Collections › MESDA Collection › Surveyor’s Compass

Surveyor’s Compass

Simpson, Jonathan
Place Made:
Bardstown, Kentucky
Date Made:
brass –silver –steel –glass –wood
See individual descriptions
Accession Number:
5629a = Surveyor’s compass; compass is contained within a wooden box with leather belt straps for closure. The compass has a brass base, face, face cover, arms and rod socket. The base has engraved foliate designs with scalloped edging on one end; followed by an engraved heart and circle design; having a number scale at the top; at the base of the face, engraved in the brass are the initials “JKM”. The brass cover lifts off to expose the silver engraved compass plate with Germanic designs ~ foliate and geometric designs. Having a central star-shape with each point representing a position, NW, SW, SE and NE; having a level vial on the south arm and two opposing dials at east and west; one dial runs clockwise and the numbers are: 10,20,30,40,50,60,70,80,90 and the other runs counter clockwise with the numbers: 40,80,120,160,200,240,280,320. The brass arms are found underneath, along with the staff/rod socket.
Compass Box LOA 18″; WOA 8-1/4″
Compass LOA 14-11/16″; WOA 6-5/8″
Compass Arms 6-11/16″
Compass Socket LOA 5″
Compass Plate Cover DIA 6-5/8″

5629b = The compass also has a pine rod/staff with an iron ground spike covering one end. Measuring 42-3/16″ in length.

5629c = Having nine steel spikes with curled ends; the ends have pieces of red fabric tide in a knot. Some are rusted. Approximately lenth is 13-5/16″.

5629d = Having a metal measuring chain; rusted. Approximately 32’10-1/2″ in length

5629e = Steel molding plain used for wood. Obviously not used in surveying, but was in the box given by the lender. The plain is stamped, WESTPORT TOOL CO. / WARRANTED / CAST STEEL. WOA 2-1/8″; LOA 6-13/16″.

Small rectangular wooden box originally used for cheese was used to hold the chain, stakes and plain. Obviously not original to the equipment, but maintained because the lender kept the accessories inside the box. HOA 3-3/8″; WOA 13-5/8″; DOA 3-9/16″; Box says, “5lbs NET / LAKESHIRE / PASTURIZED PROCESS CHEESE / DISTRIBUTED BY / THE BORDEN CO. NEW YORK. N.Y.”

The initials JKM on the lower arm of this compass are likely those of James Kerr McGoodwin (1793-1875). McGoodwin was the son of Daniel McGoodwin. According to a
family history, Daniel came to North Carolina in 1769 from Derry, Ireland. He settled with family in Mecklenburg County and fought in the American Revolution. In 1787 he married Elizabeth Kerr of Rowan County, North Carolina. Soon
thereafter the couple moved to what would become Middle Tennessee, where James was born. In 1795 they moved to Kentucky, settling near Russellville in Logan County. James Kerr McGoodwin served as a sergeant in the 10th Mounted Kentucky Volunteers during the War of 1812.

Following the War of 1812 McGoodwin received “large land grants for services therein (and) served as a government land surveyor.” In 1819 – the year this compass was made – Simpson County was formed out of the eastern part of Logan County. The first person to enter a warrant for the purchase of land in the new county was James Kerr McGoodwin. Over the next sixteen years McGoodwin would enter more than twentyfive patents in Simpson County. In 1822 he became County Surveyor. It is interesting that the county in which this compass saw its first, and apparently most lucrative use, was named after Captain John Simpson, the uncle of its maker, Jonathan Simpson.

In 1833 McGoodwin was appointed a commissioner of the road “from the City of Louisville… to the State line, in the direction of Nashville.” By 1840 McGoodwin had relocated to Warren County, probably near Bowling Green. In 1850 he was listed in that county as a Tobacco Dealer. He died in Danville, Kentucky, in 1875.

PROVENANCE: The previous owner purchased this compass from a family living in Logan County, Kentucky, quite possibly descendants of James Kerr McGoodwin.


Credit Line:
James H. Willcox Jr. Silver Purchase Fund