Update: Brent Town Plat

Received in today’s mail, the copy of Savage’s 1737 Brent Town Plat, from the U of Virginia library. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections librarian, Margaret Hrabe, sent 2 courtesy copies with the proviso that I not duplicate the copies lest I be in violation of copyright law, ergo, I cannot post images of the survey here. (But I can cite it a lot.)

What interests me the most are two things: How did Wilson manage to confuse the actual surveyor, John Savage of Stafford County with the other surveyor, James Thomas, who was on hand representing Lord Fairfax? And, secondly, how did Sackett manage to conclude that Brent Town lay within the Foote parcel, when the survey makes it clear not only who the official surveyor was but what he was surveying?

No legal description of the survey was annotated onto the instrument, but the legend makes clear the reason for the survey. It reads:

The Platt of Brent Town as laid off by the Agreement of Wm. Fairfax Esq Agent for Thomas Lord Fairfax and The Proprietors of the said BrentTown (and their attorneys who were absent) which said land contains 30000 Acres and was Survey’d in company [?] James Thomas Surv of behalf of the s’d Lord and was afterward divided by the Consent of the said Proprietors and their attorneys afores’d as in the Platt annexed. Novemb’r 7th 1737

John Savage Surv’r Staff’d Co’ty.

Platted by a Scale of 200 poles in one Inch. 1.

There are a few significant elements which makes Wilson and Sackett’s reading of this survey wrong. In Wilson’s case, the surveyor not only signed his survey (as was customary) but he points out who James Thomas is: Lord Fairfax’s surveyor. And secondly, Sackett is wrong because, again the surveyor points out that the division of the survey among the proprietors occurred “afterward” meaning after he measured the entire 30,000 acres. How could he have divided it otherwise? Lastly there is the name of the survey itself. it is a plat “of Brent Town” If Brent Town fell within Foote’s parcel, as Sackett claims, then the surveyor would have identified it that way in the plat and would certainly bear a different name.

Because there is no indication, it would be difficult to know exactly where the surveyor began but not impossible to plat the survey on graph paper. It is an indiscriminate type survey because each line gives compass directions (calls) rather than just landmarks. For example, the line dividing the Foote and Brent parcel runs “S 45 E 1865 pa” Meaning, running south, 45 degrees east, for 1, 865 poles or — since 1 Pole = 16.5 feet — for more than 30,700 feet of largely wilderness.

There are clear indications of the settlement’s habitation on the map: homes are indicated along the major waterways with the landowners obligingly annotated. Broad Run serves as the settlement’s eastern most border, while Ceder run serves for most of its southern edge. Its northern border could not be defined by a waterway, as none cross the region so conveniently and so Savage drew a line west from Broad Run to Ceder Run near its Walnut Branch.

Savage was obviously clear in what he was doing. He was, after all, not only the Stafford County Surveyor; it was Savage too who, along with Benjamin Winslow, traced the course of the Potomac to its head spring to help delineate one of the Northern Neck boundaries for Lord Fairfax.2He is even considered by some authorities, to be one of the greatest surveyors of his time.3


 1. Photocopy of Platt of Brent Town, ex 7 November 1737, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections, University of Virginia, John Savage, surveyor [accession no. MSS 5200]

2. Roots, Mary M., LS, Robert Brooke, Father and Son, Surveyors of Virginia, Professional Surveyor Magazine Vol. 24, No. 4, (April 2004)

 3. Ibid.




About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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