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Thomas Hutchins
Born 1730
Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States
Died April 18, 1789(1789-04-18)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Nationality American
Occupation Cartographer, engineer, geographer, surveyor
Known for Only official Geographer of the United States[1]

Thomas Hutchins (Monmouth County, NJ 1730 – April 18, 1789, Pittsburgh) was an American military engineer, cartographer, geographer and surveyor. In 1781, Hutchins was named Geographer of the United States. He is the only person to hold that post.[1]


Hutchins was born in New Jersey.[1]"When only sixteen years of age he went to the western country, and obtained an appointment as an ensign in the British Army."[2] "He joined the militia during the French and Indian War[1] and later took a regular commission with British forces. "...he fought in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). By late 1757, was commissioned a lieutenant in the colony of Pennsylvania, and a year later he was promoted to quartermaster in Colonel Hugh Mercer’s battalion and was stationed at Fort Duquesne near Pittsburgh."[3]

"A New Map of the Western Parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, 1778" by Thomas Hutchins, engraved by T. Cheevers, published in 1778 in London.

"In 1763 General Henry Bouquet, a British officer then in command at Philadelphia, was ordered to the relief of Fort Pitt, now Pittsburgh, and setting out with 500 men, mostly Highlanders, found the frontier settlements greatly alarmed on account of savage invasions. He has some fighting with the Indians along the way, but succeeded in reaching Fort Pitt with supplies, losing, however, eight officers and one hundred and fifteen men. Hutchins was present at this point, and distinguished himself as a soldier, while he laid out the plan of new fortifications, and afterwards executed it under the directions of General Bouquet."[2]

In 1766, he started working for the British army as an engineer.[1] That year, Hutchins joined George Croghan, deputy Indian agent, and Captain Henry Gordon, chief engineer in the Western Department of North America, on an expedition down the Ohio River to survey territory acquired by the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Hutchins worked in the Midwestern territories on land and river surveys for several years until he was transferred to the Southern Department of North America in 1772. He spent about five years working on survey projects in the western part of Florida. During this time he also occasionally traveled north, often to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His advancements in the fields of topography and geography led him to be elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in the spring of 1772.

In 1774, he participated in a survey of the Mississippi river from Manchac to the Yazoo River. This was a mapping expedition led by George Gauld, with Dr. John Lorimer and Captain Thomas Davey, Captain of HMS Sloop Diligence. Also along on part of the expedition was Major Alexander Dickson, commander of the 16th Regiment in West Florida. Much of the data used by Hutchins in preparing his 1784 book, "Historical, Narrative and Topographical Description of Louisiana and West Florida" came from his experiences on this expedition.

Despite his years of service with the British Army, he sympathized with the American cause during the American Revolution. He resigned from his position in 1780.[1][4] He was arrested, charged with treason, and imprisoned. In 1780, he escaped to France and contacted Benjamin Franklin in the United States with a request to join the American army. In December of 1780, Hutchins sailed to Charleston, South Carolina. "By resolution on May 4, 1781, Congress appointed him geographer of the southern army. On July 11, the title was changed to 'Geographer of the United States.'"[5] Hutchins was the first and only Geographer of the United States [6] (see Department of the Geographer to the Army, 1777-1783) from 1781. He became an early advocate of Manifest Destiny, proposing that the United States should annex West Florida and Louisiana, which were then controlled by Spain.[4]

In May 1781, Hutchins was appointed geographer of the southern army, and shared duties with Simeon DeWitt, the geographer of the main army. Just a few months later, a new title was granted to both men, geographer of the United States. When DeWitt became the surveyor-general of New York in 1784, Hutchins held the prestigious title alone.

"Although Congress balked at the idea of a postwar establishment with an engineering department, it did see the need for a geographer and surveyors. Thus, in 1785, Thomas Hutchins became geographer general and immediately began his biggest assignment- surveying "Seven Ranges" townships in the Northwest Territory as provided by the Land Ordnance Act of 1785. For two years Josiah Harmar's troops offered Hutchins and his surveyors much needed protection from Indians."[7]

Hutchins died on assignment while surveying the Seven Ranges.[8] "The Gazette of the United States concluded a commendary memorial notice by the remark, 'he has measured the earth, but a small space now contains him.'"[9] He was interred at the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "A New Map of the Western Parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, 1778". 1778. Retrieved 2013-06-08. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. NY: White & Co. 1899. Volume IX, page 267.
  3. "Thomas Hutchins Papers. Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Longly York, Neil (2003). Turning the World Upside Down: the War of American Independence and the Problem of Empire. [ Praeger Publishers]. p. 159. ISBN 0-275-97693-9. 
  5. "Thomas Hutchins." Dictionary of American Biography. NY: Scribner's Sons. 1932. Volume IX, page 435.
  6. Fort Steuben History
  7. Walker, Paul K. Engineers of Independence: A Documentary History of the Army Engineers in the American Revolution, 1775-1783. [Washington, D.C.]: Historical Division, Office of Administrative Services, Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1981. Page 365.
  8. [1], University of Pittsburg
  9. "Thomas Hutchins." Dictionary of American Biography. NY: Scribner's Sons. 1932. Volume IX, page 436.


  • Hutchins, Thomas. "Experiments on the Dipping Needle, Made by Desire of the Royal Society." Read before the Society, on February 16, 1775. Royal Society. Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775) Volume 65 (1775), pages 129-138.
  • Hutchins, Thomas. Historical, Narrative and Topographical Description of Louisiana and West Florida, containing the River Mississippi with its Principal Branches and Settlements, and the Rivers Pearl, Pascagoula, Mobile, Perdido, Escambia, Chacta-Hatcha, &c. Philadelphia: Robert Aiken. 1784.
  • Hutchins, Thomas. A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, 1778. Reprint with biographical sketch and list of Hutchins’s works by Frederick Charles Hicks. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1904.
  • Smith, William. "Account of Bouquet's Expedition. Philadelphia. 1765. Hutchins supplied the maps and plates for this publication.


  • "Thomas Hutchins", Ohio History Central: An Online Encyclopedia of Ohio History, Ohio Historical Society, 2005.
  • Hicks, Fredrick (1904). "Biographical Sketch of Thomas Hutchins". In Hicks, Fredrick. A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, reprinted from the original edition of 1778. Cleveland: The Burrow Brothers Company. pp. 7–51. Retrieved 1-12-2010. 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Hutchins, Thomas" Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography 1900 
  • "Thomas Hutchins." The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. NY: White & Co. 1899. Volume IX, page 267.
  • "Thomas Hutchins." Dictionary of American Biography. NY: Scribner's Sons. 1932. Volume IX, pages 435-436.

External links

  • The Thomas Hutchins Papers, spanning the bulk of Hutchins's career from the 1750s to the 1780s, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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