Early Acquisition, Survey, and
Disposition of Land in Natchez and the Mississippi Territory
BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Brief History of the Disposition
and Administration of the Public Domain in Mississippi, By James
Muhn, Land Law Historian U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land
Management, National Applied Resource Sciences Center, Denver, Colorado.
History of Acquisition
Surveying and Land Sales
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The land that we know today as Mississippi was acquired by the United
States, after a series of events. After the Revolutionary War, the British
ceded to the US all claims to the Trans-Appalachia West, which at the time
was occupied by very few white settlers.
After the British ceded the land, several of the Colony states laid
claim to portions of the territory, by virtue of previous agreements.
One state was South Carolina, which in 1787, ceded back to the United States
a narrow 14 mile wide strip of land, located along the northern boundaries
of today's Mississippi and Alabama.
Another state laying claim to Mississippi land was Georgia.
The land in question was known as the Yazoo Strip, and was located in the
northern half of Mississippi. It was not until 1802, after many years
of negotiations, that an agreement was reached, and Georgia ceded the land
which had, by then, became known as the Mississippi Territory.
The third and final portion of Mississippi to be acquired was the
southern portion of the state known as West Florida. This area belonged
to Spain, in 1810, and was taken by the US through proclamation by President
John Madison, after a revolt against Spanish rule, by the citizenry of
Baton Rouge, LA. Another major step occurred in 1813 after the US
captured Mobile [AL.]
The final step occurred in 1819 when the US purchased an area between
the Pearl and Perdido Rivers, and East Florida [the state of FL] from the
King of Spain.
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In addition to the individual claims made by the Colony States,
a number of foreign countries laid claim to these lands. Spain, France,
and Great Britain had all held sovereign rights, at one time, and had granted
land to their own citizens. The United States promised to recognize
those land titles, but a thorough title search had to be accomplished.
This search was not easy, because of over-lapping claims, variations in
methods different countries had of granting land, and occasional fraud.
Many of the private land claims were centered around Natchez.
The French had initially settled the area, but had been forced out by Indians,
in 1729. White settlers were not firmly established until 1762, under
British rule, and after the French and Indian War when Great Britain was
granted all land formally in the control of the French. The first
step was for the British to create the providence known as West Florida.
Immediately, the British began granting lands to it's citizens as a means
of more firmly entrenching themselves in the area. A number of such
grants were given in the Natchez area, but since the population was very
small, many land owners did not live on their grant until during the Revolutionary
War when many British, forced out of the Colony states, retreated to Natchez.
Spain, as an ally of the American Rebels, took advantage of the
war and occupied Natchez in 1779. Spain was formally given the territory,
by the United States, in 1783. The British, however, had already
secretly given the region above the 31st parallel, to the United States.
Spain, being in actual possession of the land, began to actively settling
the area around Natchez in 1789. The method of granting land was
attractive to many Americans, and within a five year period the population
doubled. Spanish control of the Natchez area ended in 1795 via the
San Lorenzo, or Pinckney's Treaty.
Before the US could begin granting it's own land tracts, all previous
titles had to be adjudicated. In 1803, a board was established to
research all previous claims, a very difficult task that took several years.
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When the US first fully acquired the territory, most of the area
was occupied by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. Negotiations began
in 1801 to make the land available to white settlers. By 1830, through
a series of negotiations, treaties, enticements, restrictions, and harsh
and sometimes unreasonable laws, the Native Americans ceded all of their
lands via the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
This treaty spelled out three types of land allotments:
1. Special Reservations - 320 to 2,560 acres
granted to Indians, half-bloods, and white men receiving special compensation
for their services.
2. Cultivation Claims - 80 to 320 acres
given to heads of families based upon land currently in cultivation.
These allotments were, in turn, sold to either private individuals, or
back to the United States.
3. Choctaw Grants - Those Choctaws who chose
to remain in the area were granted a certain number of acres, to the heads
of households, and to their children. Title would be granted after
a family had lived on the land for five years.
There were a number of problems with the allotments, resulting in
legislation that protected lands that had been settled by whites, from
the Indians. Then, in 1842, Congress provided the Choctaws with script,
a certificate that allocated a Choctaw with the same amount of government
land as had been specified through the original allotments.
A similar situation occurred with the Chickasaw, who were allowed
to occupy their allotted land until they resettled west, across the Mississippi
River, at which point the Indians could sell the land. Pre-determined
values of the land, which decreased annually, encouraged the Indians to
sell their land within the first year.
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AND LAND SALES
The US began surveying the land in 1832, two years after the Dancing
Rabbit Creek Treaty. The task was completed in 1840. The first
sale of lands took place in January 1831 at the land office in Pontotoc,
MS, when over 266,000 acres were sold at an average price of $1.88 per
acre. The better tracts, located in the fertile prairie area, sold
for $2.00 to $3.00 an acre.
By 1840, with an average price per acre having dropped to $.80, 2,820,682
acres had been sold. Interestingly, most of the land was not sold
to private individuals and settlers, but to wealthy individuals and corporations.
Because of the complicated method of granting title, which occurred
over a 35 year period and involved issuing eight parcels, it can be very
difficult to trace the General Land Office surveys, in Mississippi.
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The designation "Township" indicated a major subdivision of public
lands under the rectangular system of survey. Most Townships were
six miles long, on each side, and contained just over 23,000 acres. Not
all tracts were surveyed under the rectangular survey system, because of
grants extended by previous sovereigns, but most were.
The identification of a Township is determined by it's relationship
to a pre-determined and specific point. Township values run north
and south, and are numbered in accordance with their relative position
to the Meridian; Range values run east and west of a specific Range
Line, and are numbered in accordance with their position, as shown in this
Consequently, when locating a Township, it is imperative to know
the baselines from which the Township was determined.
SECTION NUMBER -
A "Section" is an area within a Township, usually comprising of one
square mile, or 36 acres. Each section is identified by a number.
ALIQUOT PARTS -
Sections were broken down into Aliquot Parts. A section could
be halved or quartered. Identifiers would look like:
Halves - N5, S5, E5, W5,
e.g. The North Half of Section 5
Quarters - NW5, SW5,
NE5, SE5, e.g. The Northwest Quarter of Section 5.
Further notations could be something like: ESW5 - The East
Half of the Southwest Quarter of Section 5.
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