Maps reveal life in 18th century

I like maps.

I know that some prefer to find their way by instinct, and others love the GPS voice that tells them the way to go. But I like to study and look at maps, and to be able to tell where I am in relation to other places.

Recently I looked through a collection of maps that tells how Cabarrus County came to be. The maps detailed who the people were that settled this area in the latter part of the 18th century. They were fascinating.

This book of maps, "Cabarrus County, NC, Surveys (1747-1916; 1,500 Surveys in 24 Maps)," is the work of Drs. H. Mitchel Simpson and A.B. Pruitt.

Mitch Simpson is a retired physics professor and eastern Cabarrus native and resident. I wrote about him last fall, when he was studying 200-year-old deeds and creating maps. His goal was to trace the history of land ownership in Cabarrus County; this book represents the completion of the project.

Book tracks royal land grants

I learned a lot from Simpson's book. In 1735, when N.C. land grants began to be recorded, settlers could obtain land by grant from the king (signed by N.C. or S.C. officials), or by purchase from owners such as the Earl of Granville or London merchant Henry McCulloh.

In 1777, the N.C. legislature enacted a law confiscating the land of all enemies of the state; in other words, supporters of the king during the Revolutionary War. Through more legislative maneuvering, the state began to collect fees and mortgages owed on those lands and used the proceeds to create the nation's first public state university at Chapel Hill.

When Cabarrus County began to be settled in the 1750s, most of the land here belonged to Arthur Dobbs, who had purchased large parcels from McCulloh in 1745. He began selling the land to settlers in 1762, before the county was even formed. The deeds were to be duly recorded, and it is those deeds that Simpson has studied to map out his land history.

Trees, rocks marked lines

Plotting the sites of the settlers' purchases was arduous and time-consuming, especially because property lines usually were marked by a big rock or a specific tree, which of course no longer exists.

So Simpson relied on markers that have not changed, such as streams or rivers. He also used "anchor tracts," which have not changed since the original purchase, and to which neighboring plats could be added, including "meeting house" sites such as St. John's, St. Martin's and Poplar Tent Prestyberian churches.

I also learned there were few land disputes at the time (Simpson said that was most likely due to a lack of lawyers!), that current subdivisions often follow the lines of old land grants, and that the early settlers' names are ones we still know today.

There's a lot to be learned from Simpson's maps. If you'd like to study them, you can find the book at the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Society Museum in Mount Pleasant and at the Concord main library. You can also check out Simpson's website: