Pile Buck International — Volume 26 Issue 1
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Georgia and Florida Bounary Disputes

The boundary line between Georgia and Florida shall be the line described from the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers to the point 37 links north of Ellicott’s Mound, on the St. Marys River; thence down said river to the Atlantic Ocean; thence along the middle of the presently existing St. Marys entrance navigational channel to the point of intersection with a hypothetical line connecting the seawardmost points of the jetties now protecting such channel; thence along said line to a control point of latitude 30 degrees 42’ 45.6” north, longitude 81 degrees 24’ 15.9”

west; thence due east to the seaward limit of Georgia as now or hereafter fixed by the Congress of the United States; such boundary to be extended on the same true 90 degrees bearing so far as a need for further delimitation may arise. Orr–Whitner Line, 1861 Florid a Statute §6.09: Boundary betwee n Florid a and Georgi a

(1) The line run and marked by B.J. Whitner, Jr., on the part of Florida, and

G. J. Orr, on the part of Georgia, is the permanent boundary line between the States of Florida and Georgia.

(2) The boundary line between the States of Florida and Georgia as described in subsection (1) herein shall be extended from a point 37 links north of Ellicott’s Mound on the Saint Marys River; thence down said river to the Atlantic Ocean; thence along the middle of the presently existing Saint Marys entrance navigational channel to the point of intersection with a hypothetical line connecting the seawardmost points of the jetties now protecting such channel; thence along said line to a control point of latitude 30° 42’ 45.6” N., longitude 81° 24’

15. 9” W.; thence due east to the seaward limit of Florida as now or hereafter fixed by the Congress of the United States; such boundary to be extended on the same true 90° bearing so far as a need for further delimitation may arise.

Astonishingly, both Georgia’s and Florida’s statute completely leave out a description of the Georgia/Florida boundary along the Chattahoochee River from 31º north latitude to its junction with the Flint River.

In an 1887 U.S. Supreme Court case, Coffee v. Groover (123 U.S. 1, 1887), the convoluted chronology of the Georgia/ Florida boundary dispute is artfully discussed with the following excerpt: Boundary disputes between the British colonies and the Spanish control over Florida were stopped after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 which ended the French and Indian War. England now controlled the entire known territory of the New World from Canada to the tip of Florida and westward to the Mississippi River.

King George III immediately established three new colonies, Quebec, East Florida and West Florida with the boundaries of the latter two as: “East Florida will be bounded to the westward by the Gulf of Mexico and the Appalachicola River, to the northward by a line drawn from that part of said river where the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers meet to the source of the St. Mary’s River, and by the course of the said river to the Atlantic Ocean.” “West Florida will be bounded north by the parallel of 31 north latitude, from the Mississippi to the Chattahoochee River and east by the Appalachicola River.

After the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the United States gave Spain both West and East Florida as reward for their assistance during the war and the 31 north latitude from the Mississippi to the Chattahoochee River and then down the river to the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and then on a straight line to the source of the St. Marys River and then down that river to the Atlantic Ocean was adopted as the southern boundary line of the United States and Spain.

By a Treaty in 1795, between the United States and Spain, this boundary was confirmed, and it was provided that a commissioner and a surveyor should be appointed by each party to meet at Natchez within six months from the ratification of the treaty and proceed to run and mark the boundary line, and make plats, and keep journals of their proceedings, which should be considered as part of the treaty. Our government appointed Andrew Ellicott, Esq., as commissioner in May, 1796, and a surveyor to assist him, and they proceeded to Natchez, and after much procrastination on the part of the Spanish authorities, a Capt.

Stephen Minor was appointed on the part of Spain; and the joint commissioners of the two countries, in 1798 and 1799, ran and marked the boundary line from the Mississippi to the Chattahoochee, and determined the geographical position of the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers to be in north latitude 30° 42’ 42. 8” and west longitude 85° 53’ 15”. The hostility of the Creek Indians prevented them from running the line east of the Chattahoochee; but they sailed around the coast of Florida and up the river of St. Marys, and fixed upon the eastern terminus of the straight line prescribed in the treaties at the head of the St. Marys, where it issues from the Okefenoke (sic) Swamp, and erected a mound of earth to designate the spot.

The mound is still in existence, and is called “Ellicott’s Mound,” and appears on all the principal maps of that part of the country. The commissioners, supposing that the true head of the river was located in the swamp, agreed that it should be considered as distant two miles northeast from the mound, and that in running the boundary line from the Chattahoochee, it should be run to the north of the mound, and not nearer to it than one mile. The point fixed upon as the head of the St. Marys was determined by observations to be in north latitude 30° 21’ 39 1/2” west longitude 82° 15’ 42”.

The distance by straight line or great circle from the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers to the head of the St. Marys was calculated at 155.2 miles; and the initial course for running the line from each terminus was given, with the proper corrections to be made at intervals in order to follow the great circle. The commissioners signed a joint report of their proceedings, and transmitted the same to their respective governments. All these particulars are set forth in Mr. Ellicott’s journal, and are matters of public history.

It thus appears that by authority of the United States and Spain, the termini of the line in question were fixed and settled in February, 1800. It only remained for any competent surveyor to follow the directions of the commissioners in order to trace the actual boundary line on the ground. The country in the region traversed by this line was occupied, in the early part of the century, by the nation of Creek Indians, and there was no immediate demand for having it run and marked. And, as under the Constitution, no state could enter into a treaty with the Indians, it became the interest of Georgia to make some arrangement with the government of the United States to take measures for the gradual removal of Indian occupancy.

A convention was accordingly entered into between Georgia and the United States on the twenty-fourth of April, 1802, by which the former ceded to the latter all her territory between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi Rivers, and the United States ceded to Georgia all their right to any public lands south of Tennessee and the Carolinas and east of the Chattahoochee not within the proper boundaries of any state, and agreed to extinguish the Indian title within the State of Georgia as early as could be peaceably done.

The state being now desirous of disposing of her lands and introducing settlers thereon, naturally turned her attention to the question of the true location of the boundary line between her own territory and that of the Spanish province of Florida. Some person, professing to be better than others as to the topography of the country about the head of St. Marys River, asserted that the commissioners, Ellicott and Minor, in seeking its source, had ascended the wrong branch--namely the north branch-- whereas the true St. Marys, or main stream came from the west and took its source many miles further south than the point fixed upon by them.

The Legislature of Georgia took up the matter, and in December 1818, the Senate passed a resolution requesting the Governor to appoint proper persons to proceedwithout delay to ascertain the true head of St. Marys River, and if it should appear that the mound thrown up by Ellicott and Minor was not at the place set forth in the treaty with Spain, that they make a special report of the facts and that the Governor communicate the same to the President of the United States with a request that the lines might be run agreeably to the true intent and meaning of the treaty. In pursuance of this request, the governor appointed three eminent engineers who made a careful reconnaissance of the country about the head streams of the St. Marys they found the head of the river to agree with the report made by Mr. Ellicott.

In 1819 Florida employed J.C. Watson to run and mark the line so that the state could lay out its counties and townships, surveyed its public lands, and make grants to settlers. But it nowhere appears that this line ran to Ellicott’s Mound or near to it.

In 1825, the surveyor general of the government for the Territory of Florida caused the boundary line between Georgia and Florida to be run out and marked by D. F. McNeil, a deputy surveyor. This line ran 14 chains to the north of Watson’s Line; but how near it approached Ellicott’s Mound at the eastern extremity is not known.

In 1826 the State of Georgia, in consequence of the location of McNeil’s Line, requested that joint measures should be undertaken for a mutual and final settlement of the boundary. Congress passed an act which, “provided that the line so to be run and marked shall be run straight from the junction of said Rivers Chattahoochee and Flint to the point designated as the head of St. Marys River by the commissioners appointed under the third article of the treaty [with Spain] made on October 27, 1795.” This act adopted the eastern terminus of the line as settled by Ellicott and Minor.

In 1845 Florida was admitted into the union as a state and renewed efforts were made by Florida and Georgia to effect a settlement of the boundary, but without
Success. In 1850 the State of Florida filed a bill against the State of Georgia to procure a determination of the controversy, but in consequence of the war and the final settlement of the controversy by mutual agreement, the cause was never brought to a hearing.

In 1857 the governors of the two states had a conference which resulted in an agreement by which Georgia relinquished her pretensions to have the eastern terminus of the line changed; and the termini fixed by the commissioners, Ellicott and Minor, were substantially adopted.

In 1859 Florida passed a resolution agreeing with Georgia and then passed an act to bring into market, as soon as the line should be settled, all state lands bordering Georgia that had not been disposed of, giving the occupants, whose right was not disputed five months, to purchase the lands occupied by them at their appraised valuation. Both Florida and Georgia desired to have a resurvey made between the terminal points, and the state of Georgia appointed George F. Orr, and the state of Florida appointed B. F. Whitner, surveyors to run and mark the line accordingly.

Interestingly, both states used the same language regarding this survey: that the line now being run by B.F. Whitner, Jr., on the part of Florida, and G. J. Orr, on the part of Georgia, be the permanent boundary line between the two states provided that said line at its eastern terminus does not depart from or miss Ellicott’s Mound more than onefourth of a mile, or twenty chains and declaring secondly that the titles of bona fide holders of land under any grant from the State of Georgia which land may fall within this state by the foregoing line are hereby confirmed and conveyed to said holders so far as any right may accrue to this state: provided nothing herein shall apply to lands to which citizens of this state may claim title south of what is known as the ‘McNeil Line.

It turned out that the line run by Orr and Whitner ran even further north than the Mc-Neil Line; but it came within the stipulated distance from Ellicott’s Mound, namely within a quarter of a mile or within 37 links, or less than 25 feet, north of the mound. This was more favorable to Georgia than the line agreed on by Ellicott and Minor, which was to run at least one mile north of the mound.

The Orr–Whitner line, surveyed in 1859,was accepted by both Florida and Georgia in 1861 as the official boundary between the two states, although there is no physical evidence of the measurement of the line. In 1872 Congress approved the following:

“An act to settle and quiet the title to lands along the line between the states of Georgia and Florida, by which it declared ‘that the titles to all lands lying south of the line dividing the States of Georgia and Florida known as the Orr and Whitner Line as the true boundary between said states.”

The long debate of Georgia’s southern boundary with Florida was finally settled and has not been disputed since.

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