What is a witness tree, and why is The Witness Tree the title of my upcoming novel? This story of a marriage of convenience starts in 1805 Moravian Salem, North Carolina, and follows an unlikely couple to the mission field in the Cherokee Nation. My heroine, Clarissa, is a teacher and linguist, and the hero, John Kliest, is a surveyor and adventurer.
A witness tree or bearing tree was a large, healthy tree within twenty feet of the corner of a property, chosen and marked by a Colonial or Federal-era surveyor. The surveyor etched either three blazes on the side facing the corner, or two blazes—one chest-high and one near the ground, in case the tree were to be illegally felled. Using a tree scribe knife, the surveyor would inscribe the blaze with the township, range, and section. He would then record the exact distance and bearing from the corner to the tree in his notes, along with the taxon and diameter.
The exact property corner would be marked with an iron pipe or rod, stone wall, or stone. But because these markers could be moved, the witness tree provided a vital second record.
|Rittenhouse Colonial Compass|
Surveyors used a compass on wooden legs with detachable sights—commonly called a circumferentor—to view the lines of the property. He sighted through an oval vane with a wire or horsehair stretched across the opening, then his assistants would help measure with a metal Gunter chain. The full-length English chain proved difficult for Colonial surveyors to drag through the wilderness, so they often used half-chains, two thirty-three foot poles of fifty links each.
In my novel, the witness trees in both Salem and Cherokee Territory serve a dual purpose, not only marking property boundaries, but as spots to secret messages! Who’s passing these messages? Find out when the book releases in September with LPC’s Smitten imprint.
Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for Smitten Historical Romance imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here: