Ohio-Lands Logo

"Ohio Lands - A Short History"
Part 1

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.

Prehistoric Man and the Indians

Evidence of the existence of man in Ohio prior to the glacial period is abundant. Earthworks built by the "Mound Building Indians" are found in many parts of Ohio. These earthworks are remnants of three early mound building groups: the Fort Ancients, the Adenas and the Hopewells; Serpent Mound, Adams County; Fort Ancient, Warren County; Fort Hill, Highland County; and the Newark Earthworks, Licking County are major examples of these mound builder's existence. The largest mound in the State, at Miamisburg, is 68 feet in height and 800 feet in circumference.

The mound builders had vanished long before European traders entered the territory. The Indians claiming the land had no knowledge of the mound builders or their culture.

The principal Ohio Indian Tribes were: the Miami, the Shawnee, the Delaware, the Wyandot (Huron), the Ottawa of the Algonquin tribe, and the Mingo (Seneca) of the Iroquois Nation. The Miami tribe was the first of these tribes to reside in Ohio, coming in the late 1660's.

The Indians' claim to Ohio lands rested upon conquest and possession. They did not claim ownership of the land, as the white men did, rather they claimed the right to use the land for various purposes. Therefore, different boundaries existed for hunting, fishing, farming and villages. These overlaps of claims often led to wars among the various tribes.

Title to land claimed by the various Indian tribes was extinguished or conveyed by treaty. The Treaty of Fort McIntosh, January 21, 1785, between the Sachems and warriors of the Wyandot, Delaware, Chippewa and Ottawa nations and the United States, gave the United States title to Ohio lands except the northern quarter. This treaty was not kept by the Indians, but was reaffirmed by the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. National title to all Ohio lands, except for reservations in Northwest Ohio, was fixed by the following major treaties:

No.ConcludedPlace of TreatyAcres CededTribes Concerned


1795, Aug. 3

Greenville, Ohio


Eleven northwestern tribes


1805, July 4

Fort Industry, Ohio


Ottawas, Wyandots, Chippewas, Pottawatamies, Shawnees, Delawares


1807, Nov. 17

Detroit, Michigan


Chippewas, Ottawas, Wyandots, Pottawatamies


1808, Nov. 25

Brownstown, Michigan

Two Roads

Same tribes as at Detroit


1817, Sep. 29

Fort Meigs, Ohio


Same as at Fort Industry, and Senecas in addition


1818, Sep. 17

St. Marys, Ohio

None Listed

Ottawas, Shawnees, Wyandots and Senecas


1818, Oct. 2

St. Marys, Ohio

None Listed



1818, Oct. 6

St. Marys, Ohio



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: NewYork, 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. Copies of the deeds are in the OSU Archives, Columbus, Ohio, 43210.

The State of Ohio Archives has original VMD Entry and Survey records, a card index of entrymen, W.P.A. Plats of 16 of the 23 counties involved, and a list of the entries which were withdrawn. Inquires can be researched by surname, warrant number or survey Number (See Appendix). Additional VMD records can be found at the University of Illinois library at Urbana, Ill. 61801, and the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland. Soldiers applications are filed at the Virginia State Library, Richmond.

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 McIntosh, 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.

The State of Ohio Archives does not have original records relating to the Connecticut Western Reserve lands. However, researchers can contact the Connecticut State Library, 231 Capitol Street, Hartford, Conn. 06115. The library has records relating to the Connecticut Land Company, Western Reserve Deeds, 1800-1807; Registrar of Certificates, Mortgages 1796-1800; Register of Deed Transfer, 1795-1807; Proceedings and Votes and Stock Ledgers. The Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Conn. 06759, has the original Connecticut Land Company proceedings. The Trumbull County Recorder, Warren, Ohio 44481, has deeds recorded in �Western Reserve Draft Book,� pages five to 73, inclusive.

Other sources of information include county records and the extensive collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio 44106.

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.

Copyright 1994 by the Ohio Auditor of State All Rights Reserved.
FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION ONLY. Researched and written by
Thomas Aquinas Burke, Internet Address F491.3 B86 1994 977.1
Eighth Edition - September 1996

"Ohio Lands - A Short History"
ReTyped & Graphics Rescanned December 1997
by Maggie Stewart-Zimmerman
Email at Maggie Stewart

This booklet is available on the Auditor of State home page under
Publications at: http://www.auditor.state.oh.us/

Ohio Lands - A Short History Quick Index
OHIO-LANDS Mailing List | Table of Contents | Introduction |
| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 Part 8 |
Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Erie County OHGenWeb Page
Franklin County OHGenWeb Page
Free Lookup Database Queries Page
Huron County OHGenWeb Page
Knox County OHGenWeb Page
Medina County OHGenWeb Page
Miami County OHGenWeb Page
Sandusky County OHGenWeb Page
OHGenWeb Clickable Map
Ohio County Information Page
Genealogy Services & Family History Information Page
Maggie's World of Courthouse Dust & Genealogy Home Page

Hosted by Rootsweb

Email Maggie

© 1999 - 2010 by Maggie Stewart-Zimmerman