Ohio Land Records
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This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Ohio is a Public-Domain State.
Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts claimed portions of land in this part of Northwest Territory based on charters granted by the kings of England. In 1778 the congressional committee proposed that these states cede their western lands. New York ceded in 1781, Virginia in 1784, Massachusetts in 1785, and Connecticut in 1786 and 1800. Both Virginia and Connecticut reserved lands in Ohio as part of the cession compromise.
In 1784 the first congressional committee was appointed to prepare a plan for disposal of federal lands north of the Ohio River. The Land Act of 20 May 1785 set up a rectangular survey system (see page 6) reserving one section in each township of thirty-six sections for the support of public schools. Originally, section twenty-nine in each township was reserved for religious purposes until 1833, when Congress authorized the State of Ohio to sell these sections.
The following is a list and description of Ohio’s land tracts, which were the basis of initial government-to-individual transfers of land:
Virginia Military District. Land in twenty-three Ohio counties from the Ohio River north between the Scioto and Little Miami rivers was reserved by Virginia to satisfy its military bounty warrants. One of the original nine major subdivisions in Ohio, it is the only one not using a rectangular survey system. In 1852 Virginia ceded all unclaimed lands to the federal government, which in turn ceded these remaining lands to Ohio in 1875. Soldiers’ applications are filed in the Virginia State Library in Richmond (see Library of Virginia). Volume four (in two parts) of Clifford Neal Smith’s Federal Land Series (see page 6), deals exclusively with land in the Virginia Military District.
Connecticut Western Reserve. Fourteen northeastern counties starting at the Pennsylvania line, bordered by Lake Erie to the north, and west 120 miles, including the Fire Lands (see below), encompassed this agreement with Connecticut. Records are at the Connecticut State Library (see Connecticut State Library), although the Western Reserve Historical Society has an extensive collection.
Fire Lands. This area, including the west end of the Connecticut Western Reserve, was given to Connecticut supporters of the American Revolution who suffered losses because of the destruction of nine Connecticut towns by the British and Tories.
Seven Ranges. Located in southeastern Ohio on the Ohio River, these were the first public lands to be surveyed in the United States.
Moravian Indian Grants. Three separate tracts of 4,000 acres each in Tuscarawas County were reserved in 1785 for the “use of the Christian Indians who formerly settled there, or the remains of that society.” This was because of the slaughter of nine innocent Christian Native Americans in 1782, in retaliation for hostile raids on settlers in West Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Refugee Tract. Located in central Ohio, it runs forty-two miles east from the Scioto River and was granted to Canadian (1783) and Nova Scotian (1785) refugees who abandoned their settlements and fled to the United States to aid the colonial cause during the Revolutionary War.
Dohrman Tract. Arnold Henry Dohrman was granted this tract in 1787 to compensate for disallowed expenditures and his humanitarian efforts as an agent of the United States for the revolutionary cause.
The Ohio Company. Over 1.5 million acres were negotiated from the federal government in southeastern Ohio in 1787 by the Ohio Company. But only 750,000 were included when the company failed to raise money for the whole piece (first purchase). A second purchase of over 200,000 acres was added in 1792. Records are at Marietta College Library, Marietta, Ohio.
Donation Tract. One hundred thousand acres were granted in 100-acre lots to any male, eighteen or older, who would settle on the land at the time of the conveyance. It was to be a buffer between the settlers in the Ohio Company and the native population.
Symmes Purchase. Known also as the Miami Purchase, it was acquired in 1794 and privately surveyed in southwestern Ohio from the Ohio River twenty-four miles northward between the Great Miami and the Little Miami Rivers. Fire has destroyed most of the records, although the Hamilton County Recorder’s Office has two extant volumes.
French Grants. The first grant, in Scioto County on the Ohio River, consisted of 24,000 acres given to the French in 1795, who were swindled by the Scioto Company. An additional smaller grant was made in 1798.
U.S. Military District. Bounty land granted the Continental army officers and soldiers in 1796 containing 2.5 million acres was bounded north by the Greenville Treaty Line, east by the Seven Ranges, south by the Refugee Tract and Congress Lands, and west by the Scioto River.
Zane’s Tracts. Three tracts of land, 640 acres each, were granted to Ebenezer Zane for laying out a road (Zane’s Trace) from Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) to Limestone (now Maysville), Kentucky.
Congressional Lands. After other sales and grants, Congress had two remaining tracts—one east of the Scioto River, one west of the Miami River.
The Auditor of the State, 88 E. Broad St., 5th Floor, Columbus, OH 43266-0541; the National Archives; and the BLM—Eastern States Office in Alexandria, Virginia (see page 6) all have records dealing with some aspect of government-to-individual transfers of land.
For explanations of greater detail, see William E. Peters, “Ohio Lands and Their History,” Bulletin of the History and Philosophy Society of Ohio 15 (1957): 340-48; his Ohio Lands and Their Subdivision, 2d ed. (Athens, Ohio.: the author, 1918); and his seventeen-volume typescript, “Code of Land Titles in Ohio. A Compilation from Official Records of All Charters, Indian Treaties, Grants…” (1935). See also Kenneth Duckett, “Ohio Land Patents,” Ohio History 72 (1963): 51-60. Available free from the state auditor and publisher are Ohio Lands: A Short History, a short information booklet, and The Building of Ohio, a small map showing all the land grants in Ohio.
Mayburt Stephenson Reigel’s Early Ohioans’ Residences from the Land Grant Records (Mansfield, Ohio: Ohio Genealogical Society, 1976) concerns some records that are in the state archives section of the Ohio Historical Society and not those in the custody of the auditor of the state. The author searched twenty-four volumes of records, including those for land offices at Cincinnati, Steubenville, Chillicothe, Canton-Wooster, Zanesville, and Marietta, plus the Refugee Tract and the Donation Tract Lands. The first mention of each name, in each place of residence, and in each land office, is listed. The place of residence may assist a genealogist in determining from where the ancestor migrated. Researchers must be aware in using this source that it includes very limited extractions from the twenty-four volumes.
Ellen T. Berry and David A. Berry, Early Ohio Settlers: Purchasers of Land in Southeastern Ohio, 1800–1840 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984) also summarizes the records of the Marietta Land Office. The alphabetically arranged entry gives the date, name, and residence of the purchaser, and the location of the land. Also, see the following by the same authors and publisher: Early Ohio Settlers, Purchasers of Land in South Western Ohio (1986), which indexes the records of the Cincinnati Land Office, and Early Ohio Settlers, Purchasers of Land in East and East Central Ohio (1989). Carol Willsey Bell, Ohio Lands: Steubenville Land Office, 1800–1820 (Youngstown, Ohio: the author, 1983), includes an every-name index to this series of records.
Marie Clark Taylor compiled two helpful books: Ohio Lands South of the Indian Boundary Line (Chillicothe, Ohio: the compiler, 1984) and Ohio Lands: Chillicothe Land Office, 1800–1829 (Chillicothe, Ohio: the compiler, 1984).
The Bureau of Land Management Office has a searchable index of patents for Ohio on its website www.glorecords.blm.gov but the searchable database does not include sales of federal land made on credit before 1820.
The Newberry Library in Chicago has very good resources on land records and boundary disputes for Ohio. Included in its collection are works on the Scioto Land Company and the Ohio Company, plus the microfilmed Ohio Land Grant Records (1788–1820).
Once granted by the federal government, subsequent transactions involving that land are recorded at the county recorder’s office in deed books.
The First Ohio Land Company originated in Virginia as a speculative venture to settle Ohio in the 1740s. The Ohio Valley belonged to the French and quickly became a flashpoint for starting the French and Indian War