Wolf Hill Patent: Was Thomas Walker a Crook?
by W. Dale Carter, copyright 2004, Kingsport, TN

On the 29th day of March 1750, a survey was recorded in the Augusta County Plat Book, page 38, as being a survey made for Thomas Walker, gentleman, of Louisa County and signed by Thomas Lewis. Lewis added the following notation to the plat

“Surveyed for Thomas Walker Gent.of Louisa County 6780 acres of land in Augusta County part of an order of council granted to James Patton to take up 100,000 acres.  Lying on Castles Creek a branch of the Indian River, at a place called Burk's Garden, not the real Burks Garden this 29 March 1750, surveyed by J B for Thomas Lewis.”

The land office records of patents and grants of the Commonwealth of Virginia reveal that a patent was issued to Thomas Walker 14 Jul 1752 for 6780 acres, recorded in Patent Book 31, page 145. The metes and bounds of the entry in the Augusta County Plat Book are the exact same as the patent recorded in the Colonial Land Office.

John Buchanan began exploring and surveying land on the waters of the Clinch and Holston Rivers as early as 1745. Buchanan was not an experienced woodsman or hunter; therefore, he must have used the services of someone as a guide who knew the territory and the location of the prime land that contained salt licks, old Indian fields and streams that had the potential of being developed into a source of waterpower. On page 128 of Kegley's Virginia Frontier, he writes:

“In 1745 his son, John Goldman, had been in the area long enough to gain the knowledge to be employed as pilot for an expedition led by John Buchanan for Colonel James Patton. Jacob Goldman received payment for his two sons to act as chain carriers for five months for a survey party in 1745”.

The guides were most likely the Goldman brothers. From the description of the location of the land that was surveyed, there is nothing to direct one to the geographic location of the Wolf Hill survey; however, the surveyor’s note that the survey was located on Castle Creek means that someone had assigned a name to the creek that flowed through the survey before Buchanan arrived on the scene in the spring of 1750. Surely Buchanan did not know the name of the creek, so his guides for the survey party gave him the information.

The Goldmans were neighbors of the legendary hunter Joseph Castle, so perhaps Castle Creek was named after Joseph Castle. What was so special about this modest-sized creek that it should have a name? There was a mineral spring located on the waters of Castles Creek!

In 1748, James Patton, Thomas Walker, Charles Campbell and John Buchanan along with guides were in an exploration party that came down the Holston Valley perhaps as far west as the Long Island (Kingsport, Tennessee). The guides could have been the Goldman brothers, Jacob and John, as they were familiar with the territory. The purpose of this trip was to view the most desirable land. Walker and Buchanan were surveyors and closely acquainted, and surely Walker and Buchanan viewed the Wolf Hill tract and they discussed the extent of a survey of the tract possibly blazing trees for a future survey that led to a patent being issued. What was so attractive about the Wolf Hill tract that prompted Walker to select it? Why would he choose this tract above all the other land lying in the fertile valley from the New River to the Long Island of the Holston River? A plausible answer would be that the old animal trails and Indian traces converged at a mineral spring on Castle Creek once called Eighteen Mile Creek and now known as the Town Creek. Surely there were open fields around the mineral source and deer, elk, and buffalo would travel miles to replenish their dietary needs for certain minerals. Two creeks ran through the survey each containing excellent sites for grist mills. 

The survey of the Wolf Hill Survey was made by John Buchanan the deputy surveyor serving under Thomas Lewis, the surveyor for the County of Augusta, as Lewis’ signature appears on the plat of the survey recorded in the Augusta County Plat Book and a note was added to the plat “surveyed by J B for Thomas Lewis.” I believe the note was added by Thomas Lewis to set the record straight that he was not responsible for the accuracy of the survey.

In a letter dated 7 August 1781 to Colonel William Preston, Lewis expressed regret in appointing Buchanan as a deputy surveyor and did so only upon the insistence of James Patton, the father-in-law of John Buchanan. In the letter he wrote:

“Mr Trigg presented me with a Summons to appear before the Court of Commissioners in September as a witness with regard some claims of Wm. Ingliss relative to Burks Garden in Consequence of some contract with one Burk by Col. Patton, it is impossible for me to attend, my State of health will not permit & other engagement of a public nature put it out of my power, I understand by Trigg what is wanted from me is to say whether Col. Buchanan was duly commissioned by the masters of the Colledge to Survey.  I suppose you know he was not, he only gave a bond to me for ye due performance of deputy all this was done not indeed with my approbation but at ye pressing instance of Col Patton a circumstance that my giving way to has given me many times much uneasiness”.

Lewis had reason to be uneasy about the surveys made by Buchanan. If he honored the summons to testify in the law suit over the Ingles survey in Burks Garden, he would be asked to testify as to the competence and qualification of John Buchanan, the person who made the survey in Burks Garden, and he would have to reveal that Buchanan was never approved by the masters of the college to survey, yet Lewis, under pressure from James Patton, allowed Buchanan to serve as his deputy, and any surveys made by Buchanan would be null and void. This would include the Wolf Hill Patent.

Lewis was very disturbed with the way Walker as head of the Loyal Company was treating the settlers who had built cabins and farmed land supposedly lying within the Loyal Company claims. The Loyal Company was charging a much higher fee than the fee the land office had set, and if the settlers did not pay the fee set by the Loyal Company, they would be evicted from the land they had improved and lived on for many years. 

In the same letter, Lewis to Colonel William Preston writes:

“As to the matter of fees I think it most proper that you adjust this business with ye company who I flatter myself will do you Justice as to taking fees as they have been rated since ye revolution, my opinion of the matter is that you had better lose all you have to do in this matter, than take something so hard to be distinguished from a nothing--if ever honesty or understanding be restored to a Certain Club, you may hope for relieve in your other business but in ye present business I hope you will have Justice done you it may be I talk Idly--Whilst KNAVES & FOOLS are dominant, an honest man may expect rude treatment but it so; notwithstanding I have Some Comfort in a reflection that most evils of a moral or political nature find a Cure in their Excess.  If this were invariably to be relyed on, I could congratulate you on the near approach of ye removal of many moral & political Evils that press us very hard, I am sure their extravagance if not at their hight, must have what some people call a ne plus ultra, let us hope so....”

The “Certain Club” Lewis refers to in the letter most likely is comprised of the members of the Loyal Company. He is asking Preston to be fair in taking fees from the settlers and not charge them with the higher fees the Loyal Company was asking for, but only to take fees at rate set by the Commonwealth after the Revolutionary War.

Early researchers of the town of Abingdon had assumed that the Thomas Walker patent for 6,780 acres was the patent that present-day Abingdon sits on and became to be known as the Wolf Hill survey. They were correct in their assumption; however, if one plots the Wolf Hill patent and adjoining land grants issued after the Revolutionary War, the Thomas Walker patent will not fill the land area formed by the adjoining land grants, and the survey points as described do not fit the location as noted on the survey. The plot of the Walker survey has the same geometric shape, but is much too small to fill into the area created by the adjoining land grants.

I had the same problem with the Pendleton Patent on Reedy Creek and John Shelton’s three patents in Russell County... When I plotted the metes and bounds of the survey, I could not get a fit of the survey points to a known location on a modern topographic map.

I came to a solution of the problem by plotting all the deeds of patent that were sold by the patent owner and by building up a composite of the deeds, I found that the composite of deeds had the identical geometric shape as the original patent survey, but the deed composite was much larger in area, in fact about twice as large. The surveys closed with a reasonable degree of accuracy considering the methods and the equipment used by the surveyor.
I was able to locate 35 deeds where Thomas Walker and his heirs sold off portions of the Wolf Hill patent. The area of the 35 surveys using the metes and bounds as described by the surveyor and recorded in the Fincastle and Washington County Deed Books totaled 10,547 acres. I was unable to locate all the deeds and I suspect the Wolf Hill patent contained near 13,000 acres. Was this an error made by the surveyor or was it by design? I contend it was by design.

At the time Thomas Walker was issued a patent for the Wolf Hill tract, a person must pay the Colonial land office one pound for each two hundred acres of land patented to him. Thomas Walker paid the land office thirty four pounds for 6,780 acres as calculated from the survey of John Buchannan. The Wolf Hill patent actually contained about 13,000 acres and Walker should have paid the land office sixty five pounds; thus, he beat the Colonial Land Office out of 31 pounds. It is possible Walker was unaware of the illegal surveys made by John Buchanan but this is unlikely.
The instrument used by the surveyor to determine distance was the chain. A chain was 66 feet long and was made up of 100 links. If a surveyor wished to double the acreage of his survey and report the survey as standard pole measurements, he could do one of three things:

  1. He could add 40 links to the chain, or
  2. He could have a chain constructed with links that were 11 inches long instead of the standard length of 7.92 inches, or
  3. He could revise the number of poles between survey points.

John Buchanan the deputy surveyor of Augusta County made the survey used a measuring device that was near forty percent longer than the standard pole length of sixteen and one half feet. Any experienced surveyor would immediately recognize that a measuring device approximately 40 percent longer than the standard pole length of 16.5 feet and was not the standard to be used in making surveys.  Most likely Lewis was unaware of this.

How do I know a long pole measure was used in the survey of the tracts? I was able to find survey points of the original survey that were the same points used to divide the patent when parcels were sold.  I found the distance between points of the division surveys to be approximately 40 percent longer than the survey of the Wolf Hill patent made by John Buchanan.

I believe John Buchannan, James Patton, Edmund Pendleton, John Shelton and Thomas Walker devised a plan to defraud the colonial land office of the amount of payment due for land patents.  All were very active and influential in the politics of the colonial government and were land speculators who knew the process and laws for obtaining land patents.

Analysis of land grants adjoining the Wolf Hill Patent

Plat Number 1 is a plot of the land grants that adjoin the Wolf Hill Patents,and all the surveys of these grants were made after the Commonwealth Land Office opened in 1779. The Wolf Hill survey was made by John Buchanan 29 March 1750. The southern survey line of the Wolf Hill survey starts at two red oaks, two white oaks by a gully under the pine ridge n65e;140 poles to three hickories on a spur of the pine ridge n61e; 1016 poles to a poplar, white oak, hickory under the pine ridge the beginning point of the survey. The total distance of the southern lines of the Wolf Hill Survey as made by John Buchanan  is 1,156 poles.

Thomas Walker Wolf Hill patent

Grants numbers 22, 23, 24, & 25 as shown in plat No 1 adjoin the southern boundary of the Wolf Hill survey starting at a white oak and dogwood by a gully then n62e;170 poles to two hickories; n59e;174; n58.5e;150; n60e;68; n58e;720; n60e;300 to a poplar north side of a ridge corner to Dr.Walker’s survey. The total distance of the lines adjoining the Wolf Hill survey is 1582 poles. Therefore the pole length used by Buchanan was 37% longer than the pole length used in making the surveys of the grants adjoining the Wolf Hill survey. He used a pole length of 22.6 feet instead of 16.5 feet. The result of this discrepancy in pole length means that The Wolf Hill survey contained about twice the acreage as reported... To be exact 1.9 times the reported acreage.

Land Grants Adjoining the Wolf Hill Patent

See Plat Number 1

  1. LO 41-465, Andrew Russell 10 Oct 1799
  2. LO 6-363, Hugh Gallaher 19 Oct 1786
  3. LO 15-561, Hugh Berry 19 Mar 1788
  4. LO R-616 John Chadwick, 10 Oct 1785
  5. LO 39-37 George Clark, 10 Mar 1797
  6. LO 27-44 George Clark, 16 Aug 1792
  7. LO 9-201 John McHenry, 4 May 1787
  8. LO 40-611 Andrew Russell, 1 Nov 1798
  9. LO 6-390 George Finley, 2 Oct 1786
  10. LO 32-180 John McCullagh 1 Apr 1795
  11. LO 41-179 Andrew Russell, 8 Apr 1799
  12. LO 41-177 John Potts, 8 Apr 1799
  13. LO 48-186 Andrew Russell, 19 Mar 1801
  14. LO 41-57 Robert Kincaid, 5 Dec 1798
  15. LO 45-281 Robert Preston, 3 Apr 1800
  16. LO 20-414 Robert Craig, 24 Jun 1789
  17. LO 55-524 Charles Cummins, 17 Jun 1806
  18. LO 27-13 Gerrard Tramle Conn, 13 Aug 1792
  19. LO 20-34 Thomas Caldwell, 6 Feb 1789
  20. LO Q-175 James Craig, 20 Jun 1785
  21. LO 45-283 John Preston Jr, 28 Mar 1800
  22. LO 28-662 Andrew Balfore & John Balfore, 22 Jul 1793
  23. LO 32-232 John Balfore, 14 May 1795
  24. LO 37-480 John Preston Jr, 31 Oct 1797
  25. LO 41-465 Andrew Russell, 10 Oct 1799

Explanation of References:
Example LO 41-465
LO refers to the Land Office records in Richmond, Virginia.
41 refers to the Land Office Book number and
465 is the page number.