, James H. Hanna


            The first map of West Tennessee based on actual measurements and bearings was the result of a land survey made about 1820 (see Map 1). An 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 offset in the Kentucky-Tennessee state line where it crosses the Tennessee River.

            The southern boundary of the State varies from the intended location along 350 north latitude. The first survey by General James Winchester, beginning at the Tennessee River and essentially at 350 north latitude was off about four miles to the north when he reached the Mississippi River. This survey, known as the Winchester Line (see insert on Map 2) was used as a reference for sectionalizing West Tennessee and as a result, the Range and Section lines as well as the County and land grant lines were skewed about 2 degrees in a clock-wise direction from true north. Other surveying inaccuracies may have increased or decreased the 2-degree error in some parts of West Tennessee.

            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 guide-lines and the natural boundary concept.

            Following is the original boundary description of Madison County:

1821.—CHAPTER 32.
An ACT to form and establish new counties west of Tennessee River.— Passed, Nov. 7.
Sec. 5. That all the territory included in the lines hereafter mentioned shall constitute a county to be called and known by the name of Madison County; beginning two miles and half south of the northeast corner of range two, section eleven, in the Ninth District, running thence west parallel with the sectional line to the third range line in the Tenth District; thence sooth on said range line to a point two miles and a half south of the sixth sectional line in said district, thence east parallel with said sectional line to the second range line in the Ninth District; thence north on said range line to the beginning.

            The old 1832 Matthew Rhea map (see Map 2) as well as the above description indicates Madison County was ideally twenty-five miles square, but this was not the case.

            Modern maps and the 1842 survey of the County boundary, as recorded in County Court Minute Book 5, page 161, indicate the length of the boundary lines as follows: (see Map 3)

Boundary Line





Miles & Poles
In miles





            Modern methods of survey would probably indicate some variation from this table. Note the south line which was intended to be straight, has a 110 pole or .34 mile offset at the point where the Hardeman-McNairy County line originally intersected.

            Maps 4A thru 4J are full scale sections of the Beers map of Madison County (1877) including six Madison County towns. The maps are of particular interest because the names and location of many of the County residents at the time are shown.

            On December 3, 1835 the Tennessee General Assembly passed an ACT requiring the Counties to be divided into Civil Districts hereafter referred as CD or CDs). The Representatives of these Districts allowed County Government to be more evenly distributed geographically. The Census Bureau also used these Districts for census purposes.

            The 1877 map and the 1932 map (Maps 4 and 5) indicate the configuration and the location of many of the CDs but do not indicate the time frame involved, however the following chronology of ACTS affecting CD changes, from the Jonathan Smith research, made the preparation of a CD map for each census year possible.


17 CDs created.

July 1852

CD 18 created from north portion of CD 9.

March 1872

CD 18 eliminated, including portions of existing CDs 9 and 10 when the NW corner of Madison County was ceded to the newly formed Crockett County.

March 1879

Portions of CD 1 and 17 were eliminated when the SE corner of Madison County was ceded to the newly formed Chester County.

Feburary 1900

CD 18 created from portions of existing CDs 6, 7 and 8.

July 1903

CD 19 created from portions of existing CDs 3, 4, 5 and 6.

September 1918

CDs reduced to five as follows:


New CD

From old CDs prior to Sept. 1918
1, 2 and 8
2, 5, 6, 7, 19 and 4
9, 16, 18 and 10
11, 13, 14, 17 and 12
15 (Jackson)


The following new CDs were formed by detaching old CDs (prior to Sept. 1918) from the five CDs above:

October 1921


16 and 11

January 1922


5 and 7

January 1922


6 and 18

January 1925


13 and 17

January 1931


2 and a small portion of 8 west and south of Bemis

            The 10 CDs were effective until 1968 when the County Commission form of government was adopted and the Census Bureau adopted the census division.

            The Range and Section lines on Map 6 and the CD lines on Maps 7-13 were plotted on a modern map of Madison County, which provides a variety of points of reference. You will note that many of the old CD lines followed meandering streams which have been straightened over the years, the Forked Deer River in particular. Modern maps reflect this change but probably few if any people were effected as far as a CD residence change was concerned.

            I hope these maps will be useful. Please, call my attention to any errors which you may observe. 901 668 1947.


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