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The states that moved – North and South Carolina boundary lines

Updated on December 10, 2011

Like real estate, in genealogy it's location, location, location. Most records are kept by assorted government agencies, and they usually have one thing in common – they're divided by geography. Knowing where your ancestors lived and died is vital. For genealogists searching in North or South Carolina, there's an added challenge – an uncertain state line that sometimes seems to have moved on a whim.

When first settled in the 1600s, there was only one large colony – Carolina. In the early 1700s, the colony was split into North and South Carolina, but the provinces were ill-defined. Although it's likely that most settlers didn't know or care about the issue, squabbling between the royal governors of the two provinces would have been unseemly, and in 1730, the Board of Trade in London ordered a survey to establish firm boundaries.

While this should have solved the problem, it wasn't quite so simple. In today's terms, it might be considered typical government inefficiency. Despite the mandate to complete the survey, it took seven years before the surveyors were even chosen, and then none of the appointees had any actual surveying experience. The project was finally started, but after months of battling the uncharted and inhospitable terrain, the group gave up miles short of their first objective, the 35th parallel.

This left a somewhat chaotic state of affairs. The Royal Governors of South Carolina decreed that no land grants would be granted within 30 miles of Catawba Indian villages, but these villages were in the unsurveyed area, so it was impossible to accurately determine where that 30 mile limit fell. The Royal Governors of North Carolina, on the other hand, not only weren't worried about Catawba villages, they weren't overly picky about the theoretical boundary line between the colonies. North Carolina basically gave away land that didn't belong to the colony in the first place, sometimes giving away land grants as far as 50 miles into South Carolina.

And this state of affairs continued for almost 30 years. At the end of the French & Indian Wars, England agreed to give a reservation of 15 square miles to the Catawba Indians as a thank you for their support, and the Catawbas were allowed to choose the colony for the reservation. They chose South Carolina. Suddenly, it became much more important to know exactly where the provinces began and ended, especially in light of the fact that South Carolina had already lost over 420,000 acres due to survey errors and North Carolina's habit of granting land that didn't belong to it.

So in 1764, a new survey party was ordered. To avoid any appearance of favoritism, the group included surveyors and blazers from each province, with a commissioner from each province supervising at all times. In a few weeks time, the surveyors were able to build on previous work to complete the process.

Of course, it would be too easy if things ended there. One of the landmarks used to establish the boundary was the Camden to Salisbury Road, which remained in dispute for years. Military actions during the Revolutionary War had altered the course of the road. So had the custom of shifting the road to abandon badly rutted or otherwise impassable sections of roadway. It wasn't until 1813 that an exact boundary line was finally agreed upon – 83 years after the process began.


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