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Simeon DeWitt

Birthplace: Warwarsing, Ulster, New York
Death: Died in Ithaca, New York, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Andries Egbert DeWitt and Jannetje DeWitt
Husband of Jane DeWitt; Elizabeth DeWitt and Susan DeWitt
Father of Richard Varick DeWitt and George Washington DeWitt
Brother of Anna Marie Dewitt Beemer

Occupation: Surveyor, educator, Astronomer, Revolutionary War soldier
Managed by: Douglas Arthur Kellner
Last Updated:

About Simeon DeWitt

Simeon De Witt (December 25, 1756 – December 3, 1834) was Geographer and Surveyor General of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and Surveyor General of the State of New York for the fifty years from 1784 until his death.

Contents [hide] 1 Life 2 Exhibitions and Collections 3 Portfolio samples 4 References and external links 5 References Life[edit] He was one of fourteen children of physician Dr. Andries De Witt and Jannetje Vernooy De Witt. He was the only graduate in the class of 1776 at Queens College (now Rutgers College of Rutgers University) in New Brunswick, New Jersey. After the capture of New Brunswick by the British during the war, De Witt fled to New York City where he joined the Revolutionary Army.

In June 1778, having been trained as a surveyor by James Clinton, the husband of Simeon's aunt Mary, De Witt was appointed as assistant to the Geographer and Surveyor of the Army Colonel Robert Erskine and contributed to a number of historically significant maps. After Erskine's death in 1780, De Witt was appointed to his post. In 1784, he was appointed New York State Surveyor General and died in office 50 years later, having been re-appointed and re-elected several times. Although he was a first cousin of DeWitt Clinton and a Democratic-Republican, he was never removed from office. Both Federalists and Bucktails recognized his outstanding qualification for the office. From 1810 to 1816, he was also a member of the first Erie Canal Commission.

De Witt was married three times. In 1789, he married Elizabeth Lynott (1767–1793, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh Lynott), and they had two children. In 1799, he married Jane Varick Hardenbergh (d. 1808, widow of Abraham Hardenbergh [1756-1794], and sister of Richard Varick), and their son, Richard Varick De Witt, became a prominent civil engineer. Later, Simeon married Susan Linn.

De Witt held four slaves at his residence in Albany, New York but by 1810 he had freed them, a common practice of the area. They continued to work in his household. He owned a considerable amount of land in the Finger Lakes area and is considered one of the founders of Ithaca, New York. He was often given credit for giving Classical antiquity Greek and Roman names to the twenty-eight central New York Military Tract townships that his office mapped after the war (to be given to veterans in payment for their military service). More recently, credit has been given to his clerk Robert Harpur, apparently a reader of classical literature (Lemak 2008:245).

Exhibitions and Collections[edit] On May 25, 2010 the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History exhibited the oldest surviving Anglo-American star map, hand-drawn in 1780 by Simeon De Witt, in its Albert H. Small Documents Gallery. The map shows the stars visible from De Witt's post in New Jersey. Drawing such a map, as De Witt himself later said, fostered an appreciation of "the ever shifting scenery of the skies and all the gorgeous drapery of heaven." During the Revolutionary War, when cut off from trade with Europe, colonists had to make their own maps; De Witt assisted military geographer and surveyor general Robert Erskine in drawing the maps needed by George Washington. Also on view are De Witt's drawing instruments and examples of European star maps and astrolabes. The exhibition closed on December 5, 2010. An existing online exhibition offers views of the star map and images of objects in the exhibition.[1]

References and external links[edit] Allen, David Y. (2008), How Simeon De Witt mapped New York State, New York Map Society Feature Article De Witt, Simeon (1802), A map of the State of New York, Albany: Engraved by G. Fairman Guthorn, Peter J. (1966). American maps and map makers of the Revolution. Philip Freneau Press bicentennial series on the American Revolution. Monmouth Beach, N.J.: Philip Freneau Press. OCLC 1019460. Lemak, Joseph (2008). "Roman grandeur in Central New York: the Classical tradition in a nineteenth-century pioneer town". New York History 89 (3): 235–56. Ristow, Walter W. (December 1968). "Simeon De Witt / pioneer American cartographer". The Canadian Cartographer 5 (2): 90–107. doi:10.3138/D235-1057-104G-J643. ISSN 0317-7173. Schubert, Frank N., ed. (June 1988). The nation builders: a sesquicentennial history of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, 1838–1863. EP 870-1-37. Fort Belvoir, Va.: Office of History, United States Army Corps of Engineers. OCLC 17385113. 1802 Map of Central New York Biography of Simeon De Witt on the New York State Museum website. Franklin and his Friends Names of Townships in the Military Tract Department of the Geographer to the Army Reenacting Unit, Brigade of the American Revolution Hardenbergh family info at Christ Church Cemetery, Manlius [1] De Witt genealogy at Mr. Jumbo Cosmos in Miniature: The Remarkable Star Map of Simeon De Witt An online exhibition from the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The Cosmos in Miniature The Remarkable star map of Simon De Witt

The small object featured in this exhibition is the oldest surviving Anglo-American star map. It was made in 1780 by Simeon De Witt, a surveyor for George Washington and the Continental army. The map shows the stars visible from De Witt’s post in New Jersey. Drawing such a map, as De Witt himself later said, fostered an appreciation of “the ever shifting scenery of the skies and all the gorgeous drapery of heaven.”

Colonial Americans paced their lives to the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the ever-changing appearance of the stars. The well-to-do imported celestial maps and globes from Europe, the better to know the heavens and trace the handiwork of God. When the outbreak of the American Revolution cut off trade with Europe, colonists had to make do on their own. De Witt carefully examined other maps and drew the one displayed here. In the early years of the Republic, many people came to share his enthusiasm for astronomy, and inexpensive American-made star maps sold widely.

Before Simeon De Witt: European Astrolabes An observer holds an astrolabe vertically and measures the altitude of a star using a rotating set of sights. Knowing the angular height of the object, he or she then sets a rotating star map with respect to a grid of lines drawn for the observer’s latitude. This gives the position of all the other stars on the map.

De Witt’s device does not do all of this, however. Although it is similar in size to some astrolabes, it could not be used to make observations. De Witt referred to it as an astrolabe; that word was not widely used in his time and we do not know how he learned it. It is actually a star map, a part of an astronomical instrument called an astrolabe.

English Astrolabe This astrolabe dating from about 1450 has twenty-five star pointers shaped like heads of dogs. The grid of lines below the star map is for setting star positions. It is designed for an observer standing at the latitude of London.

German Astrolabe This 1537 instrument is by Georg Hartman of Nuremburg. It has twenty-seven star pointers, and several plates for different latitudes. The sights are attached to the back.

French Astrolabe Some astrolabes had scales printed on paper, like this one made by Philippe Danfrie of Paris around 1600. The star map has twenty-eight flame-shaped pointers. Below it are four plates with scales for different latitudes. The sights are on the back.

Before Simeon De Witt: Star Maps From ancient times, astronomers had known far more stars than could be shown on an astrolabe. After the invention of the printing press, they began to publish catalogs listing stars, and atlases with maps of constellations.

John Flamsteed, Britain’s astronomer royal, compiled the first telescopic catalog of the positions and magnitudes of stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Flamsteed’s 1725 catalog inspired several European star maps that greatly influenced De Witt. He carefully studied not only the stars and other information shown on the maps, but also the figures used to represent constellations.

Dutch Star Map This star map with movable horizon, by N. Voogdio, was printed in Amsterdam around 1680. De Witt’s ancestry was Dutch and British, and his map combined aspects of both traditions. Like this map, De Witt’s shows stars as they would appear outside the celestial sphere, an imaginary construction against which celestial bodies appear to be projected. (British maps presented stars as they would appear to an observer on earth.)

British Star Map In 1757 Scotsman James Ferguson prepared this compact star map with a rotating disc on top of it. It showed only bright stars—more than on an astrolabe, but fewer than on other celestial maps. The general design of De Witt’s instrument is similar. He showed many of the same constellations, used similar images to represent them, and included a perpetual calendar on the disc. De Witt, though, rearranged scales to fit in a smaller space. Even though his map was more compact than Ferguson’s, it includes more stars.

Simeon De Witt's Star Map This is the oldest surviving Anglo-American star map, drawn by hand in 1780 by surveyor Simeon De Witt during the Revolutionary War. It shows the bright stars visible in Ringwood, New Jersey, where it was made.

De Witt not only drew a star map, he crammed other information onto his small device. Above the map is a rotating disc, or volvelle, with an oval cut out of it. The part of the oval nearest the edge of the map represents the horizon at a given time. The stars that appear through the opening are those visible at that time. Also included are a perpetual calendar for the years 1781 through 1826, a list of brilliant stars and the constellations that contain them, and (on the back) scales for finding phases of the moon.

Simeon De Witt Simeon De Witt (1756–1834) came from a prominent, influential family in upstate New York. By the age of twenty-two, he had graduated from Queen’s College (later Rutgers University) in New Jersey, spent a short time in the Revolutionary army, then studied surveying with an uncle. When Robert Erskine, military geographer and surveyor general, sought help in drawing the maps needed by Gen. George Washington’s troops, De Witt welcomed the challenge. He moved to Erskine’s estate in New Jersey and worked with several other assistants.

Erskine died in 1780. De Witt hoped to succeed him, but there were other candidates for the job. In a letter to George Washington, De Witt explained that whoever was next appointed should not only be an experienced surveyor, but well-trained in astronomy. The star map may have been one way to demonstrate this training. De Witt soon was appointed surveyor general, and served in this capacity until the end of the Revolutionary War. Then, from 1784 to his death—for fifty years—he held the post of New York State surveyor general.

After the Revolution De Witt’s preoccupation with the night sky reflects a fascination with astronomy that many Americans shared. After the War of Independence, they once again imported globes, star maps, and star atlases. They also began to publish their own maps and celestial globes. Once printed star maps were available for purchase, De Witt saw no need to draw them himself. He did write a textbook encouraging others to learn drawing, including drawing the heavens.

Commercial star maps similar to the one De Witt made for himself sold widely in the 19th century; they are still made today. Astronomy was the primary science taught in the public schools before the Civil War. Handheld star maps like De Witt’s became a popular way for Americans to explore the mysteries of the skies above them. ----------------------------------------------------- Erie Canal De Witt, Simeon, (1756-1834). - Cousin of DeWitt Clinton, Surveyor-General Simeon DeWitt surveyed a route for the canal between the Hudson River and Lake Erie in 1808. He was appointed to the Board of Canal Commissioner on March 15, 1810, along with Gouverneur Morris, Stephen Van Rensselaer, De Witt Clinton, William North, Thomas Eddy, Peter B. Porter, and William North.

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Simeon DeWitt's Timeline

December 26, 1756
Warwarsing, Ulster, New York
February 6, 1800
Age 43
Albany, NY, USA
February 17, 1801
Age 44
- 1810
Age 51
Erie Canal
March 15, 1810
- present
Age 53
Erie Canal
December 3, 1834
Age 77
Ithaca, New York, USA
- present
University of the State of New York