About the Unit

Young gentlemen of Mathematical genius, who are acquainted with the principles of Geometry, and who have a taste for drawing, would be the most proper assistants for a Geographer. Such, in a few days practice, may be made expert surveyors.

-Robert Erskine, F.R.S., Geographer to the Army of the United States

Our Philosophy

The mission of the Department of the Geographer is to accurately portray a working interpretation of the Department during the period from 1777 to 1783 with the express goal of portraying the world of the Continental Army staff officer better than has been achieved to date.

The Department of the Geographer is different in appearance and attitude than much of the Revolutionary War living history community. This is for a purpose. Other units make certain concessions to authenticity or may define themselves as “family organizations,” wherein membership quantity is paramount to quality. We do not. We define ourselves as a military organization in that we represent a staff department of Washington’s headquarters and we do our best to act like officers and soldiers on duty. During duty hours, we follow proper military protocols and soldiers are expected to live a soldier’s life. Our clothing is typically hand-finished and the materials all linen and wool, like what the men of the Continental Army would have worn. Our camp is functional, but not over-furnished. The purpose is present a faithful representation of what life in the Continental Army was like to those who hope to learn from the events we attend, but also that we may have a deeper appreciation for the lives of the men we say we represent.

This sort of living history is not for everyone. There are high expectations on all members, but they are quite attainable, and for those who do, very rewarding. You will have the satisfaction knowing that you are at the peak of the living history experience, not only educating the general public, but yourself as well. There is a gratifying feeling knowing that you know what you are doing, you are doing right, and you will soon find that you will be eager to continue to push the envelope. Along with this, you will find camaraderie among those around you. To those willing to take up the challenge, we welcome you. (Adapted from the 2d Virginia Regiment Manual)

The Progressive Philosophy: The Geographer’s Department sees itself as a progressive unit, meaning that its members will strive to achieve the greatest accuracy possible in all aspects of its impression, including clothing, camp equipage, instruments and tools, knowledge of the science of surveying and cartography in the 18th century, and knowledge of the War for American Independence (both on a tactical and strategic level). All Active Members must ascribe (in word and deed) to the principles set forth in the “Progressive Manifesto,” which appears in this document.

 The Living History Interpretation

The recreated unit will follow the precedent found in Revolutionary War reenacting that frowns on the portrayal of historical characters at events. This practice is more common in Civil War reenacting, but in our time period, individuals portraying characters are specifically invited by the historic site or event coordinators. Thus, we will not portray the characters of individuals associated with the department like Robert Erskine, Thomas Hutchins, and Simeon DeWitt unless specifically requested to do so by the event host. Members of the unit will portray “anonymous” Assistant Geographers, Civilian Surveyors, and enlisted Chain Bearers, acting as if Erskine, Hutchins, DeWitt, etc. just “stepped out” of the office or camp.

The unit may portray the Geographer’s office attached to headquarters or a field survey party, depending on the portrayal’s appropriateness for any given event. This portrayal may include several Assistant Geographers, between four and six chain and instrument bearers, and a few civilians. Some of the enlisted chain bearers will be recruited on a temporary basis from the troops at each event. Those who are permanently attached to the Geographers will also serve as a guard when necessary. These guards will not participate in battle reenactments unless they gain permission to attach themselves to another unit for the duration of the battle (the Geographers Department liability insurance policy does not include firing of firearms).

Whenever possible, the unit’s work area will be housed in a dwelling or other suitable structure at an event site, as was done by the original unit. When in the field, the unit will use tentage adequate to house the instruments and work space. It is the desire of the unit to actually conduct surveys and mapmaking activities at events.

We do not want to be a “pretty group of officers” sitting around in camp all day. Public education is key, and this can be done in camp as well as in the field.

Continuing research, training, and education will be the hallmark of the Department of the Geographer. In order for us to adequately portray these men, we must become experts in 18th century surveying and mapmaking. As much as they apply to a unit of this type, the philosophy of the progressive reenactor will be followed by the Department of the Geographer, Army of the United States.
Civilian Surveying Portrayals

From time to time, individuals or the entire unit may be asked to portray civilian surveyors at historic sites or living history events. This is encouraged. Each officer in the historical Geographer’s Department had their own civilian background in surveying, engineering, or mathematics before the war. Likewise, it is completely appropriate that reenactors in the recreated unit have, as an alternate, a civilian impression which is based on their region of origin or interest.

Organizational Structure

The recreated unit is led by a Commander (Captain or Lieutenant), Deputy Commander (Captain or Lieutenant), and an Adjutant. These individuals may also serve as Survey Party Chiefs or Deputy Party Chiefs. A Distaff Coordinator may also be appointed to provide support for women within the unit, and to serve as a liaison between the Civilian Class Member (CCM) coordinators the Brigade of the American Revolution and its departments.

To help facilitate authenticity development, communication, and event participation, the unit is divided into three regional survey parties (similar to companies of larger infantry reenacting units). These survey parties are:

  • Capt. Thomas Hutchins’ Survey Party– Named after the Southern Department Geographer (appointed in 1781), the first Geographer to the United States after the War, and the developer of the Rectangular Survey System (1785). The party covers Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Eastern West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Northern Georgia.
  • Capt. William Scull’s Survey Party– Named after the chief of a Pennsylvanian survey party that was working for the Board of War when it was assigned to the Geographer’s Department. Scull created a seminal map of Pennsylvania, and conducted a number of western surveys. The party covers Western Pennsylvania, Western West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Southern Michigan.
  • Mr. Simeon DeWitt’s Survey Party– Named after the second Geographer to the Main Department, who would go on to serve as the Surveyor General for the State of New York. The party covers Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Southern Maine.

While these regional parties generally represent the states of residence of our members, it is more important to think of them as the areas in which the Department attends events. For example, if you live in Delaware, but would prefer to attend more events in PA, NJ, and NY, then it would be appropriate to associate yourself with DeWitt’s Party, rather than Hutchins’ Party. That said, any member of the Department may attend any other party’s event.

A Party Chief may appoint as many deputies (with the rank of lieutenant) as needed. Party Chiefs and Deputy Party Chiefs should have ready and reliable access to the basic items that are needed to conduct a self-contained surveying demonstration (compass, chain, plotting instruments, table, and shelter at minimum).

The right of the Party Chief to restrict the numbers and types of impressions for given events is hereby reserved. For example, civilian or distaff impressions may not be appropriate for certain events, or the converse may be true: all members would need to attend as civilians.

Each Survey Party should have one Survey Party Foreman who serves as the head chain-bearer for the party. This individual should have the rank of sergeant, and should be prepared to train unit members or volunteers from other units on how to run a survey. The sergeant is also to carry out the functions assigned to the non-commissioned officer of a company in the “Roll Call” section of Steuben’s Manual. The Foreman should possess his own Gunter’s chain (half or full), chaining pins, and range poles.

Each Survey Party should have one corporal or sergeant who is responsible for the guard of the camp and surveying crew. This individual is competent in the Steuben manual of arms, and is responsible for teaching others. When called for, he is to conduct the “inspections of the men” section of the Steuben Manual, and is also to be well versed in mounting guards. The Corporal or Sergeant of the Guard should possess his own operational musket (Charleville or Brown Bess), bayonet and scabbard, cartridge box, whisk and pick, musket tool, and worm.

Additionally, each survey party should have at least one enlisted man or civilian who will serve as a waiter for the officers’ mess. This role may be filled by one of the above-named enlisted men, as long as he can fulfill the duties of both positions.

It is strongly recommended that chain bearers and guards (except for those positions described above) be drawn from the troops at living history events and reenactments whenever possible. This is the method used by the original, unit, and has many benefits for the recreated unit. Namely, the majority of the enlisted men leave the Geographer’s camp or office at the end of their duty and retire to their respective camps. Thus, matters of camp life, including most meal preparation, sleeping arrangements, exercise of the manual of arms, interaction with families, etc. will be relegated to the camp area of their home unit. In support of this, as a general rule, additional men wishing to portray enlisted men will not be permitted to join unless one of the above positions is available within the applicant’s survey party.

Education & Standards

A 100+ page Unit Manual is available free of charge (in electronic form) to all unit members (both Active and Associate). The manual contains details about unit policies, history, clothing, instruments, equipment, and more. All unit members are strongly encouraged to attend the unit’s annual School of Instruction, which is typically held in January or February. This event is key to developing technical and living history skills.

  • Facial Hair: Since we attempt to recreate soldiers and officers of the Continental Army as accurately as possible, members are also expected to appear at events with no more than three days worth of facial hair, as soldiers were expected to shave no less than every three days.
  • Period Eyewear: If needed, period-correct eyewear must be worn at all times during living history events. Modern eyeglasses are not acceptable. Acceptable frames are available from Jas. Townsend & Son (the gunmetal finish needs to be sanded off prior to use) for a reasonable price (getting your optometrist to make reasonably-priced lenses for them may be another matter, however). There are no exceptions to this policy. Lenses must be clear (no “sunglasses”).
  • On the Wearing of Period Clothes: When properly constructed, fitted, and worn, period clothes are generally very comfortable to wear. We do not wear costumes! These are your living clothes for the weekend. Members are expected to have period and impression-specific clothing that is suitable for the weather at the event (cold, heat, rain, etc.). Your period clothes need to show the dirt, wear, and tear than an 18th century soldier’s clothing would have. At events, members are expected to wear period clothes at all times after camp is erected (if not Friday night, certainly first thing Saturday morning) until after the camp is broken down on Sunday.
  • Modern Clothing, Accessories, & Tobacco: Under no circumstances shall modern clothing elements (undershirts, long underwear, suspenders, wristwatches, etc.) or equipment be visible during public hours. Cell phones must be set to vibrate at least, or at best, have their ringers turned off. If a member must smoke cigarettes, this must not be done in camp or in view of the public or other reenactors.

For the protection of the unit’s reputation within the reenacting community and with historic sites, all personal and unit equipment must be packaged in a period container, or must constantly be covered by period blankets or other objects when being transported from vehicles into camp, or while piled up while waiting for gear transport to arrive at the end of an event. In addition, when staying in period buildings, such as forts, houses, or barns where the public may possibly enter, no modern items or containers may be visible at any time. Leave them in the car! To clarify, no modern items or containers are to be left in situations where they may be viewed by the public or other reenactors at any time during an event.

Civilian Surveyors & Chain Bearers

While the Continental establishment of the Geographers Department allows for the employ of chain-bearers who are not soldiers (we assume this to mean civilians), we have no documentation at this time that this practice was ever followed in the field. To this end, no more than 10% of the chain bearers in each survey party may portray civilians. This applies only to those individuals who are paid members of the unit, and not to reenactors who may be drafted for a day or weekend to assist in running surveys.

Likewise, of the 11 known surveyors or assistant geographers, only three were civilians. Even then, the degree to which these three civilians interacted with the surveying crews and mapmaking office is unknown. Because of this, not more than 25% of the surveyors and draughtsmen in each survey party may portray civilians. The remaining individuals are to portray Continental officers.


The presence of women and children in camp is a difficult subject for many military reenacting organizations. For infantry regiments and battalions, it is widely accepted that families of lower class soldiers, who could not support the farm on their own with the father gone, often followed the army, to the great disdain of the commanding officers. However, the presence and role of distaff in the Geographer’s Department is not known.

The Geographer’s Department was like any other staff department attached to headquarters, including the Engineers, Paymaster, Quartermaster, Commissary, etc. Headquarters, whether in a house or in camp, was a busy place, with military officers bustling about, prominent locals stopping by to pay their regards, and foreign officers being wooed for support. Evidence indicates that headquarters was typically heavily guarded for the safety of its staff as well as to keep secrets held tightly within. At this time, research does not show that it was a place for families to comingle with officers and men.

Women and children often followed the armies for protection or out of entrepreneurial desires. Either way, non-combatants were expected to serve some logistical use to the army, if not, they were turned away. For this reason, those wishing to portray distaff need to develop a “persona”, or a reason for being with the army, such as that of a nurse, a seamstress, laundress, petty sutler, visitor from town, etc.

It is important to note that women are not required to portray the wife of their modern-day husband at events. It is perfectly acceptable (in fact, encouraged) for distaff in the unit to fill other roles at an event outside of the Geographer’s Department camp.
If a woman wishes to portray the wife of her modern-day husband, her clothing and impression must match his. In other words, the wife of a private soldier will likely be dressed as a lower-class woman, and will be engaged in activities typical for people of this group: repair sewing, nursing, washing, etc. If a woman is portraying the wife of an officer, she should dress as a middle class or upper middle class woman, and might do recreational sewing, painting, reading, or teaching of children.

In either case, the activities of distaff and children must not interfere with the operation of the surveying, mapmaking, and military elements of the camp. In the case of especially busy events, distaff may be asked to assist with providing passive camp security, meal preparation, or other services providing a modern-day logistical purpose. The distaff are not expected or asked to interpret the unit’s camp, except for what information a woman of their place in society might know. The general prohibition against women and children in the unit’s camp during public hours may be waived at the discretion of the Survey Party Chief depending on event size and other conditions.

Distaff associated with the recreated Geographer’s Department are strongly encouraged to coordinate with BAR CCM (Civilian Class Membership) or other camp-wide distaff activities at living history events. This correlates to the opening paragraphs of this document, which relate to the core mission of the unit and the unit’s ability (or lack thereof) to provide education and program support for activities and impressions that are outside of the core mission.

Following Brigade of the American Revolution policies, women may not portray soldiers or other roles historically filled by men (this applies to women wearing men’s clothing and interpreting a male role, as well as women wearing traditional women’s clothing and doing the same.)