The surveyor's compass was the preferred instrument for surveying land in the heavily forested terrain of North America. When mounted on a staff, it enabled the user to establish a line from a known reference point to the point of interest and determine its bearing. The engraved inscription on this compass, "G. Chandlee. W. / L. A. Washington" indicates that the prolific clock and instrument maker Goldsmith Chandlee of Winchester, Virginia created it for Lawrence Augustine Washington (1775-1824), a nephew of George Washington. Such instruments enabled gentlemen to lay out their own fields and verify the boundaries of their land.


Brass surveyor's compass composed of seven components: a cast brass box with silvered face and glass cover; a dial ring; an outkeeper dial; a base plate; two sight bars; a staff adapter. Within the box, the silvered face is engraved with a compass rose marking the four cardinal and quarter directions. Engraved initials distinguish the quarter directions and east and west, which are reversed so as to appear correct when sighting from the south. North is distinguished by engraved decoration of an abstract, tripartite arrow point within a circular reserve. South is distinguished by the placement of the outkeeper dial. Around the southern edge of the face is engraved: "G. Chandlee W./ L. A. Washington". The needle of the compass is made of blued steel, and has an ornate arrow and swag profile at its point while its opposite end is plain. It is held in place by a center pin, which also holds the point of a tapering, copper alloy needle pin, engraved with a line down its center. A knob on the reverse of the base plate controls the needle pin, allowing it to fix the needle for travel. The other end of the needle pin is affixed to the face between the W and SW points. A copper alloy knob atop the center pin holds the needle and needle pin in place. The outkeeper dial is composed of a circular reserve engraved on the face with a circular aperture at its southern point, a single, arrow shaped hand screwed to the center of the reserve, a circular gear engraved with the number one through sixteen at equal intervals, a cast brass box which encloses the gear and is screwed the reverse of the base plate, and a cast brass knob to turn the gear. The circular reserve of the outkeeper dial is marked with divisions of 20 around its circumference, and every other division from forty to two hundred eighty is engraved with the appropriate number at the tic mark. Within this border, the letter "P" is engraved directly below the mark engraved one hundred sixty. Below the "P" is engraved an abstract arrow atop an ellipse. As the knob of the outkeeper dial is turned, it advances the hand by an increment of twenty and at the same time advances the gear by one unit. The number on the gear is visible through the circular aperture on the face. Placed around the circumference of the box is the dial ring. It is engraved with a double border, the first border of which is engraved with tick marks designating every thirty minutes, and the second border of is engraved with tick marks designating each degree. Every tenth degree from zero to ninety is engraved with the appropriate numeric designation within each quadrant. Every fifth degree is designated with a longer tick mark. All of the engraved areas of the face and dial are rubbed with an organic resin to make them more distinct and legible. The box is screwed to the center of a cast brass plate consisting of a circular center with two arms extending from it on opposite sides. The straight sides of each arm are molded with a baluster profile where each joins the circular center. A line is engraved down the center of each arm and each arm is engraved with the number "1" and "3" respectively, about a half inch from its terminus. The southern arm is also engraved with a two-column, ten row table with arched heading. In the first row, each column is marked "L/ T". In the L column, the numbers run in gradations of 2.5 from 2.5 to 22.5; in the "T" column, the numbers run from one to nine. A vertical, cast brass, straight sided sight bar with tiered crest and squared foot with beveled edge is screwed to the end of each horizontal arm. The base of each sight bar is engraved "1" and "3" respectively. At the top half of the southern sight bar is a vertical, straight edged aperture with circular termini at top and bottom and concave walls surrounding a narrow slit along its length. On the bottom half of the southern sight bar is a vertical aperture with straight sides and concave walls surrounding a narrow slit with large and smaller circular holes set in the upper third of its length. The northern sight bar has these two slits placed in reverse of those on the southern sight bar. The adapter which allows the compass to be mounted to a staff is screwed to reverse of the base plate at its center. The adapter consists of a flat circular plate with a smaller circular step at its center from which projects a cylinder with a shallow well within its base.

Circular brass cover for compass box; pin at reverse of center; series of four engraved, concentric circles on obverse.

Staff of oak on which to mount a compass, with brass socket at top and iron shod point; cylindrical brass socket extends from a brass cap with molded shoulders that is screwed onto the head of the staff; the iron alloy plate covering the point of the staff is secured with a single nail; "W.164" stamped on a copper alloy plaque above the iron shod point of the staff.

Yellow pine and tulip poplar storage box with brass hinges and hook; paper labels.


c. 1795




A: Brass, glass, silvering, steel, organic resin B: Oak, brass, iron alloy C: Wood, brass, paper


Overall (A): 8 1/4 in. x 6 5/16 in. x 14 3/4 in. (20.96 cm x 16.03 cm x 37.47 cm)
Other (A: face): 9/16 in. x 6 1/4 in. x 6 1/4 in. (1.42 cm x 15.88 cm x 15.88 cm)
Overall (Compass cover): 3/16 in. x 6 1/4 in. x 6 1/4 in. (0.46 cm x 15.88 cm x 15.88 cm)
Overall (B): 53 1/2 in. x 1 3/4 in. (135.89 cm x 4.45 cm)
Other (B: Brass cap on staff): 2 3/4 in. (6.99 cm)

Credit Line

Purchase, 1927


A: Engraved around southern edge of face: "G. Chandlee. W. / L. A. Washington".

Engraved at the end of the southern arm and on the base of the southern sight: "1".

Engraved on the southern arm is a two column, ten row table headed "L/ T." In the L column, the numbers run in gradations of 2.5 from 2.5 to 22.5. In the "T" column, the numbers run from 1-9.

Engraved at the end of the northern arm and on the base of the northern sight: "3".

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

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