker is at the state line, the actual
Ellicott line is south of this point inside of Jackson County.
Just south of the Alabama state line and stretching from one side of Jackson County to the other can be found a line of unusual earthen mounds. These mounds are found at precise one-mile intervals and look so much like prehistoric Indian mounds that even professional archaeologists have mistaken their true origin.

They do not date from thousands of years ago nor do they contained artifacts associated with ancient American Indian burials. The mounds actually date from the late 1700s and were built by a team of American and Spanish surveyors. They form the eastern end of a survey known for more than 200 years as the Ellicott Line.

1826 survey plat showing the Ellicott Line in Jackson County
The Ellicott Line came about as a result of the Treaty of San Lorenzo, a friendship agreement signed between the United States and Spain on October 27, 1795. Among other things it established the line between Spanish West Florida and the lands of the United States as the 31st Parallel.

No one knew exactly where to find that parallel, so the two countries agreed to carry out a joint survey to locate and permanently mark their mutual border. Once the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1796, President George Washington appointed Major Andrew Ellicott as Commissioner of Limits to represent the United States in the survey.

Ellicott was already a man of considerable note by the time of his appointment to survey the Florida
Andrew Ellicott
border. Even though he was a pacifist Quaker, he served in the Maryland militia and achieved the rank of major during the American Revolution. After the war he helped future President James Madison complete the survey of the Mason-Dixon Line, a boundary still recognized today as separating North from South.

An acquaintance of Thomas Jefferson, Major Ellicott was appointed in 1791 to survey the borders of the new District of Columbia. That task completed, he revised the original plans for and laid out the nation's capital city of Washington, D.C.

After his appointment as Commissioner of Limits by President Washington in 1796, Ellicott joined with his Spanish counterpart Stephen Minor to locate and mark the 31st Parallel (Latitude 31 North). The parallel remains the border between Florida and Alabama to this day.

One of the Ellicott Mounds in Jackson County
The two men headed a survey and military party that ran the line of the 31st Parallel from the Mississippi River east to the Chattahoochee River at the very northeast corner of what is now Jackson County. Most of the work was actually done by the men of the survey party and not by the two commissioners, who avoided the backbreaking and dangerous of hacking through the virgin wilderness and building a line of large earthen mounds, each one mile from the last, to mark the border. Ellicott and Minor determined starting and ending points, but otherwise traveled by boat to meet the surveyors each time they emerged on a major river.

Elliott's Jackson County observatory was at left on the
west bank of the Chattahoochee River north of Neal's Landing.
By the time the surveyors and their small military escort reached today's Jackson County in 1799, they were in serious danger of being wiped out by irate warriors from the Creek Nation. The Creeks had not given away their lands and did not like the idea of two other nations dividing it up. Only the intervention of Col. Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, and some of the senior chiefs saved the lives of the surveyors.

Ellicott and Minor reached the eastern end of the line on July 25, 1799, and met the survey party on the bank of the Chattahoochee River just north of today's Neal's Landing Park. An observatory was set up there and astronomical and meteorological observations were carried out until mid-August.

Heavy rains, cloudy weather and even a tornado interfered with the work but a final mound was placed just west of the river and the line was ruled complete. The surveyors then dropped down the river to present-day Chattahoochee where they set up another observatory to begin marking the line that divides Florida from Georgia.

1855 survey plat showing the easternmost Ellicott mound.
The Ellicott Line does not actually mark the border between Florida and Georgia. The instruments used by the surveyors were not as accurate as modern equipment and they missed the actual 31st Parallel by a good distance. Troy University resurveyed the line about ten years ago and found Ellicott's mounds as much as one mile south of the actual border with Alabama. The ones in Jackson County are hundreds of yards south of Latitude 31 North.

Of the 30 or so mounds erected along the line in Jackson County, roughly one dozen can still be located today. The others were plowed away or otherwise destroyed long ago. The best preserved ones are along the eastern end of the line north of Neal's Landing.

The 215 year old Ellicott Line is #54 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida. To read more items from the list, please visit: http://twoegg.blogspot.com/2014/03/100-great-things-about-jackson-county.html.

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