Lincoln Takes up Work as a Surveyor

‘In the fall of 1833 came Abraham Lincoln’s entry into the most highly technical and responsible work he had known.

Writing of it later, he said, "The Surveyor of Sangamon [County] offered to depute to A[braham] that portion of his work which was within his part of the county. He accepted, procured a compass and chain, studied Flint, and Gibson a little, and went at it. This procured bread and kept soul and body together." There were farm sections, roads and towns needing their boundary lines marked clear and beyond doubt on maps - more than the county surveyor, John Calhoun, could handle. On the suggestion of Pollard Simmons, a farmer and Democratic politician living near New Salem, Calhoun, a Jackson Democrat, appointed Lincoln, who went 18 miles to Springfield to make sure he wasn’t tied up politically and could speak as he pleased.

With all the books, movies and documentaries produced on Abraham Lincoln, his work as a surveyor has been virtually ignored. Few people realize that before his survey work, Lincoln was defeated in his bid for elected office. Within two years after he began surveying, Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. This was his first step on the road to the White House.

The Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association (IPLSA) is spearheading an effort to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s surveying career with a life-size statue that will be unveiled in the fall of 2003 at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site near Petersburg, Illinois. New Salem is where Lincoln lived when he was teaching himself the art and science of surveying and from where he traveled in his role as a Deputy Surveyor of Sangamon County.