Collections › MESDA Collection › Surveyor’s Compass

Surveyor’s Compass

Moore, Camm
Place Made:
Guilford County North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
Brass, steel, silver, glass
Compass: WOA: 13″; LOA: 5″
Box: HOA: 4-1/4″; WOA: 15-1/4″; LOA: 6-1/2″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Surveyor’s compass contained within a wooden box with lid. The compass has a silver face and brass base and arms. The cover is brass and lifts off to expose the silver engraved compass within. The compass has a central star shape with each point representing a position, NW, SW, SE and NE; with a eagle with spread wings positioned at the North point. This compass is one of six by Moore known to exist and the only example that features an engraved American eagle. Rather than simply reading magnetic north, this is a “vernier” compass, meaning it has an adjustable scale that allows for the “setting off” of the magnetic declination and the compass can directly read true north.

INSCRIPTION: In the center is a circle with the inscription “Made • by • C • Moore / GUILFORD • N.C.”

MAKER: Born into a Hanover Co., Virginia Quaker family in 1755, Camm Moore was received as a member of Guilford County’s New Garden Monthly Meeting in 1778 and married Sophia Benbow that same year. The couple transferred their membership to nearby Dover Meeting, also in Guilford County and much of their family’s records are in the Dover Meeting minutes. Camm and Sophia Moore had seven children together, and Sophia died in 1821. Five years later, in 1826, the Moore children moved to Indiana while their father remained in Guilford County until his death in 1845. Moore was one of the earliest silversmiths working in Piedmont North Carolina. In 1787 the Guilford County courts ordered that Samuel Short, aged 12, be bound to Camm Moore to learn the art and mystery of the silversmith. The tools and materials sold from Moore’s estate in 1846 included those used by a silversmith as well as a craftsman working with other metals. Despite being recognized as a silversmith, the only known surviving product from Moore’s shop are compasses—five others have been identified in addition to the compass under consideration. Moore seemed to have found making compasses agreeable and profitable, for in 1834 he advertised in the Greensborough Patriot that he had: “…discovered a valuable improvement in the Surveyor’s Compass, by applying an infallible plumb sight, the cost of which will not exceed two dollars. Any person wishing to have his Compass furnished in this way, can have it done by applying to the subscriber near Saunder’s Mill.” Four years before he died, in 1841, Moore wrote his will and specified that he owned 189 acres of land and that all of his “moveable property” be sold except his silversmith’s tools, which should be advertised for “two months or more and described what use they are for in [some] sootable Newspaper.”

FORM: The surveyor’s compass, or circumferentor, is an instrument used in surveying to measure horizontal angles. It consists of a circular brass box containing a magnetic needle, which moves freely over a brass circle. Such compasses were typically mounted on tripods. By the early nineteenth century, Europeans preferred theodolites to circumferentors; however, the circumferentor remained in common use in America through much of the century.

This compass was almost certainly originally owned by Archibald Bowman (1779-1857) of Guildford Co., North Carolina. Bowman was born to Quakers Edmond Bowman (1744-1794) and his wife Grace Reynolds (1746-1829). Although Archibald does not appear to have attended a meeting in North Carolina, his father and brother Richard (1772-1843) were accepted into the Dover Meeting, where the compass’s maker Camm Moore (1755-1845) was also a member. Moore married Sophia Benbow (1756-1821) in 1778 and her great-nephew Thomas Benbow (1817-1899) owned property adjacent to Archibald Bowman: In his January 1857 will Bowman defined his property as “beginning at Thomas Benbow’s corner.” After Archibald Bowman died, his June 1857 estate sale revealed that he owned two compasses, one valued at 2 cents and the other at 46 cents. The more valuable of the two compasses was most likely the eagle-decorated Camm Moore compass, which retained significant value despite being nearly fifty years old. (The recorded prices at the sale are relative: a “Side Board & Contents” sold for $3.00; a small table for 50 cents; and the most expensive item at the sale, a wagon, brought $5.10.) Thomas Benbow’s brother, Jesse Benbow (1815-1900), purchased the Camm Moore compass at the estate sale. Jesse Benbow lived in the same district as his brother and Archibald Bowman. A century and half later, when the compass was discovered in a barn located on a farm historically linked to Archibald Bowman, it may have actually been found on property that was part of an adjacent farm owned by the Benbow family through which the compass descended.

— William Wade Hinshaw, ed., Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1978 [reprint of 1936 original]), vol. 1 (North Carolina).
— 1860 United States Federal Census.
— Wills, 1838-1859, Vol. C, pp. 470-471, Guilford Co., NC.
— Inventories, 1856-1858, Vol. X-20, pp. 285-288, Guilford Co., NC.
— Darrin Lythgoe, “The Benbow Family of the United Kingdom, and Selected Allied Families”; online: (accessed 14 September 2014).

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