Friday, August 21, 2015

TOP STORY >> Louisiana Purchase exhibit in LR

Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston has announced the opening of a new exhibit featuring the survey of the Louisiana Purchase. The exhibit is in the Commissioner of State Lands Office, Room 109 of the State Capitol. Visitors may tour the exhibit from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“This is the bicentennial of the beginning of the Louisiana Purchase Survey,” Thurston said. “Several other organizations are hosting events later in the year, but my office is presenting a snapshot of a surveyor’s life and what they might have seen as they began their survey, especially in southeast Arkansas, where the initial point was established.”

Following the 1803 purchase from France that more than doubled the size of the United States, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Hunter-Dunbar Expedition and other explorations of the new land. It wasn’t until 1815, though, that President James Madison ordered that the land be surveyed to prepare for orderly development and settlement.

In October 1815, Principal Deputy Surveyor William Rector contracted with two other deputy surveyors to begin work. Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown began their journeys on Oct. 27, 1815. Robbins set off north from the mouth of the Arkansas River, on the fifth north-south line (Fifth Principal Meridian) to be surveyed in the United States. Brown’s course began several miles upriver, at the mouth of the St. Francis River, and ran due west on what was termed the “baseline.”

On Nov. 10, 1815, Robbins reached the baseline and sent a message for Brown, who had already traveled farther west, to return. Together, they marked the intersection of the baseline and the Fifth Principal Meridian. This intersection served as the initial point of the first survey. Lands in Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota and parts of Minnesota and South Dakota are measured from that point.

“We all know the basic history of the Louisiana Purchase and the survey,” Thurston said. “But most of us rarely think about the day-to-day life of the surveying teams, the equipment they carried or the tools they used. This exhibit gives a small window into that life.”

The exhibit includes several documents from the Commissioner of State Lands records, as well as physical artifacts surveyors used. Documents include original journals, field notes and maps from the 1815 survey.

Items in the exhibit include an 18th-century flintlock musket, a reproduction flintlock and a surveyor’s compass made by 19th-century silversmith and instrument maker Goldsmith Chandlee. “The compass was actually used in Arkansas in the mid-1800s,” Thurston said.

Other items include camping and cooking supplies, a journal for the surveyor’s field notes and models of animals native to the wilderness that the teams traveled through in the survey’s early days. Those range from voles and squirrels to various species of snakes and an alligator.

The exhibit was developed with cooperation from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, the Historic Arkansas Museum and historical re-enactors Timothy and Sharlene Richardson.

“We appreciate the assistance from all of these groups,” Thurston said. “The artifacts they have loaned us have built this exhibit into something that will be interesting to all ages.”