William McMurry’s Cow Pasture River home, part 2

In part 1 of this series, I explored the available evidence for clues as to where William McMurry and his family settled on the Cow Pasture River in what is now western Virginia in the late 1750s to early 1770s (and probably beyond). I ended that post with an uncertainty as to how to interpret the surveyors’ bearings on three of William McMurry’s land patents.

The surveyors used the metes and bounds method of describing parcels of land, in which the perimeter of the parcel is described using distances and directions. To express direction, the surveyors had used statements such as “south eighty eight degrees west,” and every way I interpreted those bearings resulted in an unclosed polygon. To proceed, I had to first figure out how the surveyors had intended those bearings to be read.

In looking for insight, I found a great body of research called Genealogy of the Berry and Associated Families, by Jim Jackson and Carol Vass (last revised November 11, 2013). In it, they show how such bearings should be interpreted, and they present several worked examples of parcel reconstruction. With this help, I learned that bearings such as “south eighty eight degrees west” were meant to be read as 88° west of due south. Below is an illustration I made to help make these older style of bearings more understandable: Continue reading