Superintendent announces with deep regret the death, on November
7, 1893, in the city of San
Francisco, California, of Assistant
James S. Lawson after an illness of but 2 days.
Mr. Lawson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February
13, 1828, and entered the Central High School of Philadelphia
in July 1841, at which time Alexander Dallas Bache, afterward
Superintendent of the Coast Survey, was the principal. After
his graduation in 1845, Mr. Lawson became a teacher of mathematics
and the classics.
On the 1st of January 1848, he entered the Survey as Clerk and
Computer to the Superintendent, Dr. Bache.
In May 1850, he was assigned to duty on the Pacific Coast, being
one of four young officers who pledge themselves to do any duty,
however difficult incident to the survey of that coast. From
that time forward, for upward of 40 years, he was in active
field service on all parts of the coast from the Strait of Fuca
to San Diego, his principal field of work being in the present
State of Washington, then a territory.
He aided in the survey of Washington Archipelago to define the
channels of the Canal de Haro and Rosario Strait, in order to
settle questions of dispute between the United States and Great
Britain; he carried a triangulation across the Gulf of Georgia
to the 49th parallel of latitude to furnish data for the location
of the United States boundary; and during 2 years in which an
Indian War was in progress he assisted in carrying a triangulation
from the Strait of Fuca through Puget Sound to Steilacoom.
On and near the coast of California, among the many surveys
he executed, may be mentioned the reconnaissance for a primary
base line on Los Angeles Plains, determinations of latitude
in the scheme of triangulation which he developed from this
base, and the primary triangulation of California north of Point
Conception, a work which for several seasons was under his charge.
In the last 3 years of his service he was assigned to duty at
the San Francisco sub-office, and in the absence of the Assistant
in charge took his place. He was at his desk until 3 days before
The announcement of his death was a message of sorrow to numbers
of warm friends on the Pacific Coast and to every officer in
It is difficult to measure in words the worth of an officer
who served under so many varying conditions through a period
covering nearly 46 years. A pioneer in the Survey upon the Pacific
Coast, he saw the country of the northwestern United States
grow up to settlement and development from the wild holdings
of Indian tribes, and in the course of his official duty had
been no stranger to isolation, hardship, and danger.
One of his colleagues writes of an "association with him of
27 years, from the time he entered his party as an Aid, that
he had learned to love him for his manhood, his integrity, and
devotion to duty. With him friendship was not an empty phrase,
and his character was one to compel the admiration of those
whose privilege it was to know him intimately." Another wrote
that "Lawson was of a peculiarly sensitive and retiring disposition,
modest as to his official position and requirements, earnest
in doing his duty in every path of life, true as steel to his
friends, loyal to the Survey, and self-sacrificing to the call
of the needy, a man who never compounded with his conscience
for selfish consideration."
His colleagues on the Pacific Coast wrote that they "recognized
in him a man of notable truth and purity of character, so modest
and unassuming that only those who knew him long and well could
justly appreciate his high character, his ability, and his true
worth in all the relations of life."
T.C. Mendenhall, Superintendent
COAST & GEODETIC SURVEY BULLETIN, 12/1/1893