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A surveying district, in charge of a surveyor-general, is closed upon recommendation of the Commissioner of tbe General Land Office, by special act of Congress when the public domain therein is all surveyed, when the archives, plats, field-notes, &c., are transferred to the authorities of the State in which the lands lie, and are kept at the capital thereof, always subject, however, to the inspection of the United States.

The United States, under its system of surveys of public lands, has given to the land States in which it has closed its surveys and disposed of its lands, and will give to the States and Territories in which it is now closing surveys, a record of the same, which for clearness and fidelity is unparalleled in the history of land surveys and tenures. It is a complete transcript of the definition of metes and bounds of the surface of the States over which it is laid. It prevents litigation, makes holdings certain, and the original derivation of title will never be obscured by musty vellum and uncertain records.


SURVEYING DISTRICTS AND OFTCES OF SURVEYORS-GENERAL. Statement showing dates of organization of the sercral surreying districts since the beginning of the service, dates of closing the offices of surveyors-generul in

States where the surveys have been completed, and dates when the original surveying archives were delivered to the State authorities.

Statutes at


Vol. Page.

3 466




239 718






212 375


344 209











MAIN, FROM 1784 TO 1880.

The following several chapters (VIII to XXI inclusive) give details as to practical results under the various laws or systems for the sale or disposition of the public domain, heretofore passed, and either obsolete by execution, limitation, or repeal, or still in full force and effect.


Soon after the cessions to the United States of western lands, or claims to them, by the States of New York and Virginia, Congress began to consider the subject of their disposition. The territory northwest of the river Ohio contained some grants made by French and English authority, but the State of Virginia had never opened a land office for the sale of lands in the region north of the river Ohio, the act of her legislature of 1779 forbidding location or pre-emption there. The resolutions for its government were passed in April, 1784, followed by the ordinance of 1787. October 30, 1779, Congress passed a resolution requesting States having claims to the western territory not to open land offices, and to forbear selling or issuing warrants for unappropriated lands or granting them during the continuance of the (Revolutionary) war. By their resolution of October 10, 1780, it was ordered that lands ceded to the United States should be disposed of for the common benefit of the United States, and “shall be granted or settled at such time and under such regulations as shall hereafter be agreed on by the United States in Congress assembled, or any nine or more of them."

On April 29, 1784, Congress, by resolution, called the attention of the States still holding western lands to the fact of former resolutions of Congress asking for cessions; and, “ in presenting another request for further cessions,” stated (speaking of persons who had furnished supplies to carry on the war): “ These several creditors have a right to expect that funds shall be provided on which they may rely for their indennification ; that Congress still considers vacant territory as an important resource,

and that, therefore, the said States be earnestly pressed, by immediate and liberal ces. • sions, to forward these necessary ends, and to promote the harmony of the Union."

These western lands were looked upon by all the financiers of this period as an asset to be cashed at once for payment of current expenses of Government and extinguishment of the national debt. Congress at this time (1785) issued a proclamation forbidding settlement on the public domain. The act of 1804 was of like import, and the law of 1807 gave the President power of removal of settlers from the public lands pending sale. On the 20th of May, 1785, Congress passed an ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of lands within the western territory. It not only included disposition, but it gave the first plan of survey of the lands prior to disposition. Under this ordinance the Board of Treasury (the Treasury Department prior to and under the Confederation ; see ordinances of Congress of February, 17, 1776, of July 30, 1779, and of May 28, 1784), consisting of three commissioners, were to receive the plats of surveys from the geographer (now surveyor-general) in charge of surveys. The Secretary of War was to then draw by lot certain townships for land bounties for the use of the Continental army, and the Board of Treasury was to draw the remainder by lot in the name of the Western States, who were to advertise and sell them at public sale for not less than - $1 per acre, specie, or loan office certificate reduced to specie value by scale of depreciation, or certificates of liquidated debts of the United States, including interest, besides the expenses of the survey and other charges thereon, which are hereby rated at $36 the township," &c. The “expense of survey and other charges thereon” were fixed at $36 per township, to be paid by the purchaser. The act of July 23, 1787, reduced the price per acre not more than one-third of a dollar, leaving 663 cents per acre the price.

The system contemplated under this act was, as far as disposition was concerned, a failure. The clause requiring the drawing for the thirteen States was repealed July 9, 1788, and additional regulations as to surveys were made. The clause relating to drawing by the Secretary of War for land bounties was also repealed. This ordinance gave the Board of Treasury power to move about the United States and sell certain lands at pleasure.

The ordinance of May 20, 1785, gave the commissioners of the loan office (a United States office within the several States, and under the Board of Treasury) authority to make deeds in the name of the United States for the lands.

The Board of Treasury were to give deeds for the lands drawn by and allotted to the Secretary of War for bounties. Lands unsold for eighteen months were to be returned to the Board of Treasury and sold as Congress should afterward direct.

This system of sale was for cash, or equivalent, in unlimited quantities above a min, imum limit, at public sale after advertisement, by loan commissioners, who were agents of the Board of Treasury (the same as district land officers are now the agents of the General Land Office), at a price not less than $1 per acre. The lots to be sold were, first, a township No.1 entire; second, township No. 2, by lots of six hundred and forty acres; third, an entire township and lots. By a resolution of date June 15, 1785, squatters were warned and unauthorized settlements on public lands prohibited, and the commissioners were to issue proclamation to that effect.

By resolution of April 24, 1785, the Secretary of War was authorized to remove unlawful settlers at Post Saint Vincent, in the Northwest Territory, and to use the Army for the same. Settlements at this time upon unsurveyed lands were not desired. April 21, 1787, Congress ordered, after advertisement and five months from the date of the ordinance, that the remainder of the surveyed lands be sold in the place where Congress shall sit, from day to day, at not less than $1 per acre. It was a credit sale, onethird cash in hand, or in the public securities of the United States, to be paid to the Treasurer of said United States, and the remaining two-thirds in three months from the sale-failing in this, the first payment to be forfeited and the lands to be resold, the Board of Treasury to give title.

July 23, 1787, Cougress agreed, after amendment, to a report by a committee consisting of Messrs. King, Dane, Madison, and Benson, instructing the Board of Treasury to contract for the sale of western territory. This was the order for sale to The Ohio Company of lands in the present State of Ohio. It was to sell to Winthrop Sargent and Manasseh Cutler, on behalf of themselves and associates, a trust estimated at two million acres. This sale was at $1 per acre, with a rebate to two-thirds of a dollar under conditions, and the reservations in the ordinance of the 20th of May, 1785, were to be respected ; $500,000 were to be paid down and the remainder after completion of the survey; the Board of Treasury to receive the plats from the geographer. The land was on the Scioto and Ohio Rivers, and included the present city of Marietta, Ohio. This trust was reduced to 822,900 acres, and the order was confirmed by Congress July 27, 1787. Thereafter Congress, upon petition for purchase by individuals

or companies, authorized the Board of Treasury to make sale under the said orders of Congress and to execute the transfer, &c.

The next sale was to John Cleves Symmes, of New Jersey, for a tract of land, supposed at the time to contain one million acres, on the Ohio River, between the Great and Little Miami rivers, in Ohio, near the present city of Cincinnati. On the 2d of October, 1787, Congress directed the Board of Treasury to take action thereon. This tract was patented by the President of the United States, George Washington, September 30, 1794, and countersigned by Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State. It was for 248,540 acres of land, for which he and his associates paid $165,963.42. This was done in pursuance of the act of Congress of May 5, 1792.

To the State of Pennsylvania was sold, by order of Congress, the tract now in Erio County in that State, containing 202,187 acres. Thus but three tracts of land had been sold by contract prior to the adoption of the present form of government. All of these were sold at the rate of two-thirds of a dollar an acre, payable in evidences of the public debt of the United States, and a part of the two last tracts was paid for in military land warrants, each acre in such warrant being received in payment for one acre and a half of land. A right of pre-emption, at the rate of two dollars an acre, was allowed to persons who had made purchases from J.C. Symmes within the boundaries of his first contract. All other public lands sold by the United States were sold under general laws.

January 20, 1790, the House of Representatives called upon Alexander Hamilton, Socretary of the Treasury, for the form of a plan of disposition of the public lands of the United States. July 20, 1790, Mr. Hamilton transmitted the following report:


(Communicated to the House of Representatives July 22, 1790.)

TREASURY DEPARTMENT, July 20, 1790. In obedience to the order of the House of Representatives of the 20th of Jannory last the Secretary of the Treasury respectfully reports :

That in the formation of a plan for the disposition of the vacant lands of the United States there appear to be two leading objects of consideration : one, the facility of advantageous sales, according to the probable course of purchases; the other the accommodation of individuals now inhabiting the western country, or who may hereafter emigrate thither. The former, as an operation of finance, claims primary attention; the latter is important as it relates to the satisfaction of the inbabitants of the western country. It is desirable, and does not appear impracticable, to conciliate both. Purchasers may be contemplated in three classes : mopeyed individuals and companies who will buy to sell again; associations of persons who intend to make settlements themselves; single persons or families, now resident in the western country, or who may emigrate thither hereafter. The two first will be frequently blended, and will always want considerable tracts. The last will generally purchase small quantities. Hence a plan for the sale of the western lands, while it may have due regard for the last, should be calculated to obtain all the advantages which may be derived from the two first classes. For this reason it seems requisite that the General Land Office should be established at the seat of Government. It is there that the principal purchasers, whether citizens or foreigners, can most easily find proper agents and that contracts for large purchases can be best adjusted.But the accommodation of the present inhabitants of the western territory and of unassociated persons and families who may emigrate thither seems to require that one office, subordinate to that at the seat of Congress, should be opened in the Northwestern and another in the Southwestern government.

Each of these officers, as well the general one as the subordinate ones, it is conceived, may be placed with convenience under the superintendence of three commis sioners, who may be either pre-established officers of the Government, to whom the duty may be assigned by law, or persons specially appointed for the purpose. The former is recommended by considerations of economy, and it is probable would embrace every advantage which could be derived from a special appointment. To obviate those inconveniences and to facilitate and insure the attainment of those advantages which may arise from new and casual circumstances springing up from foreign and domestic causes appear to be an object for which adequate provision should be made in any plan that may be adopted. For this reason and from the intrinsic diffi. culty of regulating tbe details of a specific provision for the various objects whicb

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