The Virginia-North Carolina border was resolved in two major joint survey efforts in 1728 and 1749.
The very first survey effort to define the boundary was in 1710. It was a total failure, and the Virginians blamed the North Carolinians for blocking the effort before any boundaries were surveyed.
The survey in 1728 succeeded in defining the boundary separating the two colonies, from the Atlantic Ocean to a point 237 miles west. The most prominent member of that effort was William Byrd II, who documented what was an adventure for him in a highly-opinioned history of the survey. In 1749, the father of Thomas Jefferson and his partner, Peter Fry, worked with two North Carolina surveyors. They pushed the boundary the last 90 miles westward into the Tennessee River watershed. They stopped in the Blue Ridge near the watershed divide between the New-Tennessee rivers, defining what still remains the southeastern corner of Virginia-North Carolina.
A third survey effort to survey the boundary further west in 1779-1780 was another failure, at least regarding the North Carolina portion. Surveyors from Virginia and North Carolina split up and defined separate lines two miles apart across the Holston River watershed, and only the Virginia surveyors moved on to reach the Tennessee River. By the time Virginia agreed to adopt a compromise boundary, the land west of the Blue Ridge was part of Tennessee rather than North Carolina.
Virginia-North Carolina boundary, as extended in 1749 west to a tributary of the Holston River near modern-day Damascus, Virginia
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. (drawn by Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson in 1751)
When English colonists first attempted to settle in North America, they arrived in what is now Roanoke Island in North Carolina. Those first settlers discovered the area was known as "Wingandacoa" by the current residents - but the English soon decided to call the place Virginia, after the supposedly "virgin" Queen Elizabeth.1
Originally, all of modern-day North Carolina was included in Virginia in the three different colonial charters granted for the original colony. When the new colony of North Carolina was created and granted to eight Lords Proprietors - Earl of Clarendon (Edward Hyde), Duke of Albemarle (George Monck), William Craven, John Berkeley, William Berkeley, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (later the Earl of Shaftesbury), George Carteret, and John Colleton) in 1663, the southern edge of Virginia/northern boundary of North Carolina was defined at the latitude of 36 degrees north.2
That boundary was revised in a new 1665 charter to 36 degrees 30 minutes, about 35 miles further north. Moving the border a half-degree to the north gave the Carolinians control over the earliest settlers who had already occupied lands on Albemarle Sound, and eliminated potential conflict over control of shipping through that body of water. At the time, Currituck Inlet offered a path through the barrier islands from the northern tip of Albemarle Sound, but later storms shifted sands and have closed that inlet.
(This revision was comparable to the Second Charter of Virginia in 1609, which gave the London Company complete control over the upper Chesapeake Bay. The 1609 charter eliminated any confusion regarding the rights granted to the Plymouth Company in the First Charter of 1606.)
Currituck Inlet provided access through the barrier islands in 1770
Source: Library of Congress, A compleat map of North-Carolina from an actual survey
Currituck Inlet is now closed
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The land south of the Elizabeth River in Virginia and north of Albemarle Sound was relatively inaccessible. There was no easy water access to ship tobacco or other products from that area to the Hampton Roads, so Virginia settlement expanded to the north up the York, Rappahannock and Potomac rivers. In North Carolina, shipping was severely constrained by the lack of reliable passages through the barrier islands. The border region was a backwater, where settlers (including runaway slaves) eked out a meager subsistence living from the land and the hogs they raised.
In 1699, a border dispute involving Crow Island in Albemarle Sound triggered multiple letters between the Carolina and Virginia governors. A Virginia resident had obtained an order from a Princess Anne court regarding a lawsuit against a Carolina resident, and based on that court order Virginia officials seized property in Carolina.
Carolina officials then took a deputy sheriff from Virginia into custody. The Carolinians claimed that officials from Princess Anne County (now the City of Virginia Beach) in Virginia were ignoring not only the border, but even the legitimate existence of Carolina as a separate colony.3
The London officials on the Board of Trade, from across the Atlantic Ocean, advised the governor of Virginia in 1700:4
During the following decade, the Virginia and Carolina governments wrote reports to the Board of Trade that resemble the complaints of young children asking an adult to resolve their conflict. Virginia even sponsored a secret survey to determine if the mouth of the Meherrin River was at 36 degrees 30 minutes, and how locating the line would affect existing property owners.5
In 1710, the governors of Virginia and Carolina appointed surveyors (plus members of the gentry to serve as commissioners, who would represent each colony's interests during the surveys) to mark the northern boundary line. That line was defined clearly in the 1665 Carolina charter:6
However, the 1710 attempt to survey and mark the Virginia-Carolina boundary was a complete failure. The commissioners agreed on nothing, so no useful boundary lines were surveyed.
Based on testimony by local residents, the Virginia commissioners decided that the creek known as Wyonoak/Weyanoak/Weycocon/Wicocon was the location identified in the 1665 charter. Carolina's commissioners disagreed. They argued that the Native Americans for whom the Weyanoak was named had moved around, and the line should run due west to intersect the mouth of the Nottoway River. The North Carolina surveyors claimed that if the Virginia approach was adopted, the border would move 15 miles south of the 36° 30' line of latitude.
The Virginia surveyors may have brought an inaccurate quadrant, or may have been inadequately trained to use their equipment. They claimed the mouth of the Nottoway River was at 37° latitude and all the blame for the failed 1710 survey could be assigned to one North Carolina official.
The Virginians claimed that Edward Moseley "started all the captious Arguments and Exceptions that could be." The Virginians also objected to the local witnesses recruited by the North Carolinians. Those witnesses swore that the Nottoway River was traditionally known as Weyanoak Creek, so the boundary line should be located at the mouth of the Nottoway River rather than further south. The Virginians claimed that Moseley misrepresented the statements in his documentation, that those locals were not honest, and that there were significant conflicts of interest that affected the testimony:7
The Virginia commissioners accused the Carolinians of deliberately sabotaging the survey effort by interfering in testimony regarding the historic location of "Wyonoak" creek, and lying about the availablity of survey tools that would corroborate the results of the Virginia instruments. The Virginia commissioners surmised that Moseley had patented property that could be across the border in Virginia, while the other North Carolina commissioner (John Lawson) would lose some surveying business if the line was marked.8
Failure to determine the boundary left the border region as a no-man's-land. Colonial officials were not clear who was authorized to enforce the law, and settlers found it convenient to avoid paying taxes to either colony. Though Virginia and North Carolina agreed not to issue grants of land in the disputed area, North Carolina may have been less strict in its compliance with that deal.
Escaped slaves also took advantage of the lack of law enforcement. In 1728, William Byrd visited with a family that claimed to be free, but he suspected were runaways:9
In 1728, the colonial governors of Virginia and North Carolina agreed to survey the boundary again. That effort started at the Atlantic Ocean, and surveyors went westward until reaching the edge of European settlement beyond the Dan River. William Byrd II wrote about the experience, starting with the challenge of defining the starting point.
The surveyors and commissioners started in February, 1728 at the Atlantic Ocean, at what is now the southeastern corner of Virginia's False Cape State Park. In a repeat of the 1710 survey, the Virginians made a hard-to-substantiate claim at the very beginning. As Byrd reported later in The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina:10
Once again Edward Moseley represented North Carolina, this time as both a commissioner and as a surveyor, but he was willing to adapt to the situation. Byrd thought the authority of the Virginia surveyors to proceed independently, if necessary, helped create a willingness on the part of the North Carolina side to compromise.
The next morning they agreed on a starting point. They drove a cedar post into the sand at a location 200 yards further north than the Virginians had proposed the previous day, adjusted their compasses three degrees to account for the variation between magnetic and true north, and started west across the marshes and islands of the Coastal Plain.
At times, according to Byrd, the surveyors walked in mud up to their news, and struggled to find a place to camp overnight where the swampy ground "made a fitter lodging for tadpoles than men." The professional surveyors and their chainmen took the physical difficulties as a challenge, and competed to be the first to march through the uncharted Dismal Swamp. The commissioners chose to bypass that part of the survey and traveled around the edge to the other side. It took several days for the surveyors to emerge, starving and exhausted from the crossing of the Dismal.
In 1720, two North Carolinians had reported to the Board of Trade in London regarding the local population:11
In 1728, William Byrd II also found little reason to respect the inhabitants, commenting:12
The land in the southeastern corner of Virginia/northeastern corner of North Carolina was productive, but inaccessible to shipping from Europe due to the barrier islands. Byrd commented on both the geography and how the survey would impact the landowners:13
After reaching the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers, it was clear that the key 1710 claim by the Virginia commissioners was not correct. The Nottoway River would be the "Wyonoak creek" referenced in the 1665 charter, not the Wiccacon River that flowed into the Chowan River much further south.
According to the instructions issued by governors Spottswood and Eden in 1716 for the resolution of the boundary issue, after encountering the Blackwater River the surveyors moved half a mile south to the confluence with the Nottoway River (the start of the Chowan River) and then began surveying straight to the west again.
The confluence was identified as being at 36 degrees 30.5 minutes - slightly north of the line defined in the 1665 charter. As a result, North Carolina received a small amount of additional land as the survey headed west again, because the instructions from the governors directed that the surveyors use specific natural features rather than the mathematical lines of latitude to mark the border.
After completing over 70 miles of surveying to the Meherrin River, the party took a break between April-September 1728. According to William Byrd II's description of the September-October survey effort, on good days they could mark 7-8 miles of surveyed line... but on other days covered only 4 miles.14
The Carolina commissioners and surveyors participated for only two weeks in the Fall, 1728 effort. By that time, they claimed to have extended the survey well beyond existing settlement, but the Virginians felt settlement would soon extend to the region. Over the protests of the Carolinians, the Virginians continued the survey - even after they ran out of liqour, which appeared to have been a major element in keeping everyone mellow despite the rough conditions. At the Dan River, they finally spotted the Blue Ridge in the distance.
They crossed Matrimony Creek ("called so by an unfortunate married man, because it was exceedingly noisy and impetuous"), and pushed on until they ran out of forage for the horses and wild game for the men. By October 26, 1728, the surveyors' had made their last blaze, on a red oak near Peters Creek (a tributary of the Dan River in modern Patrick County).15
According to their calculations, the expedition had travelled 237 miles west from the cedar post planted at the starting point on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and 64 miles past the point where the Carolina commissioners had left.16
Byrd's party considered returning home by traveling north to the headwaters of the James River, in part to determine if the Sharantow (Shenandoah) stretched south all the way to the Roanoke River and if a lake was at the headwaters of the Roanoke, Sheandoah, and "another wide branch of Mississippi" (the New River). The food shortage convinced them to return along the survey line they had just marked, taking the now-known path rather than exploring the unknown.17
Byrd was so impressed by the quality of the land along the border, he soon obtained a land grant from the proprietors in North Carolina. Byrd had William Mayo, one of the Virginia surveyors in 1728, mark the limits of his 20,000 acres where the Dan River crosses into Virginia. (Mayo also was one of the surveyors in 1736 for the Fairfax Grant, and Byrd was one of the colony's commissioners for that effort.)
In 1749, Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson extended the surveyed boundary 90 miles further to the west (with William Churton and Daniel Weldon representing North Carolina). They started at Peters Creek, where William Byrd had stopped his survey of the "dividing line" 20 years earlier. Their survey stopped at what they called Steep Rock Creek, southeast of modern-day Damascus about two miles from the Holston River.
the 1749 survey stopped at Steep Rock Creek
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson surveyed the Virginia-North Carolina border in 1749 from Peters Creek west to "Steep Rock Creek"
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
No "Steep Rock Creek" appears on modern maps or in the USGS Geographic Names Information System. Fry and Peters stopped at a creek, but today the western corner of Virginia/North Carolina is located on the watershed divide which separates Big Horse Creek (which drains into the New River) and Valley Creek (which drains into the Holston and ultimately the Tennessee River).
the current Virginia-North Carolina boundary ends on the watershed divide between Valley Creek (in the Tennessee River watershed) and Big Horse Creek (in the New River watershed)
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The names of the small streams have changed over time. Most likely, "Steep Rock Creek" is the stream now called Laurel Creek in Tennessee and the "Laurel Creek" on Fry and Jefferson's map is now called Big Horse Creek in North Carolina.
Land speculation and population growth in southwestern Virginia drove the decision of the General Assembly to order the Fry-Jefferson survey. In 1745 the General Assembly gave the Greenbrier Company a 100,000 acre land grant in the valley of the Greenbrier River. In 1749 the Loyal Land Company got a grant for 800,000 acres, but had to submit surveys within four years to gain ownership of the land. Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson were both members of the Loyal Land Company, and the land grant required that the 800,000 acres must be located north of the Virginia-North Carolina boundary:18
Thomas Walker, a leading member of the Loyal Land Company, explored the territory in 1750. He traveled through Cumberland Gap and discovered the potential for selling parcels in the Kentucky region. The French and Indian War temporarily stopped demand for purchasing lands on the frontier, however, and then the Proclamation of 1763 delayed the company's ability to file surveys and obtain ownership.
For the next 25 years, land speculators such as the Loyal Land Company were the people most concerned with the undefined boundary between Virginia and North Carolina. Most of the settlers who actually lived on the border were less interested in drawing the exact location of the boundary line.
Many of the poor settlers who "squatted" on the frontier were willing to build simple shelters, plant crops, and raise families without filing official surveys at a county courthouse and purchasing legal ownership. Filings cost money, and formal landpurchases would trigger collection of taxes. The Loyal Land Company needed surveys so parcels could be sold as the population moved west, but King George blocked their efforts in 1763.
for 30 years after the Fry and Jefferson stopped at Steep Rock Creek, the northern border of North Carolina-Virginia was left undefined
Source: Library of Congress, A new and accurate map of North Carolina in North America (1779)
The Proclamation Line of 1763 was intended to block colonial settlement in most of the Ohio River watershed. Officials in London hoped that blocking migration to the west of the proclamation line would reduce the number of hostile Native American-settler interactions, minimizing the cost of maintaining peace in North America after the French and Indian War.
The land speculators in the Ohio Company, Greenbrier Company, and Loyal Land Company were politically-powerful members of the gentry who ensured that colonial officials did not support the proclamation. On the frontier itself, some settlers had already carved out farms in some areas such as Sapling Grove (modern-day Bristol) that became off-limits according to the Proclamation Line of 1763.
In 1768 the western limits of that proclamation were extended through the Treaty of Hard Labor, and then again in the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber with the Cherokees. The Treaty of Hard Labor defined a boundary from a site in the Blue Ridge north of the South Carolina border (later named Mount Tryon after the North Carolina governor), north to the lead mines of John Chiswell near modern-day Wytheville on I-81, then in a straight line northwest to the mouth of the Kanawha River. Existing settlements on the New River, such as the Ingles Ferry and Dunkard Bottom near modern-day Radford, were placed on the Virginia side of the boundary.
Treaties with the Cherokee addressed lands south of the Ohio River. The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix extinguished whatever claims the Iroquois had to the land south of the Ohio River and west to the Tennessee River. However, the treaties did not consider claims to those same lands by the Shawnee, whose major towns were located north of the Ohio River but who claimed rights to much of the territory on the south side. Shawnee claims eastward to the Virginia settlements in the Shenandoah Valley were demonstrated by raids during the French and Indian War, including the seizure of Mary Draper Ingles on the New River near modern-day Blacksburg.
the 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor defined the edge of colonial settlement vs. the Cherokee Hunting Grounds, by drawing a line north from a site near South Carolina to Chiswell's Mine and then directly to the mouth of the Kanawha River
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the country between Albemarle Sound, and Lake Erie, comprehending the whole of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pensylvania, with parts of several other of the United States of America (1787)
The 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor did not legitimize the settlers already living southwest of the line, on the Holston River. Two years later, that problem was solved for some of the colonists. The official Treaty of Lochaber in 1770 moved the boundary westward from Tryon Mountain to a point on the Holston River six miles upstream (east) from the Long Island of the Holston.
There were unofficial negotiations by colonial officials with the Cherokees after concurring with the Treaty of Lochaber, reportedly after generous distribution of rum. The unofficial deal was endorsed by colonial officials, but not the official negotiator appointed by the Board of Trade in London.
That post-treaty deal moved the northern boundary on the Ohio River downstream from the mouth of the Kanawha River to the mouth of the Kentucky River, a shift of over 150 miles further west. The change substantially increased the acreage surrendered by the Cherokee, and increased the lands available for Virginia speculators such as the Loyal Land Company to survey and patent.19
North Carolina made no effort to establish a local government in the territory that had been ceded by the Cherokee under the 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor; that territory was believed to be within the boundaries of Virginia. The 1770 Lochaber Treaty extended the dividing line between the colonists and Cherokee westward to the Holston River, extending the Fry-Jefferson boundary by following what was believed to be the 36° 30' line of latitude.
Land north of the Holston River, in the area authorized by the Treaty of Lochaber, was considered to be part of Virginia. The survey of the new dividing line separating Cherokee lands and Virginia, as defined in the 1770 treaty, was the responsibility of Virginia and not a joint boundary survey with the colony of North Carolina.
Thomas Jefferson indicated the southern boundary of Washington County, Virginia extended to the spot on the Holston River six miles east of Long Island as defined in the Treaty of Lochaber, before going due north towards the mouth of the Kanawha River
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the country between Albemarle Sound, and Lake Erie, comprehending the whole of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pensylvania, with parts of several other of the United States of America (1787)
John Donelson was tasked to mark the edge of Cherokee-Virginia territory. He was the surveyor for Pittsylvania County and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Like so many other surveyors and commissioners overseeing surveys on frontier lands, including William Byrd II and George Washington, Donelson gained a unique understanding of the area and became a land speculator on the frontier. (His daughter later Rachel married Andrew Jackson, but died before Jackson was elected president.)
The 1771 Donelson Line extended the 1749 boundary line of Fry and Jefferson westward to the Holston River, and the Donelson Line was treated as the Virginia-North Carolina boundary. In 1772 Virginia subdivided Botetourt County and created Fincastle County. Creating the new county meant that residents living on the Holston River north of the Donelson Line were obliged (at least in theory) to pay taxes for local services and to serve in the Fincastle County militia. However, the settlers at the far southwestern edge of Virginia could now file surveys and resolve disputes over land titles at a county seat located much closer, at the lead mines owned by Col. John Chiswell on the New River (later known as Austinville) rather than at the Botetourt county seat on the James River.20
The 1771 survey revealed the Holston River settlements at Reedy Creek were north of Donelson's Line, but Watauga (now Elizabethton, TN), Nolichucky (now Erwin, TN), and Carter's Valley (near Rogersville TN) were clearly south of the Lochaber treaty boundary. Those settlements encroached on lands reserved for the Cherokee. They were south of the Virginia boundary as defined by Donelson, and west of the organized county governments in North Carolina that provided land recordation services and official militia protection.
Donelson's Line marking the boundaries defined in the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber went east-west from the end of the Fry-Jefferson survey to the Holston River, then north to the mouth of the Kanawha River
Source: Discover Kingsport, Maps: Kingsport
Rather than obey requirements of the various treaties to move, the families living on the wrong side of the line concentrated at one place, Watauga, and successfully negotiated with the Cherokee to lease land at that site south of the Donelson Line. The beyond-the-Donelson-Line residents formed the Watauga Association as their local government, separate from both North Carolina and Virginia.
By 1775, a set of speculators led by Colonel Richard Henderson sought to take advantage of the circumstances, bypass the Virginia government in Williamsburg, and establish ownership of the lands in the upper Tennessee River Valley. The speculators organized as the Transylvania Company, then negotiated the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with Cherokees to purchase 20 million acres between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers. The Kentucky River was chosen as the eastern edge of the Transylvania purchase because lands further east had already been surrendered in the 1768 Treaty of Hard Labor, the 1770 Treaty of Lochabar, and post-treaty negotiations moving the boundary westward to the Kentucky River.
the primary Transylvania Company purchase was located between the Kentucky and Cumberland Rivers - and most of that territory was already claimed by Virginia under its Second Charter in 1609
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
The Cherokee demonstrated in the 1760's and 1770's that they were willing to abandon lands on their periphery, in modern-day Kentucky and West Virginia. The plan was to move further south, concentrating in settlements on the western edge of South Carolina/Georgia. That was closer to the rival Creek and Choctaw - but ideally, the colonists would migrate into the lands purchased above the Cumberland River and stay north of the new Cherokee homeland.
The decision to abandon core traditional territory on the Holston River, especially the sale of Long Island to the Transylvania Company, created major conflict within the Cherokee community. A group of Cherokee led by Dragging Canoe opposed the sale. After the leading chiefs agreed to the sale of northern lands the Transylvania Company, Dragging Canoe formed a splinter group that organized attacks on the Watauga settlements and later allied with the British during the American Revolution.
Both Virginia and North Carolina militia responded to Dragging Canoe's attacks, marching to the Holston River and joining in retaliatory raids on Cherokee towns. The Watauga settlers had already petitioned North Carolina to annex them and establish a local government within that state. North Carolina created the Washington District in 1776 and then organized Washington County in 1777, with boundaries extending to the Mississippi River.
A western extension of the Donelson Line and Fry-Jefferson line along the 36° 30' line of latitude was the presumed North Carolina-Virginia boundary, when Washington County (North Carolina) and Washington County and Kentucky County (Virginia) were created in 1777. That state boundary, west to the Mississippi River, was unmarked beyond the point where Donelson had stopped in 1771 on the Holston River six miles east of Long Island.
Virginia provided more local government as well. The eastern gentry in Williamsburg, not the settlers on the frontier, maneuvered to be certain that Virginia could issue reliable title to lands when approving surveys and patents to those land companies - and award land bounties authorized for veterans of the French and Indian War. That opportunity was of particular interest to George Washington, who planned to get richer by speculating in those grants.21
The Virginia Convention, meeting in place of the old House of Burgesses, dissolved Fincastle County in 1776. Lord Dunmore, the last governor of Virginia appointed by the King of England, was also Viscount of Fincastle. His son was also named Fincastle. By 1776 Virginia had forced Dunmore out of office, and the rebel leaders eliminated the county whose name honored Lord Dunmore.
Three new local jurisdictions, Montgomery, Washington, and Kentucky counties, replaced Fincastle County. Starting in 1777, the Holston river settlers could go to the county court at Abingdon in Washington County to resolve disputes and officially claim title to land parcels.22
The threat of the Transylvania Company in 1775 affected the Virginia territory west of the official boundary defined by the 1770 Treaty of Lochaber. Though technically the Proclamation of 1763 blocked legal settlement on lands west of the treaty line, the powerful members of various land companies ensured that the General Assembly asserted Virginia's boundary.
The Transylvania Company hired explorers and surveyors to document their "purchase." Daniel Boone, employed by the company, identified the path for the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap.
demand for legal land sales and purchases was the stimulus for surveying boundaries and extending the transportation network through southwestern Virginia
Source: National Park Service, Early American Frontier
Virginia and North Carolina officials refused to concede that the Transylvania Company had any legitimate claim. They agreed to survey their shared colonial boundary, extending the line west of where Fry and Jefferson had stopped in 1749 and Donelson had stopped in 1771. A mutually-adopted boundary would help each new state to assert its claims in the US Congress to land in the Tennessee River watershed. Blocking the Transylvania Company would allow both Virginia and North Carolina to obtain one-time revenue from sale of public land to settlers, and to direct annual taxes from settlers to state-defined county governments.
Complicating the challenge of establishing authority and ownership of western land, the Transylvania Company claim occurred at the start of the American Revolution. In May, 1779, Virginia experienced its first major invasion by the British. Sir George Collier sailed a fleet into the Chesapeake Bay and, with troops led by General Edward Mathew, seized Portsmouth. The British burned the Gosport Navy Yard and raided throughout Hampton Roads.
Nonetheless, in 1779 Virginia officials still found time to organize a survey with Carolina to define the boundary line west of the Blue Ridge.
the simple solution for mapmakers after 1749 was to project the Virginia-North Carolina boundary west to the Mississippi River
Source: Library of Congress, A new map of the western parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina (1778)
The Virginia survey team included Col. Thomas Walker. He was a member of the Loyal Land Company, and would lose a substantial amount of prime land if the Transylvania Company claim was upheld. Col. Richard Henderson was an official commissioner of the North Carolina survey team, and of course might benefit if the survey project was not completed. Conflicts of interest were common, when frontier land was involved...
The survey process required judgement calls using a magnetic compass to determine direction and using a sextant aligned with the sun to determine latitude. If the survey line ran further north than the desired 36° 30' line, too much land would end up in North Carolina. If the line was located south of the 36° 30' latitude line, then Virginia would be enlarged at the expense of North Carolina.
At the start, the surveyors assessed each other's equipment, agreed on what variances would be appropriate for the magnetic compasses used by different surveyors, and concurred that Steep Rock Creek was 329 miles west of Curratuck Inlet. Not surprisingly, the North Carolina and Virginia surveyors soon disagreed. Less than two weeks after starting the survey in early September, 1779, one of the Virginia commissioners reported that:23
The two survey teams split up. The North Carolina surveyors angled to the north, while the Virginians defined a different boundary line to the south. The dispute over the Walker and Henderson lines created confusion regarding status of a slice of land two miles wide through the Holston River watershed.
That conflict was not resolved with North Carolina; that state never agreed on a boundary line west of the point where Fry and Jefferson had stopped in 1749. Instead, North Carolina abandoned its efforts to govern the territory west of the Blue Ridge and ceded its land claims to the US Congress.
The first cession involved a corrupt arrangement, with members of the North Carolina legislature obtaining massive land grants and then ceding the land contingent upon Congress guaranteeing those private claims. That triggered a political uproar in North Carolina, while the settlers west of the Blue Ridge organized a new state government independent of North Carolina. The State of Franklin survived several years until North Carolina regained control and finally executed a cession to the US Congress in 1790.24
Congress organized the Souhwestern Territory, then accepted thev State of Tenneesee into the union in 1796. Virginia's southwestern border beyond the 1749 Fry-Jefferson line was finally resolved with Tennessee through compromises (including an 1802 survey known as the "diamond line") and multiple lawsuits.
the modern North Carolina-Virginia-Tennessee border includes a northeast zig-zag between the end of the Fry-Jefferson survey in 1749 and the start of a compromise "diamond line" survey in 1802
Source: USGS, Digital Raster Graphic (DRG) of Grayson 7.5 minute topo quad,
downloaded from University of Virginia Library, Virginia Gazetteer
The far eastern boundary of Virginia-North Carolina, running in the opposite direction from the boundary survey of 1728, extends into the Atlantic Ocean.
Under Federal law defining control of the Outer Continental Shelf, each state owns the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for three miles off the shoreline (measured from the Mean Lower Low Water line). The North Carolina Constitution established a straight line to define the boundary with Virginia, east of the location where surveyors placed a cedar post in 1728:25
The Federal government owns the ocean bottom east of the three mile offshore boundary. Federal agencies manage oil/gas and windpower leases on the Outer Continental Shelf beyond the three mile boundary. Distribution of revenues from Federal leases will be based on the Administrative Boundaries defined by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
That agency defines the Administrative Boundaries based a depiction of the shoreline location known as the National Baseline, which is created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The National Baseline is determined by using the Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) line on on NOAA’s nautical charts, plus straight lines drawn across indentations such as bays and river mouths, and mathematically determines boundaries based on the principle of equidistance.
The administrative boundaries are not based on drawing east-west lines perpendicular to one point on the coast, in contrast to the definition of the Virginia-North Carolina boundary. Instead, the administrative boundary lines are drawn so points will be equidistant from the nearest points on the National Baseline. As a result, North Carolina will receive some revenues from leases that are located in waters north of the Virginia-North Carolina boundary, if the Federal government issues leases next to the state boundary.26
though the extension of the state boundary into the Atlantic Ocean may go directly east-west, the Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Administrative Boundaries are based on the principle of equidistance
Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Administrative Boundaries