Who is James Camak?

Below is some of the vast amount of information about James Camak although we cant seem to find a picture. Camak even had a town named for him in 1898 and a very prominent railroad location at that. Basically in spite of the errors made by Camak in determining the state boundary in what was then Cherokee Indian country in the vicinity of Nickajack Mountain and also a town known as Nickajack.

  1. Nickajack” is a corruption of the Cherokee word ᎠᏂ ᎫᏌᏘ Ᏹ (Ani-Kusati-yi) which translates to Coosa Town, but more likely references Koasati Town.(Web Definition)

In Cobb County Georgia there is also a Nickajack Mountian and not to forget Kennesaw Mountain named for an Indian Chief shot by a white hunter.(Herbert Holland) A lot of local rivers and mountains still hold the memory of our Cherokee natives. The disappearance of the stone was obviously a political stunt as it was later returned with little or no fanfare from the State of Georgia. At any rate the mystery still abounds as to how the stone could move. Maybe Georgia has a more fluid boundary.



“James Camak, who really takes the heat for missing the elusive 35th parallel as it relates to the Georgia-Tennessee line. Camak, on the second try to mark the boundaries in 1826, set a stone that was supposed to mark the corner boundaries of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

A mathematician, Camak had no modern tools that today’s surveyors might use. Instead, his guides were stars, compasses, chains and apparently some inexact mathematical charts. Congress had designated the 35th parallel in 1796 as the southern boundary of the new state of Tennessee, but Camak apparently missed it by a mile because the 35th parallel actually runs in the middle of the Tennessee River at some points. The marker Camak set was called the Camak stone in the surveyor’s honor.”


“The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that a volunteer for nearby State Line Cemetery, Freddie McCulley, noticed the [Camak Stone] was gone after discovering some vandalism at the cemetery.

A surveyor placed the Camak Stone in 1826 at what he thought was the 35th parallel marking the border between Tennessee and Georgia. The marker has become a source of controversy between the two states in a battle for water rights in the Tennessee River”



” On June 1, 1818, James Camak, who was then teaching mathematics at the University of Georgia in Athens, joined with James Gaines, a mathematician hired by Tennessee, to survey the line between the two states. The survey began at a stone, two feet tall, that supposedly marked the corner of the states of Georgia and Alabama and on the 35th parallel, the southern boundary of the state of Tennessee. The stone was described as being “one mile and twenty-eight poles from the south bank of the Tennessee River, due south from near the center of the old Indian town of Nick jack”.

The accepted method of the day was to calculate one’s position on the surface of the Earth by observing specific heavenly bodies at specific times of day and comparing their positions in the sky with published tables called ephemerides.

The survey results were only as good as the charts being used, as well as the apparatus employed. Camak expressed doubts about his astronomical tables, stating they “were not such as I could have wished them to be”.

To compound that problem, the governor had refused Camak’s requests for a ‘Zenith Sector,’ a state-of-the-art surveying instrument, so they were making do with a nautical sextant. Sextants, being primarily for marine use, only get you close to your destination.

The zenith sector, the tool Camak wanted to use, but didn’t. It pointed straight and directly overhead. A telescope rotated on a pivot and allowed astronomers to measure the zenith distances (the angle between the star and the highest point in the sky) of celestial bodies. This also necessitated aligning the instrument in the meridian (a line through the poles). Since the graduated scale was so low to the ground, the astronomer usually had to lie on his back or a special reclined seat in order to effectively make observations with the zenith sector.

The first session placed them anywhere from 11 miles north to 11 miles south of the target line. Wisely, the group decided to dispense with that particular instrument and all calculations to date. Camak observed for 10 more days and nights, finally to arrive at the conclusion to place the corner stone “…one mile and 7 chains [about 5700 feet] from the Tennessee River and about one quarter of a mile south of Nickajack Cave.”

Only 26 days after they had begun, the survey party ended their task atop Unicoe Mountain, 110 miles east of the point of beginning. On July 13, 1818 Camak, along with appointed representatives of both states, met in Milledgeville, GA to certify the survey as correct.

Eight years later, after new observations for latitude had been taken, Camak ran the line again and discovered his original line was almost one mile south of the true 35th parallel in several places.

He again made ten days of celestial observations. This time, he determined that the northwest corner of Georgia was marked 37.9 chains (about 2500 feet) south of the 35th parallel. So that year, the “Camak Stone” was pulled up and moved north to its current, and still inaccurate, location.

If his original placement had been as accurate as we now could make it using GPS, the State of Georgia would include a section of the Tennessee River and the Nickajack Reservoir. “

Posted by Dave Tabler.


The History of Mathematics at the University of Georgia:

Teaching, Research and Service


” James Camak was a professor of mathematics at the University of Georgia from 1817 to 1819, and joined the faculty again in 1829-30. He graduated from South Carolina College. In 1818 he was appointed by the state to help survey the boundary line between Georgia and Tennessee. He resigned as professor when Moses Waddell became president, married the daughter of Robert Finley, the former president, who died in the short period between his appointment in 1816 and the resumption of classes. Camak moved to Milledgeville, which had become the state capital in 1804, but was still a frontier town. In Milledgeville he was a cashier at the central bank. He became wealthy, and later moved back to Athens, and became a Trustee of the College in 1828.

Camak was the president of Georgia’s first railroad company. In 1833 the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad was completed in South Carolina, terminating across the Savannah River from Augusta. That year the Georgia Railroad was chartered, with Camak as its first president. The construction of the railroad was begun from Augusta in 1835, and completed to Athens in 1841. The terminus remained on the east side of the Oconee River for many years, it not being considered economic to build a bridge.

Camak conducted extensive agricultural experiments, and developed the Southern Cultivator of Augusta into the state’s best farm journal.

He was a member of the Committee of Vigilance in Athens, formed on November 10, 1860, immediately following the election of Abraham Lincoln. This group had a leading influence in the secession movement in the state, which culminated in the vote for secession in Milledgeville in January, 1861. (In the original test vote, 130 out of 296 preferred not to secede. A short while later, the vote for secession was unanimous.)

Camak’s son Thomas was an officer in the Confederate Army, and was killed during Pickett’s charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.”

Share this:


One thought on “Who is James Camak?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s