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THOMAS PIERSON, DEPUTY SURVEYOR
Historical Documents from 1675, 1683 and 1701
By Daniel McEver

Thomas Pierson was Deputy Surveyor for William Penn from 1684 to about 1709. His real claim to fame was to help do the very first survey of what is now the northern "arc" of Delaware. This is not hearsay. I now quote the official warrant from William Penn himself to Isaac Taylor of Chester County and Thomas Pierson of New Castle County:


WARRANT FROM WILLIAM PENN TO THOMAS PIERSON [my title]

"At ye request of ye inhabitants of ye county of Chester and county of New Castle that I would grant them a warrant for ye running a dividing line between the two said counties that the inhabitants of ye respective counties which are in question may know to what jurisdiction they belong.

I hereby nominate appoint and authorize thou Isaac Tailer of ye county of Chester in ye province of Pennsylvania and thou Thomas Pierson of ye county of New Castle in ye territories to accompany the magistrates of each county or any three of them within ye space of forty days after ye date hereof to admeasure and survey from ye town of New Castle the distance of twelve miles on a right line by ye river Dellaware upwards and from the said distance to divide between the said counties by a circular line extending according to ye Kings letters pattents and deeds of enforcement from the Duke for ye same and ye said circular line to be well marked two third parts of ye semicircle and make a true return hereof into my secretary's office to remain uppon record and for your so doing this shall be your warrant given under my hand and seale this 28 day of ye 8th month 1701.
WM Penn"

Notes

I found this original document at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. What fascinates me is that this was also the SAME DAY as the signing of the famous Charter of Privileges (28 October 1701), which was law in Penn's province and territories until the Revolution.

Was this a coincidence? Not really. The Charter says that four persons from each county may be elected to the Provincial Assembly. However, at that time there was no clear boundary between Chester and New Castle Counties. So it was necessary to know the exact boundary, so the people could know "to which jurisdiction they belong."

So in effect, Thomas Pierson was helping to carry out the historic Charter of Privileges! In fact, by 1704 the "Lower Counties" or the "Territories" formed their own legislature, so that "county" boundary became even more important. And of course, eventually it became a STATE boundary.

Fifty years later (after October 28th, 1701), an historic bell was cast in order to commemorate the fiftieth year of the Charter of Privileges. It later came to be called the historic LIBERTY BELL. So this Liberty Bell in effect also marked the fiftieth year of Thomas Pierson's marching orders!

You'll never think about the northern boundary of Delaware and the LibertyBell in the same way, will you?!

By 1701, Pierson had been Deputy Surveyor for about 17 years. His counterpart, however, Isaac Taylor, had been Deputy Surveyor for Chester County for only about a year (or less) by 1701. I know this because I found a Henry Hollingsworth as Deputy Surveyor for Chester County in 1700. So when you think of the two surveyors doing this historic survey for William Penn, whom do you think was more likely the "boss" -- the newby Isaac Taylor, or the veteran Thomas Pierson??? Just wondering!

Pierson and Taylor finished the survey on the 4th day of the 10th month, 1701. There were five witnesses, including Cornelius Empson and Caleb Pusey. I went to the spot where the survey began in New Castle (near the "horse dyke"), and there was a sign there. But wouldn't you know it, they got it wrong! The sign reads "surveyed by Empson and Pusey." These were WITNESSES, not the surveyors! I have a copy of the original document that is signed by Pierson and Taylor, and then the witness declaration signed by Empson and Pusey. I talked with a local historian, who said she knows the sign is in error, but it's currently not the city's top priority to put out the $$$ to make it historically accurate.

There is irony in this as well, regarding the fact that EMPSON and Pusey got credit (on this sign) for Pierson and Taylor's work -- I have a copy of an old letter that strongly implies Pierson could not stand Cornelius Empson! Oh well.

Much has been written about the "Taylor-Pierson" survey. There is agreement that it was imperfect, but it held for almost 200 years before it was re-surveyed, and a few adjustments were made. But when it was re-surveyed the desire was to get as close as possible to the original "Taylor-Pierson Survey."

I have some information about Pierson's earlier years. According to Albert Cook Myers (one of the most respected historians in Pennsylvania a few generations ago), an old document dating back to 1675 most likely refers to our Thomas Pierson. Myers refers to it in The PA MAG of History and Biography, Vol. XXI, 1897, pp. 506-507. The manuscript reads:


THOMAS PIERSON'S 'AUTOBIOGRAPHY' [my title]

"Bristol the 24th of 8th 1675"
"To all people to whome this presents shall com this I signifie and certyfie: that the: bearer hereof: Tho: Peirson: hath served me the full terme of seven years according to his Indenture recorded in the Tolzie of this City in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand the day and year above written.
Joseph Kippin"
(In Myers' words: "That which follows, I presume, is in the neat handwriting of Thomas Pierson himself:") [The document continues]:

"on ye 12th day of ye 8th month in ye yeare 1675 I had served my Apprenticeship

on ye 2d day of ye 12th month in ye yeare aforesd I went from Bristoll for London

on ye 14th day of ye 7th month in ye yeare 1676 I sailed from the Downes intending for Maryland in company with Wm Dixon

on ye 9th day of the 9th month in ye year 1676 I arrived in Great Wicka Comma Coe River in ye ship called the Joseph and Benjamin Mathew Pain Commander of ye same/T:P

on ye 14th day of ye 12th month in ye yeare 1681/2 I sailed from without ye capes of Cheseopeak bay in Maryland for England in the ship called the Comfort of Bristol Thomas Whitop Master

on or about ye 20th day of March 1682 I arrived in Kingroad

on ye 25th day of July in ye yeare 1683 I set saile from Kingroad in ye Comfort John Reed Master and arrived at Upland in Pennsylvania ye 28th of September 1683."


Notes

The "Tolzie" was the depository of records. Myers states regarding this document: "It seems to me from the manuscript that Thomas Pierson was a young unmarried man when he came over in the "Comfort" in 1683, and I presume it was he who married Rachel Sharply, of New Castle County, in 1686."

It has been suggested (like in the Balderstone article, see below) that when Pierson said he arrived "in Upland," he meant New Castle. I found this original document at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and it is in surprisingly good shape. I do not know why Pierson went back to England 1682-83.

I am convinced this 1675 document IS from our Thomas Pierson, the Surveyor. The clincher for me is Pierson the Surveyor's well-known, neat handwriting. I have compared over 15 letters of Pierson's undisputed handwriting with the 1675 document, and they are almost ALL identical. I am positive it is Pierson's writing. Besides, considering that at this early date very few people could have written so WELL as on the 1675 document (which I have seen and examined closely), and considering that not many could have written at all, it stretches my imagination to consider that that could have been written by a different Thomas Pierson! I am therefore convinced (and with good company) that these two documents (William Penn's Warrant and the 1675 document) are both referring to the same Thomas Pierson, the Surveyor -- ours!

And now for another record. Marion Balderston wrote an article, "Pennsylvania's 1683 Ships, and Some of Their Passengers," in the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Vol 24:2, 1965. There is a listing for Thomas Pierson among the passengers of the Bristol Comfort, 1683 (confirming the above document). Balderstone reveals the actual luggage that was on board with all the passengers of the Bristol Comfort. Listed luggage for Thomas Pierson is:

THOMAS PIERSON'S LUGGAGE ON THE BRISTOL COMFORT [my title]

"5 doz. wool stockings; 6 cwt. wrought iron; 28 lbs. brass manufactured; 14 lbs. wrought pewter; 40 yds. frieze; 12 lbs. serges; 50 lbs. shoes; 1/2 chest window glass; cwt. cheese; 5 pcs. English fustian; 3 parcels wares value 3 pounds 1 s. 5d."


Notes

Balderstone adds: "He appears to have m. Rachel Sharply and . . . appears to have been the deputy surveyor for New Castle Co., appointed 10 7m 1684."

One other note. Would you believe that on the same ship, the Bristol Comfort, 1683, there was another person on board among the passengers that you may know? GEORGE MARIS! That's right, George Maris and his family were on the same ship that our Thomas Pierson was on. I suppose they got to know each other pretty well on that voyage. Maris had the following luggage:


GEORGE MARIS' LUGGAGE ON THE BRISTOL COMFORT [my title]

"10 doz. dressed calf skins; 1 qtr. malt; 3 1/2 qtrs. wheat; 3 bushels oatmeal; 90 lbs shoes; 1/2 cwt. pewter; cwt. brass manufactured; 2 flitches bacon; 20 cwt. wrought iron; 6 doz. woolen stockings; 10 cwt. cheese; 1 bbl. beer; 3 doz. plain sheepskin gloves; 1 1/2 firkins butter; 33 yds. flannel; 11 pcs. English earthware; 1/15 hhd. aquavita; 1 1/4 cwt. lead shot; 1/4 cwt. gunpowder; 20 ells English linen; 10 parcels several wares value 18 pounds 10s."


Notes

Maris certainly had more stuff than Pierson. If anyone wants to clarify exactly what some of this stuff was, please translate (e.g., brass manufactured, frieze, serges, English fustian, aquavita, etc.)!

Note within my notes

Henry Mendenhall responded to my posting with a definition of some of these words. He found these definitions in "Colonial American English" by Richard Lederer, Jr., Verbatim Publishers, Essex Connecticut, 1985:

Frieze : A coarse woolen cloth with a nap on one side. From French friser "to curl." It is one of the fabrics covered by the Woolen Act of 1699.

Fustian : A coarse, stout, twilled cotton. A 1797 Boston newspaper mentioned, "Caleb Johnson's Variety Store [offered] Kerseymeres, Fustians, Janes, Moreens."

Aquavita : [Latin, literally "water of life"] Spiritous liquor, especially brandy.


Final Note (for now)

I hope you have enjoyed my endless ramblings about Thomas Pierson. One closing note worth considering: Do you suppose that during that long voyage George Maris ever offered young Thomas Pierson any of that beer from his barrel?!? Or dare I say -- the aquavita?!?
--Dan McEver


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17 Nov 1997
Thomas Pierson, Surveyor
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