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The Superintendent announces with deep regret the death, on November 7, 1893, in the city of Sanjames lawson 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 his death.

The announcement of his death was a message of sorrow to numbers of warm friends on the Pacific Coast and to every officer in the Survey.

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






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Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:27 AM

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