Land Grants and Sales
Ohio lands were surveyed and sold by the federal government, private individuals, and by the states of Virginia and Connecticut. Since parts of the state were surveyed at different times, Ohio was divided into areas called survey "districts" or "land grants."
Virginia Military District
In 1770, Virginia had claimed part of the area that became Ohio. Virginia established the Military Reserve between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers. These lands were available to veterans of the Virginia and Maryland Militias who had served during the American Revolution.
The lands were divided using the older survey procedures of colonial Virginia, and they were not always completely precise. Because of this, many new landowners learned that they were sometimes not the only ones who owned their land. Other veterans "owned" some or all of the same piece of land, and landowners were forced to go to court to have a judge decide the true owner. After Virginia gave out the land that its veterans wanted, it released the unclaimed lands to the United States government. In 1852 and 1871, these lands were turned over to the State of Ohio.
Connecticut Western Reserve
In 1786, Connecticut gave up ownership of all its western lands to the United States, except for the Western Reserve in the northeast part of what was to become Ohio.
During the American Revolution, British troops destroyed property along the sea coast of Connecticut. In order to repay colonists for their losses, Connecticut gave these colonists 500,000 acres of land. These were called the "Fire Lands" and were set aside at the western end of the Western Reserve.
Except for lands under the control of the states of Virginia and Connecticut, Congress controlled all of the public lands in Ohio. In 1786, employees of the Congress made the first federal survey west of the Ohio River. Lying just downstream from Fort Pitt (modern Pittsburgh), the chosen area was the most easily reached of the western lands for survey and sale. This survey of "Seven Ranges" of public land was the first to use the system that was established by the Land Ordinance of 1785.
Ohio Company of Associates
In 1786, the Ohio Company of Associates, founded in Massachusetts, convinced Congress to sell it 1.5 million acres of land in the Ohio Country. The first purchase was made in 1787, and the second in 1792. Also in 1792, Congress granted an additional 100,000 acres called the "Donation Tract." This was intended to put some protective distance between Marietta and the Native Americans. Although the Company intended to sell land to new settlers, much of it was hilly and poorly suited for agriculture.
In 1794, Judge John Cleve Symmes purchased a large tract of land between the Great Miami River and the Little Miami River. He hoped to sell most of his land to settlers before he had to make payment to the government. Unfortunately for Symmes and his customers, he sold some of the land before he ever gained legal title to it, complicating early land ownership in what would become Ohio.
United States Military District
In 1796, Congress provided 2.5 million acres to pay officers and soldiers for their services during the Revolutionary War. This area is known as the United States Military District.
In 1798, Congress provided land for Canadian refugees who had helped the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. The Refugee Tract included parts of Franklin, Licking, Perry, and Fairfield Counties.
Between 1798 and 1821, Congress allowed anyone the chance to buy large amounts of the remaining public land in the state. These tracts were called "Congress Lands."
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- Cutler, Julia Perkins. The Founders of Ohio: Brief Sketches of the Forty-eight Pioneers Who, Under Command of General Rufus Putnam, Landed at the Mouth of the Muskingum River on the Seventh of April, 1788, and Commenced the First White Settlement in the Northwest Territory. Cincinnati, OH: R. Clarke & Co., 1888.
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- Smith, Dwight L., ed. The Western Journals of John May, Ohio Company Agent and Business Adventurer. N.p.: Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, 1961.
- Williams, Frederick D., ed. The Northwest Ordinance: Essays on Its Formulation, Provisions, and Legacy. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1989.