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Historically Fort Bend:
Surveying the Land


A telescope of a kind used by surveyors


An iron surveyor’s chain


A telescope of a kind used by surveyors; and a surveyor’s transit

Imagine that you have arrived in colonial Texas and applied for your land grant. Married heads of families received a league (4428 acres) if they declared that they were a rancher, and a labor (177 acres) if they declared they were a farmer. They were granted both acreages if they chose to be both a farmer and a rancher. Single people received only a labor of land. How do you know exactly where your grant is, or where your land stops and your neighbor’s begins?

This is the job of the surveyor. Surveyors like Horatio Chriesman, who worked for Stephen F. Austin, used their knowledge of the land and some special equipment to measure the boundaries and area of a property. They made their measurements using landmarks such as creeks, rivers, trees, posts, and the boundaries of neighboring property. Chriesman made a mark on a tree or built a mound of earth at the corner of every survey. He made the handsome wage of $5 per mile for his survey work. Surveyors had to negotiate uncharted territory, wild animals, and battles with Native Americans or uncooperative land owners in order to complete their work.

The Mexican government allowed empresarios to define the final surveying rules for their colonies. Stephen F. Austin relied on the surveying traditions and procedures that were practiced in the United States and with which he was familiar. However, the surveyors did have to convert their English units of measure to the Mexican vara. The vara in Texas is 33 1/3 inches. Measurements were initially made with a rope and then later with a metal chain that was usually the equivalent of 10 varas, or almost 28 feet long.

Surveyors also had to determine their location and the location of the line they were surveying north to south and/or east to west. For this they used a compass. To measure horizontal and vertical angles, the surveyor used a transit or a theodolite. Transits and theodolites are similar apparatus though theodolites are more precise. Telescope-like levels or telescopes were used to determine elevations.

Surveyors led the way for the settlement of colonial Texas. These men and women still work today measuring land for developments, road projects and other needs.



Wharton, Clarence. History of Fort Bend County. San Antonio: The Naylor Co., 1939. Reprint, Austin: Eakin Press/Sunbelt Media Inc., 2001.

www.surveyhistory.org/the_surveyor’s_basic_tools.htm. Accessed 1/27/2017

amhistory.si.edu/surveying/type.cfm?typeid=20. Accessed 1/27/2017


Historical facts and photos courtesy of the Fort Bend County
Museum Association, Richmond, TX


Surveying the Land

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