Land Record

Introduction to Ohio Land History

4 Apr 2003


Ohio's land history is an unusual patchwork, deriving from its location to the immediate west of the safely settled (and newly free) states. Virginia was the original 'owner' of the Ohio lands (as well as those of other states in the midwest). But there were overlapping claims, particularly from Connecticut (!), which extended its bounding latitudes through New York and Pennsylvania into the Ohio territory and westward.

Thomas Jefferson, remarkably forward thinking and always the expansionist, proposed in 1784 a plan for carving out new states in the vast territory between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. Part of the proposal dealt with the radical idea of surveying the land into square tracts. The appeal of this idea was to eliminate the numerous legal battles caused by overlapping claims, common in the states that used the metes and bounds surveying system. Jefferson's proposal was modified through the legislative process and eventually turned into the Land Ordinance of 1785.

Through this measure Ohio became the experimental site of the new public land surveying and sale system. But it was muddied by prior claims from Virginia and Connecticut, and the need to set aside lands for Revolutionary War claims. So, a number of different surveying systems were employed and a variety of speculators, military bounty claimants, and individuals acquired lands in the Ohio Territory. The mistakes that were made and the lessons that were learned culminated in the Land Ordinance of 1796 which laid out the surveying and numbering scheme used for all remaining public lands. Successive additions to U.S. lands, starting with Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase of 1803, enlarged the area that came under the 1796 ordinance. Today 30 states use this system.

Outline of Ohio Land History

Further Reading

[The information in this article was compiled from the above sources.]

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