north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      William Churton was a colonial cartographer and surveyor employed by the offices of the Granville District. Arriving in North Carolina about 1748, he initially was assigned to the Granville Land Office in Edenton. Churton and lawyer Daniel Weldon were appointed commissioners to extend the colonial Virginia-North Carolina boundary line in 1749 in cooperation with Virginia commissioners Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas). Together these men established an extension of the colonial boundary ninety miles to the west. The resulting map, created by Fry and Jefferson, was presented to the British government by North Carolina governor Gabriel Johnston.

      Churton surveyed, in 1752-1753, the 98,451-acre tract for the Moravians that became known as Wachovia. Accompanied by Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenburg and other Moravians, Churton initially explored lands west of the Blue Ridge as a possible home for the Moravians. The topography and a harsh winter caused the party to head east, where a new survey began in what is now Forsyth County. The latter area was successfully divided into smaller tracts and the Moravians established their community there. Bishop Spangenburg mentioned Churton several times in his journal, describing him as “a reasonable man” and “excessively scrupulous.”

      In 1753 Churton and another Granville agent were appointed trustees for 635 acres of land for the establishment of the town of Salisbury. The following year, Churton was appointed trustee for 663 acres for the establishment of the community that today is known as Hillsborough. Planned under the name of Orange and first established as Corbin Town, the community soon was renamed Childsburgh. By that time, Churton had become public register for Orange County and a town commissioner for Childsburgh. He also represented Orange County in the colonial General Assembly 1755 to 1760 and 1761 to 1762. He was appointed as both a county surveyor and justice of the peace in 1757.

      Churton’s responsibilities with the Granville District ended upon the death of the Earl of Granville in 1763 and the subsequent closure of the district’s offices. He may already have begun work on a map of the province before this point, but he was engaged in the project from that point on. He completed the map of North Carolina in 1766, based partly on his own surveys and, in the case of the colony’s coast and southern boundary, partly on older maps and information that he had gathered from various sources. Churton was compensated £155 by the General Assembly for the map.

      Governor William Tryon urged Churton to pursue further work on the southern and coastal portions of the map, promising the surveyor that he would present the resulting map to the Board of Trade in London. Churton began work on an in-depth survey of the coast in 1767. He died of unknown causes in December, however, before he could complete the project.

      Churton had arranged for the map to pass to Tryon in the event of his death, so the governor assigned its completion in sections to others, including Swiss cartographers Claude Joseph Sauthier and John Abraham Collett. Collett was then assigned to copy a map of the entire colony based on the individual sectional maps, which he then took to England in 1770.

      Churton played a significant role in the survey and mapping of the colony of North Carolina, as well as in the laying out of individual land tracts within the Granville District, including the establishment of the Wachovia District and the founding of Salisbury and Hillsborough. He was a key figure in the development of the colony and in charting its boundaries.


References:
William Churton’s estate papers and will, Chowan County, State Archives of North Carolina
William Churton’s genealogy via European subscription, Ancestry.com
William Churton’s surveys, State Archives of North Carolina
John Collett, “TO His most excellent Majesty GEORGE III.d by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith &c. This ACCURATE MAP of the back Country of NORTH CAROLINA is humbly dedicated and presented by his Majesty's most humble and most obedient Servant Subject I.A. Collet Captain and Commander of Fort Johnston 1768,” Map K.TOP.122.52, UIN: BLL01004987620, British Library, London
Cumming, William P., The Southeast in Early Maps, 3rd Edition (2014)
Stewart E. Dunaway, Claude J. Sauthier and His Maps of North Carolina.: An Interpretive Guide (2016)
Stewart E. Dunaway, Hillsborough, North Carolina: History of Town Lots: Addendum 2015 (2015)
Stewart E. Dunaway, Hillsborough, North Carolina: History of Town Lots: The Complete Reference Guide (2012)
Stewart E. Dunaway, Life and Times of Edmund Fanning, 1739-1818 (2013)
Stewart E. Dunaway, Lord John Carteret, Earl Granville: Family History and the Granville Grants of NC (2013)
Stewart E. Dunaway, William Churton: Colonial Surveyor of North Carolina (1711-1768) (unpublished manuscript)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (1979), 1, 370-371—sketch by Mary Claire Engstrom
Granville Grants, State Archives of North Carolina Office
William L. Saunders, comp. and ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, (1886-1890), V and VII
Marshall L. Smith, The Young Man from Mitre Court: William Churton, Surveyor, 1710-1767 (1998)
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