Tennessee Records Repository

Decatur Co. TN


from the research of James H. Hanna

This pamphlet is not presented as a documentary. The sparse information I was able to find, as an amateur researcher, is offered for what it is worth. Hopefully some one more knowledgeable about Decatur County may be able to make additions or correct any errors in the information presented.

The first map of West Tennessee based on actual measurements and bearings was the result of a land, survey made about 1820. A legislative Act passed by the Tennessee General Assembly authorized the division of West Tennessee into five Surveyor Districts, each of which was to be divided into a five mile square grid system of north-south range lines and east-west section lines. The lines were to be plainly marked and mile points were to be marked and numbered consecutively from the beginning of the survey.

By law the boundary lines of land grants and the boundary lines of the seventeen original counties west or partially west of the Tennessee River were to run on or parallel to the Range or Section lines.

Due to land surveying practices and the quality of surveying instruments in those days, true bearings and distance measurements were to varying degrees in error. This fact was recognized and the law provided for an error of closure of 1.25% (330' in 5 miles). One of the more notable examples of this type error is the seventeen mile off-set in the Kentucky-Tennessee State line where it crosses the Tennessee River.

The range and section lines are imposed on a modern map and are also shown on the 1832 map.

After the requests for land grants were satisfied, land transactions involving new boundaries often used the "metes and bounds" or natural boundary system (streams, ridges, roads, etc.), which was more familiar to most of the people who had moved from other parts of Tennessee and North Carolina where this system was used, although many existing rural property lines still lay on lines originally established by early land grant surveys. New counties made up of portions of the original seventeen West Tennessee counties were not bound by the by the Range and Section concept, but legal guidelines and the natural boundary concept.

These changes were gradual beginning soon after the Tennessee General Assembly passed an Act, in December 1835, requiring the counties to be divided into Civil Districts (hereafter referred to as CD or CDs). The representatives of these CDs allowed the County Government to be more evenly distributed geographically. The Census Bureau also used these CDs for census purposes from 1850 through 1960. The location of the CDs have been important to the historian and genealogist over the years.

The 1850 and 1860 censuses of Decatur County indicate ten and twelve CDs respectively. The 1870 written description of the twelve CD's, although difficult to interpret today, they seem to indicate the same general location as the 1950 CDs as shown. I have found no evidence to indicate the relocation of CDs between 1860 and 1960, although the relocation of some of the common lines between the CDs is probable, for example to accommodate a land owner who prefers that all of his land be in one CD rather than straddle a CD line.

The location of some of the ten CDs indicated in the 1850 census may possibly coincide with some of the like numbered CDs that existed later. There are indications the 1850 tenth CD was a strip across the southern end of the County.

Again, if any one has personal knowledge or documentation that corrects or makes this presentation more informative, please let me know.

Prepared by
James H. Hanna
56 Loydell Cove
Jackson, TN 38305

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