History Corner: Community Service and the Pioneer Surveyor: E.B. Camp

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series March 2014

Camp’s Early Life

A direct descendent of the famous Brewster family of Colonial New England, Elisha Camp was born in Bristol, Connecticut on November 11, 1846 and was educated locally. He moved to pioneer Wisconsin in the early 1860s and was further educated at Ripon College in the town of Ripon, Wisconsin, from 1862-1864. The time is significant as his college career was probably cut short by the Civil War.  

On May 9, 1864, Camp joined Company B of the 41st Wisconsin Infantry.  As luck would have it, the unit served only on picket duty guarding the railhead at Memphis, Tennessee.  It did see limited action in the Confederate attempt to take the town, but Company B saw no casualties from fighting the enemy.  It lost 18 men, however, all from disease.

After the war, Camp returned to Connecticut and married Mary Amelia Collins in Hartford on November 9, 1870.  From this marriage came two children, a daughter, Eula, and a son, Arthur Brewster Camp.  From the birth of Arthur in 1876 until E.B. Camp shows up in Marion County, Florida in 1880, little is known of his work or whereabouts.  

Surveying

Camp took up homesteading in Marion County, near modern Ocala, Florida, but soon tired of its routine.  In 1884, he moved to the frontier community of Braidentown (modern Bradenton) and began his career as a surveyor.  His first letters concern work in the area of Palma Sola, just west of Bradenton and inquiring if there were a U.S. deputy surveyor in the area who was authorized to replace a lost or obliterated corner. Whether or not he was actually surveying or assisting a local surveyor is not known; the only thing known for sure is that he noted the recent death of county surveyor J.D. Southerland. 

By the next year, 1885, it is clear Camp was working on his own and requesting the field notes for Section 28, Township 34 South, Range 18 East, not far from the Braden River area east of Manatee. In none of the early letters or newspaper accounts of Camp’s life at this time is his family mentioned. We know only that his first wife, Mary Amelia, died in 1904.  She probably never made it to Manatee County.

In one of his first “community” efforts, Camp went to the newly created town of Tarpon Springs, Florida (northwest of St. Petersburg) to locate a printer to help establish a newspaper in Manatee County.  According to the Gulf Coast Herald, “If he finds one, he proposes to take him to Braidentown, or die in the attempt.”  He did not find one in Tarpon Springs and survived the ordeal.  

A printer was located about four years later, and Camp was one of the paper’s regular advertisers. Indeed, the paper, Manatee River Journal, ran his business card for years.  In 1888, Camp placed an advertisement noting his work.  The newspaper added: “We are authorized to place the name of E. B. Camp in nomination for the office of County Surveyor. Being thoroughly competent to discharge the duties of the office, we commend him to you as our candidate subject to the action of the Democratic Primaries.” The advertisement was signed “Many Voters.”  

In this first effort to procure the job of county surveyor, Camp was unsuccessful, losing to George Johnson, 153 to 136.  The election, in such a small town, did not create the division one may expect in 1888, especially in the South where there was a strong dislike of certain “Yankees.” 

Camp had taken the precaution of noting in his political ads that he was indeed a democrat, indicating sympathy with his clients and the voting majority in the South at the time.
 
Reconstruction had created strong feelings against most northerners suspected of being “Black Republicans,” and Camp’s ads were meant to assure them that he was not of that ilk.

Corner Evidence

There were no hard feelings between Camp and County Surveyor Johnson, as we find them working together attempting to locate a highly disputed corner on the range line between Ranges 17 and 18 East in Township 34 South, near the town of Palmetto, across the river from modern Bradenton.  The notes sent to them appeared to show the corner off by 11.5 degrees, thus throwing the property lines off by a significant amount.  

Whether this was actually the case is open to dispute, but the corner in question had been set in the 1840s by deputy surveyor Sam Reid, the founder of the Manatee Colony and leader of that settlement until his death in 1847. Many of Reid’s corners in open country, like the flat area near Palmetto, were mounds in which the ranging cattle of Manatee County loved to roll for the cleansing action the dirt had on their hides.

Reid had noted that the homestead of pioneer leader Josiah Gates was close to the line, but the house mentioned in the field notes was at least two chains east of the alleged line. Since there were no bearing trees surviving in the immediate area, relocating the corner correctly was problematical at best at that time. The surveyor general, William Bloxham (later governor of Florida), could offer little in the way of positive assistance as he had only the original Reid notes and the plat to go by in his office.  The corner remained in dispute into the 20th century.

Community Service

Because of his mathematical abilities and training, Camp soon found work in keeping books for the W.R. Fuller store in downtown Braidentown. This gave him access to many other community leaders, and on June 30, 1889, he became one of the founding members of the Manatee County Board of Trade (later Chamber of Commerce).  Camp soon was gathering information regarding the productions of Manatee County on both sides of the river.  

In August of the same year, the Board of Trade met in his business office to prepare a memorial to Captain Black of the Army Corps of Engineers, requesting the deepening of the Manatee River, the life-blood of the community.  The deepening of the main channel would facilitate the rapidly growing citrus industry and the winter-vegetable shipments from the area.  The Board of Trade also felt that making the river available for deeper draught vessels would entice the railroads to move into the area, making the marketing of the vegetables easier and more profitable.  His lifetime work with the Board of Trade earned him a place on the board’s “Roll of Honor.” Camp was still listed as a board member in 1921.

Camp was also involved with the creation of a new “Courthouse Square” in 1889.  The county had been divided by the legislature in 1887, and the original size of the country was greatly reduced. Camp was called upon by his friends to devise “a plan for laying off and beautifying the Court House Square.”  He performed this task to the great satisfaction of all concerned.  

Throughout his life in Manatee County, he was called upon to do many similar projects.  He was also involved with many community groups including the Knights of Pythias, where he served as “Master of Finances.”  He became a Mason sometime during this time period, and by 1904 he had achieved the status of Master Mason.  

Camp’s ability as an organ player made him a popular figure with the local Episcopal Church where he is frequently noted as the provider of music, often accompanied by Kate Warner, whose vocals were also appreciated. (Later in life, these two music masters would marry, to the satisfaction of all concerned.)

County Surveyor

As a surveyor, Camp’s high ethics and abilities were well noted by his peers. When his old friend and sometime rival, G.H. Johnson, died suddenly in 1890, the county quickly turned to Camp to replace the trusted county surveyor.  His bond was endorsed by the best-known men in the community at that time, and he was soon at work.  

Camp quickly was commissioned by the county government to create new maps for the county. He also produced a wonderful map for the Braidentown Real Estate Agency and was engaged in creating a map for the newly established Pelot addition to Braidentown. By 1894, the Board of County Commissioners was engaging him to create a whole new set of county township maps, at the rate of 60 cents per map.

County surveyors generally were not paid the highest of wages, even then. To supplement his earnings, he took on some of the more difficult tasks of the day in the surveying field, “piece work.” In Florida, the original instructions from the surveyors general included the clause that required them to skip surveying lands that were not marketable for immediate farming. These lands could later be picked up as piece work by later surveyors when the demand for them rose. In the area of Manatee County, this meant surveying some of the low-lying coastal islands and some of the interior swamp lands. 

One of the major problems for the surveyor was the so-called “occupation” of some of the islands, which led him into inquiring when and where these settlers were and when did they actually take possession. This was required before he could officially survey the land. Camp also had to assure the surveyor general, William Milton, that the islands were not swamp and overflowed lands.  Getting the affidavits of two outstanding members of the community, Reverend E.F. Gates and W.H. Vanderipe, helped to solve the issue as to the nature of the land. 

In 1895, he took a contract to survey some of the islands in the Lemon Bay area south of Sarasota where identifying meander corners proved to be difficult. The major problem was to find the original corners on the mainland and work out where they were to be set on the islands. Since this area is an open coastal plain with little protection from the actions of waves and storms, getting permanent markers set was (and is) difficult. The other problem to be solved was the rate of pay, not more than $350 for the whole job.

One of the Most Difficult Surveys in the State

Camp’s reputation was such that the surveyor general of Florida felt confident that he could perform one of the more difficult surveys in the state. This was the survey of the “Little Arredondo Grant” in Columbia County, Florida near today’s Lake City. The problem for the surveyor was that the land had been granted by the Spanish government to Jose de la Maza Arredondo in 1817, and the land was never properly surveyed under Spanish rule. By the time the Supreme Court of the United States declared it a valid grant, a large number of settlers had taken possession of the 20,000 acre tract, and they refused to move or even have it surveyed.  

Although the grant had been approved in 1836, the Second Seminole War prevented any action in getting the property surveyed. Not until 1846 was a deputy assigned to lay out the lands according the Spanish description. The deputy surveyor assigned, Arthur M. Randolph, one of Florida’s finest, was blocked by a crowd of armed men declaring, “Sir, you shall not pass.”  Surveyor general Robert Butler fumed and fussed, but the facts weighed too heavily on the side of abandoning the work at that time.  

Still, the heirs of the Arredondo investors (the grant had been sold) wanted what the courts had declared as theirs. An older, very experienced surveyor, Charles Hopkins, was given the task, but his health failed and he died before he could take the field.  

Camp was a good choice and an experienced man. Retracing a survey that was not run according to the descriptions left by the Spanish surveyor made the task even more difficult. Years of cultivation and occupation obliterated any remaining evidence of the work. Camp thus had to rely upon the only evidence he had, the Spanish surveyor’s description as given to the courts. 
That Camp’s work did not match that of earlier surveys in the area complicated the issues and had to be settled. After many delays and trials, Camp did complete the work.  However, it took nearly two years before he could get his pay, $400.

Many Other Jobs

Of course, E.B. Camp had many other jobs during his lifetime in Manatee County and later, in Pinellas County, Florida. He laid out the routes for at least two railroads and surveyed numerous island properties and many additions to local towns. He either supervised or ran the lines for numerous drainage projects in the area, including those around his home site on Ware’s Creek.
 
In 1907 he became city engineer for Braidentown and later sewer inspector, a post from which he resigned in 1908. He continued to work on new developments and mapped a number of them prior to 1911. Camp continued surveying and playing a role in his community until near the very end of his life.  He passed from this Earth in 1924 at the age of 77, mourned by an entire community that he had served so well for nearly 40 years.

Portions of this article appeared in the Tampa Bay History magazine for 2012.

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