John Donelson's Surveying Transit
Pittsylvania County, Virginia

By R. D. “Danny” Ricketts, 1995.

Willard Reeves and John Donelson's Transit

Retired surveyor Willard Reeves, with Col. John Donelson's transit.

This transit, used in 1767 to mark the east and west boundaries of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, was handed down to retired surveyor Willard Reeves from his great-grandfather.

John Donelson sold the surveying instrument in 1779 when he became a leader in the migration of a group of Virginians by flatboat to the Cumberland district near present-day Nashville, Tennessee. Donelson, whose father was a ship's captain, supervised the building of the boats. Nearly 300 people, along with their household goods, made the 985-mile river trip.

Back in 1767, when Donelson, as county surveyor, was marking the line which formed Pittsylvania from Halifax County, another important event took place: his daughter Rachel was born at their home in the community of Markham.

The Donelson family's move to Tennessee made possible the marriage of Rachel to future President Andrew Jackson, who was also born in 1767. Unfortunately, Rachel died just before Jackson's inauguration. She was the victim of a political scandal involving a technicality in a divorce from her first husband, who had deserted her. These circumstances became a major issue in the election of 1828, after Rachel had been married for 39 years to Jackson, and ultimately caused her death. President Jackson never recovered from his grief over Rachel.

John Donelson's Transit


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