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Ohio Land Survey

posted Apr 23, 2010, 5:26 PM by James Wise   [ updated Aug 29, 2010, 11:07 PM by Travis Wise ]

Ohio Land Subdivision 

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) 

Ohio Land Grants and Sales

Ohio has nine major land surveys and 46 subsurveys. The key to understanding and using Ohio land records is the original land surveys. Ohio is unique. It was the test state for the Federal Rectangular Survey System, yet it has the Virginia Military District, composed entirely of metes and bounds surveys. This short history of Ohio lands begins with the territory's earliest inhabitants. European Explorations The first exploration by Europeans, in what is now Ohio, was made by the French. Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, explored the lake area in late 1669 or early 1670, thus claiming all of Ohio for France. The territory was in dispute between the French and English until the Treaty of Paris, February 10, 1763, when the French assigned the "Great West" to the English. This was the result of the French losing the French and Indian War, 1755-1763. During the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark, operating under the authority of Patrick Henry, Virginia governor, sought to capture the British Forts in the Illinois country. On February 24, 1779, Clark and his men defeated Lt. Col. Henry Hamilton, the Lt. Gov. of Canada, and his troops at Vincennes. Thus, the Americans took control of what was to become the Northwest Territory. Great Britain formally relinquished its right and interest in the Northwest Territory by the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783. Claims to the Northwest Territory and State Reserves As early as 1778, a Congressional Committee proposed that states cede its Western lands to the New Central Government. The states of Virginia, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts all claimed portions of the territory northwest of the Ohio River, based upon charters granted by the kings of England. After much contro-versy and compromise, these states relinquished their claims. The dates of these cessions were: New York?, 1781;Virginia, 1784; Massachusetts, 1785; and Connecticut, 1786 and 1800. Some of the provisions contained in the cessions, and accepted by the Continental Congress, were the basis of the Northwest Ordinance. Virginia and Connecticut both reserved lands in Ohio as part of the cession compromise. Virginia Military District. Virginia Military District (VMD) lands are found in 23 Ohio counties from the Ohio River northward, between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, as far as 141 miles inland. The irregularly shaped land district was reserved by the state of Virginia to satisfy its military bounty warrants. It is one of the original nine major subdivisions of Ohio lands, and the only one not using a rectangular survey system. The VMD covers 6,570 square miles and contains approximately 4,204,800 acres of land. More than 16,125 metes and bounds (indiscriminate) original surveys are found in the VMD, thus creating a patchwork of surveys which, from the air, resemble a giant jigsaw puzzle. Because of the number of surveys and the difficulty of finding the physical objects they relied upon, this is probably the most litigated land area in Ohio. The land bounties given by Virginia to her Revolutionary soldiers were very generous. Due to various Virginia laws, the bounties ranged from 100 acres to 15,000 acres depending upon rank. Length of service over six years also increased the bounty. The heirs of a soldier or officer killed in the war were entitled to the bounty. Virginia issued bounty land warrants for 6,146,950 acres for Revolutionary War service. These were used to claim land in Kentucky and Ohio. Virginia also issued land warrants for French and Indian War services. Virginia Military Warrants could be assigned and transferred and often were. Nearly 25% of the VMD (1,035,408 acres) was patented to 25 individuals. Claiming Ohio land by a Virginia Military Warrant involved sending the warrant to the principal surveyor of the Virginia District of Ohio. He would give the warrant to a deputy surveyor who would give a general description of the claim (entry) and then run a survey. Virginia permitted a 5% error factor for VMD surveys, but this was often exceeded. Following the acceptance of the survey, the warrant was sent to the federal government and a U.S. Patent issued. For their services, the Deputy Surveyors often received 20% to 50% of the acres called for in the warrant or cash. In Ohio, the entry number and survey number are the same. The first VMD survey was run by John O’Bannon, November 13, 1787, in what is now Clermont County. The first U.S. patent issued for VMD land was on February 20, 1796. General George Washington never exercised his rights to the 23,333-acre Virginia Military bounty to which he was entitled. Instead, he purchased two warrants totalling 3,100 acres and completed three surveys in 1787. Two surveys were in Clermont County and one in Hamilton County, totalling 3,051 acres. The Virginia patents issued for these surveys were nullified by an Act of Congress, July 17, 1788, and Washington never filed for a U.S. patent under the Congressional Acts of August 10, 1790, and June 9, 1794. He died believing he owned these surveys. In 1806, these surveys were reentered and allegedly resurveyed, with the proper certificate and warrants being sent to the Secretary of War. U.S. Patents were issued to the “claim jumpers” and Washington’s heirs lost a valuable part of the estate for which they never received compensation. By Acts of Congress dated May 30, 1830, and August 31, 1852, Virginia Military Warrants could be exchanged for land scrip. Land scrip could be used to acquire any U.S. public lands open for entry at private sale. The federal government issued land scrip for 1,041,976 acres in exchange for Virginia Military Warrants. Virginia relinquished and ceded to the federal government its claim to any unlocated land in the VMD on December 9, 1852. In 1871, Congress ceded this land to the state. Ohio set this land aside in 1872 as an endowment for The Ohio State University. At the time, 76,735 acres were believed available for sale by the university. The Ohio State University sold or quit-claimed these lands to individuals until the 1940’s. Connecticut Western Reserve. The Connecticut Western Reserve Lands (Western Reserve, the Reserve, New Connecticut) are found in 14 northeastern Ohio counties. The Western Reserve started at the Pennsylvania-Ohio line and extended 120 miles westward to the present Seneca and Sandusky County lines. It is bordered on the north by Lake Erie, and on the south by the parallel of the 41st degree North Latitude. Connecticut claimed this land under an English Charter issued in 1662 by King Charles II. Reserved by Connecticut in its September 13, 1786 Deed of Cession, the Western Reserve contains approximately 3,366,921 acres (5260 + square miles) including the Fire Lands. Connecticut released its jurisdictional claim to this land by a Deed of Cession to the United States of America on May 30, 1800. The Western Reserve, with the exception of the Fire Lands, was sold by the state of Connecticut for $1,200,000 to the Connecticut Land Company by 35 quitclaim deeds dated September 2, 1795. The Connecticut Land Company consisted of 48 persons who, individually or in groups, pledged money to acquire the land. Each individual or group being the grantee (buyer) of as many as 1,200 thousandths, in common and undivided, of that part of the Connecticut Western Reserve as each had subscribed dollars to the purchase price. For example, the quitclaim deed to Moses Cleaveland was for 32,600 twelve hundred thousandths. Starting in 1798, the Connecticut Land Company divided the land into shares called “drafts” which were drawn for by its members at the company’s office in Hartford. The value of the shares varied depending upon the year of the drawing. For example, in 1807, 46 shares (drafts) of land west of the Cuyahoga River were drawn. The value of each share was $26,087. On March 2, 1801, President John Adams issued a U.S. patent for the Connecticut Western Reserve lands. This U.S. patent was conveyed to Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of the State of Connecticut, and his successors, as well as for the use of the persons holding and claiming the Western Reserve Lands through deeds given by the state. Indian title to the Western Reserve lands lying east of the Cuyahoga River, was extinguished by the Treaty of Fort Mc Intosh?, January 21, 1785, and confirmed by the Treaty of Greenville, August 3, 1795. The lands West of the Cuyahoga River were given up by the Treaty of Fort Industry, July 4, 1805. In 1796, the Connecticut Land Company decided to subdivide their purchase into five-mile-square surveying townships. Surveying townships bordering Lake Erie do not contain the full 16,000 acres because of the irregular coastline. The interior subdivisions of the surveying townships were irregularly subdivided by the purchaser into tracts and lots of various sizes and land quantity. For example, the civil township of Brooklyn, in Cuyahoga County, contains 90 lots, while Madison Township, Geauga County, contains tracts subdivided into lots of various shapes and sizes. Fire Lands or Sufferers Lands. In September, 1781, the British and Tories invaded Connecticut. They destroyed by fire the towns of New London, Greenville, Fairfield, Danbury, Ridgefield, Norwalk, New and East Haven, and Groton. Benedict Arnold, then a British General, personally oversaw the destruction of New London. More than 1,800 supporters of the American Revolution suffered because of the destruction of the nine towns. On May 10, 1792, the Connecticut Legislature set aside 500,000 acres at the west end of the Reserve to compensate these persons. The Sufferers, as they became known, their heirs or legal representatives formed an Ohio Corporation on April 15, 1803, to manage their Ohio lands. By November 1808, their Board of Directors devised a plan to partition the “sufferers lands” among the sufferers or their assignees. They divided their land into five-mile-square surveying townships, and further subdivided the surveying townships into four-quarter townships, containing 4,000 acres each. The whole amount of the sufferers loss was, therefore, divided into 120 equal parts, for which they held a drawing which determined the location of the land the individual sufferers would receive. The Fire Lands are located in Erie and Huron counties, Ruggles Township, Ashland County, and Danbury Township, Ottawa County.

$1.00 per acre
Specie, loan-office or debt certificates
640 Acres
$2.00 per acre
One half down, one half due in one year
640 Acres
$2.00 per acre
One quarter cash, remainder to be paid in three annual installments
320 Acres
$2.00 per acre
One quarter cash; remainder to be paid in three annual installments
160 Acres
$1.25 per acre
80 Acres
Land Scrip
Acceptable in lieu of cash
None Listed
$1.25 per acre
Cash, Land Scrip
40 Acres
$1.25 per acre
Squatters who built homes and improved land could purchase one-quarter section before it was offered for public sale
160 Acres
$1.00 per acre-12 1/2 cents per acre
Land not sold for 10 years to be offered at $1.00 per acre; if not sold for 30 years, land could be disposed of at 12 1/2 cents per acre
40-320 Acres
$10 (filing fee)
Title could be obtained after 5 years residence under Homestead Act
160 Acres

Symmes Purchase.
The Symmes Purchase, often called the Miami Purchase, is located in the southwestern corner of the state. It begins at the Ohio River, and runs approximately 24 miles northward, between the Great Miami and Little Miami Rivers. The total land area is 311,682 acres including reserves. John Cleves Symmes and his associates originally contracted for one million acres from the Board of Treasury in 1788. However, in 1792, Congress modified this contract, with Symmes’ consent, because Congress did not want Symmes’ tract to interfere with the boundary line established by the Treaty of Fort Harmar. On September 30, 1794, President George Washington signed the U.S. Patent (deed) conveying to Symmes 248,250 acres plus a surveying township (23,040 acres), in trust, for an academy. The Patent reserved Fort Washington (15 acres); one square mile near the mouth of the Great Miami; and in each township the following sections: Section 16 (for schools); Section 29 (for religion); Sections 8, 11, and 26 (for Congress’ future use). Symmes paid $70,455 in public securities for 105,683 acres and used military bounty land warrants, totalling 95,250 acres, to acquire the remaining 142,857 acres. Because Congress allowed one-third of a dollar off for bad lands and incidental charges, Symmes actually paid two-thirds of dollar per acre. John Cleves Symmes conveyed the entire 3rd Range of Townships, in trust, to Jonathan Dayton. Symmes did this because Dayton had acquired military bounty warrants from soldiers who desired to settle in the western country, but could not afford a cash payment. This entire 3rd Range is often called the Military Range in the records of Butler and Warren counties. Symmes sold land beyond the lands eventually covered by his U.S. Patent. Technically, these settlers were squatters on unsurveyed federal land. To correct this situation, Congress passed relief acts on March 2, 1799, and March 3, 1801, which gave these settlers the first right to buy this land from the federal government. This was the first time the right of pre-emption was granted by Congress. Later, in 1841, Congress passed a general pre-emption act, which lead to fraud and settlement before land could be surveyed. Symmes Purchase was privately surveyed. It is the only original land survey in the United States that has ranges running south to north, fractional ranges, and townships running west to east. Section numbering is according to the Land Ordinance of May 20, 1785. The federal surveys, above the Symmes Purchase, continued Symmes’ unique and unorthodox numbering of ranges and townships so the Between the Miami Rivers (M.Rs.) Survey would be consistent. *Federal Land Offices and Sales in Ohio*.William Henry Harrison, the Northwest Territory’s first delegate to Congress, introduced the legislation that became the act of May 10, 1800. This Act opened the frontier to a land office business. The Act of May 10, 1800 established federal land offices in Steubenville, Cincinnati, Chillicothe, and Marietta; permitted land to be purchased on credit; made the public auction of land the prime sales method, but did permit private entry if the land had not been sold at auction; made 320 acres the minimum which could be purchased; created the positions of receiver of public monies and register to run each land office; permitted the Surveyor General to lease reserved sections for up to seven years on condition that the lessee make improvements; and provided the right of preemption for anyone erecting a grist mill. The first Federal Land Office opened in Steubenville in July 1800. The credit provisions were one of the most important aspects of the Act of May 10, 1800. It provided that the entryman (buyer), would make a deposit of five percent of the purchase price, including surveying fees, on the day of the sale. Within 40 days the entryman had to pay an additional twenty percent of the purchase money. Additional payments of twenty-five percent of the purchase price were to be made within two, three, and four years after the day of sale. Interest of six percent a year was charged for the last three payments. Any tract not completely paid for within one year after the date of the last payment would be advertised for sale by the register of the land office. He would then sell it at public vendue for not less than the whole arrears due. If not sold, or the arrears paid, then the land would revert to the United States. A discount of eight percent per year was allowed for prepayment of any of the last three payments. An entryman (purchaser), who fully paid for his tract on the day of sale, thus could buy $2 an acre land for $1.64 an acre. Federal land sales were brisk under the Act May 10, 1800. The 1800-1801 combined sales of the four Ohio land offices was 398,647 acres, purchased for $834,888. By June 30, 1820, Ohio land offices had sold 8,848,152 acres of land for $17,226,186. These figures may be misleading because the Panic of 1819 strangled the western economy. Defaults under the credit system were common in the barter society of the frontier. Of the total number of acres sold by the federal government, July 1800-July 30, 1820, over twenty-nine percent of the acres were resold due to defaults. The Act of April 24, 1820 abolished the credit system effective July 1, 1820, fixed the price of public lands at $1.25 per acre, and set the minimum purchase at 80 acres. Under the cash system established by this Act, 94,182 entries for land were made in Ohio from July 1, 1820, to the closing of the Chillicothe Land Office in 1876. Once the entryman (purchaser) paid for his land, a final certificate (or certificate of location, if land scrip was used), was issued by the register of the land office. This final certificate (or certificate of location), was sent to Washington D.C., for a U.S. Patent to be issued. Delays in issuing the U.S. Patent often occurred because the accounts and records had to be verified, a time-consuming task, and the president had to sign each U.S. Patent prior to March 3, 1833. U.S. Patents were returned to the originating land office for delivery to the patentee (owner). Some patentees did not record their U.S. Patents, while others failed to pick them up at all. When the Chillicothe Land Office was preparing to close in 1876, thousands of U.S. Patents were found and returned to the General Land Office in Washington. The State of Ohio Archives has a card index of about 175,000 cards, some are duplicates, arranged by the surname, then given name of the entryman, who acquired federal public lands in Ohio. It also has the Federal Tract and Entry Books, which are arranged by surveying range, township, section, and part of section. These give the name of the entryman (purchaser), quantity of acres entered, and date of entry. Sometimes additional information is given such as purchase price, state or county of residence at the time of entry, the final certificate number and federal land office where the land was sold. The current county and civil township are not given in the tract and entry books, but can be determined by using the range, township, section, part of section, and original survey name, with a map showing Ohio’s original land subdivisions. The State Auditor’s office has more than 300 cu. ft. of land records in the State of Ohio Archives. Most are not indexed. Card indexes exist for the Federal Tract and Entry books. *United States Military District*.The United States Military District, Lands or Survey (USMD) was established by a Congressional Act on June 1, 1796, to satisfy the September 16, 1776, and August 12, 1780, resolutions of Congress, which granted bounty land to Continental Army officers and soldiers. These resolutions offered the following land bounties: noncommissioned officer or soldier, 100 acres, Ensign, 150 acres; Lieutenant, 200 acres; Captain, 300 acres; Major, 400 acres; Lieutenant Colonel, 450 acres; Colonel, 500 acres, Brigadier General, 850 acres; and Major General, 1,100 acres. The USMD contains about 2,560,000 acres. It is bounded on the north by the Greenville Treaty Line, on the east by the Seven Ranges, on the south by the Refugee Tract and Congress Lands, and on the west by the Scioto River. These lands are found in Franklin, Delaware, Knox, Licking, Morrow, Noble, Marion, Holmes, Coshocton, Muskingum, Tuscarawas and Guernsey counties. The survey of the USMD began in March, 1797, according to the provisions of the Act of June 1, 1796. This called for dividing the land into surveying townships five miles square (16,000 acres), and then subdividing the townships into quarter-townships containing 4,000 acres each. The ranges are numbered east to west with the 1st range starting at the west line of Range 7 in the Old Seven Ranges. Townships are numbered northward from the base line, which is the south line of the tract. Quarter-townships are numbered 1 to 4 counterclockwise. The quarter-townships were subdivided by their original proprietors in whatever manner they wanted. In 1800, 50 quarter-townships, and all the fractional quarter townships not already taken, were to be divided into 100 acre lots. On April 26, 1802, Congress authorized some fractional townships to be divided into 50-acre lots. The Act of March 3, 1803, provided that all remaining lands not covered by warrants, or previously subdivided, should be surveyed into sections, one mile square, and sold on the same terms as any other public lands. This confusing original land survey was Congress’ attempt to honor the military land bounty warrants issued under the Act of July 9, 1788. No one person had a 4,000 acre warrant, so warrants had to be pooled. The pooling of warrants lead to warrants being bought up in the East. Out of the 1,043,460 acres claimed by land warrant, 569,542 acres were patented by 22 persons. A drawing determined the actual location of the 262 quarter-townships claimed by military warrants. Absentee patentees (owners) often sold their land without ever having seen it, and without regard to any attachment or sale by Ohio officials for delinquent taxes. The final division of the unclaimed 4,000 acres quarter-townships into 640-acre sections, only four years after the final township surveys were run, shows the general lack of interest the Revolutionary War veterans had in this free land. By 1823, the United States government had issued 10,958 warrants, totalling 1,549,350 acres for Revolutionary War service and more were issued under various laws thereafter. These warrants could only be used in the USMD, with an exception being made for by the Ohio Company and John Cleves Symmes. The warrant holders, who held onto their warrants, finally received relief by the Act of May 30, 1830. By this act, they could exchange their warrants for land scrip issued in 80-acre amounts, good for $1.25 an acre land anywhere on the public domain, available for private entry. This act, and the seven other warrant exchange acts, caused over 12,138,840 acres of land scrip to be issued. Researchers will find that land scrip could be bought cheaply, depending on market conditions. Its use in a land transaction does not infer the holder was entitled to it by military-service. Veterans often sold their land scrip to land jobbers, thus producing a dead-end situation for family researchers.