Miles Withers Conway

(b. March 2, 1753, Stafford Co, Va.; d. February 28, 1822, Mason Co., Ky). Sometime before 1786, surveyor and sheriff Miles Withers Conway and his brother John (1757–1842) settled in Mason Co. Miles W. and John Conway were the sons of Capt. Withers Conway and Dulcibella Bunbury of Stafford Co., Va.

Captain Withers Conway, having served as a captain in the Virginia Militia during the French and Indian War, was entitled to land warrants in Kentucky. The DAR lists Miles Conway and his brother John Conway as Revolutionary War soldiers from Spottsylvania, Va. Somehow the Conway brothers became friendly with the sizable Berry family clan in Frederick Co., Va. John Conway married Mary “Mollie” Berry, and Miles married Susannah, who was probably Mary Berry’s sister.The Conway brothers’ father-in-law was Joseph Berry, who was married to Mary Fairfax Berry, from the well-connected Fairfax family of Virginia. In 1787 Miles Conway filed a survey and patent in his name, using a 1785 Fincastle Co., Va., treasury warrant from Joseph Berry, for 637.5 acres along the Kentucky River in what was then Fayette Co. From the transaction sequence on these lands, it appears that this might have been a dowry or a wedding gift from Joseph Berry to his son-in-law Miles Conway. That land was not sold until after the Miles Withers Conway estate was settled in 1831, and by then at least 30 acres from the original tract was located in Owen Co.

In 1786 Miles Conway purchased several in lots and became a trustee of the town of Washington in Mason Co. His house adjoined the courthouse lot, and Joseph Berry settled two houses down the street. Miles soon began work as a surveyor. Miles’s brother John had purchased land along the Mill Creek southeast of Washington along with two of the six Berry families then residing in Mason Co.

Miles Conway fit easily into the class of people who became magistrates in Mason Co. He served on the first court as a gentleman justice and in August 1786 became district commissioner of the western side of Mason Co. Conway platted the town of Mayslick and was called upon by the Virginia courts to resurvey disputed earlier land claims. He was elected sheriff of Mason Co. in 1790.

In that capacity, he had the dubious distinction of serving a warrant issued in Bourbon Co. for breach of contract and nonpayment of debt on Simon Kenton, the famed pioneer and Indian fighter, who was at the time a major in the local militia. Using uncommon judicial restraint, Conway, as the arresting sheriff, set a parole perimeter within which Kenton was to stay. The 10-mile diameter of the parole area took in the taverns located in Limestone (Maysville), Kenton’s house, and Kenton’s favorite hunting and fishing spots. Having shown such good and popular judgment, Conway was re-elected sheriff in 1792 and, in the same year, was elected a delegate from Mason Co. to the state constitutional convention at Danville. At Danville Conway did a surprising thing. Although he was a slaveholder from a slaveholding Virginia family, he voted with the seven preachers present to strike Article 9 of the proposed constitution. Article 9 did not go so far as to institutionalize slavery in Kentucky, but it permitted slaves to be brought into the state with their masters, and it provided for local governments to regulate slaves within their jurisdictions. The article
passed over the objections raised, however, and Miles, in the end, signed the first Kentucky Constitution. The 1795 Mason Co. tax list showed Miles
owning 6 slaves, 7 horses, and 20 cattle.

In December 1802 Conway and Henry Lee were appointed associate judges to the circuit court in Kentucky. Both men were well acquainted with the
land-interference and criminal-mischief cases that dominated early Kentucky court dockets; thus they were uniquely qualified to assess the many overlapping claims brought into their respective courts.

Unlike most of the early surveyors in Kentucky, Conway was familiar with the use of new surveyors’ instruments, such as quadrants and transits—
that is, with the mathematical underpinnings of professional surveying. Sometime between 1802 and 1805, Conway wrote his Geodosia; or, A Treatise on Practical Surveying, which was based on Robert Gibson’s Treatise on Surveying, a two-volume text that took its worked examples from English land claims in Northern Ireland; the second volume was entirely given over to log tables and to sine, cosine, and tangent tables. In May 1805 Conway took a simplified version of his work to Thomas Tunstall, clerk of the U.S. District Court, where Conway cited his publication as being “an act for the encouragement of learning by securing the copies of Maps, Charts and Books to the authors and proprietors or such copies during the time therein mentioned.” By this action, Conway applied a very early copyright protection for his surveying book. Daniel Bradford, the son of John Bradford, the pioneering editor of Kentucky’s first newspaper, the Kentucky Gazette, published Conway’s book in 1807 at Lexington. Recognizing that few frontiersmen in America had sufficient knowledge of mathematics or owned the proper surveying instruments to apply Gibson’s more exacting scientific surveying principles directly, Conway emphasized in his treatise a method called latitude and departures. Applicable chiefly to plane surfaces, this method required a compass reading of latitude and then establishing a grid of measurements of deviations from that latitude, by use of a compass ring and simple calculations. Obviously written as a guide for basic surveying in wilderness areas, Conway’s book had only 64 pages and was smaller than five by eight inches in size, easily carried in a saddlebag or in the inside pocket of a greatcoat or hunting jacket. All examples given in the book were very practical and taken directly from Conway’s experiences surveying in Kentucky. Conway died in 1822 and was buried in Mason Co.

Conway, Miles W. Geodosia; or, A Treatise of Practical Surveying. Lexington, Ky., Daniel Bradford, 1807.
“A Few Facts and Events Surrounding the Town of Washington in 1786.” In personal collection of Ben Lane, Richmond, Ky.
Journal of the First Constitutional Convention of Kentucky, Held in Danville, Kentucky, April 2 to 19, 1792. Lexington, Ky., State Bar Association, 1942.
Kentucky Gazette, January 2, 1790; May 17, 1792;
May 25, 1793; June 4, November 5, May 17, 1796,
August 15, 1798; September 15, 1800; December 28, 1802; and March 22, 1808.
King, George H. S., to Rev. Melvin Lee Steadman, January 20, 1962. In personal collection of Ben Lane, Richmond, Ky.
Reed, Mrs. Stanley, to George H. S. King, January 15, 1962

In personal collection of Ben Lane, Richmond, Ky.; original in “Stations and Settlements and Preemptions in and around Washington,” Virginia State Archives.

“Surveyor’s Measures,” vertical files, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Ky.
Diane Perrine Coon