As part of Virginia Military District
from “Clermont County, Ohio Bicentennial, 1800-2000”. Available at our museum or by mail, $10.00.
By Alma Aicholtz Smith
The first land instrument recorded in Clermont County is a Virginia military sur- vey. Clermont County is one of 23 Ohio counties situated entirely or in part in the Virginia Military District (VMD) of Ohio. The importance of these surveys is that they were the first subdivisions of and in the county. Conveyances for land today refer to the military survey in which the tract is located.
Under the 1609 charter from King James I of England, Virginia claimed all the land. north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River. During the Revolutionary War, the British fought Virginia for possession of these lands, later called – the Northwest Territory. George Rogers Clark and his Virginia army settled the question of possession with their victory at the Battle of Vincennes in 1779.
After the war ended in 1783, Virginia ceded all claims to the new federal government on land north of the Ohio River, except for the area lying between the Little Miami and Scioto rivers. Virginia reserved this land for her soldiers in payment for their services in the American Revolution, if good land in the Kentucky Military District prove insufficient. Colonel Richard Clough Anderson was appointed principal surveyor of the District by an act of the Virginia legislature in 1784.
Shortly after the Northwest Ordinance was passed on July 13, 1787, the Principal Surveyor’s Office in Louisville, Ky., opened its books for entries on lands in the Virginia Military Reserve in Ohio. On Nov. 13, 1787, deputy surveyor John O’Bannon ran the first survey in the District in what is now Clermont County. O’Bannon surveyed 1,400 acres of land on Military Warrant No. 937 for Colonel John Neville. This survey is numbered 388.
When O’Bannon arrived with his chain carriers and marker men in the fall of 1787, there were no settlements in southwestern Ohio. Despite the hardships the men endured that winter, they continued surveying until May 29, 1788. During those six months, O’Bannon surveyed 124,000 acres in what is now Clermont County and Anderson Township, Hamilton County. Congress then ordered surveying stopped in Ohio until Virginal could show that good land in Kentucky was insufficient for its solders’ claims.
Virginia compiled statistics to show the need for the Ohio land, and in 1790, Congress withdrew its objections. But surveying in the VMD of Ohio did not resume until 1792 because of the Indian Wars in southwestern Ohio. In 1793, an energetic young man. named William Lytle began his surveying career. He surveyed many acres of land in what is now Clermont and Brown Counties.
The fee charged by the deputy surveyors for their services varied from year to year and with the difficulty of the work. Surveyors often charged one quarter to 1/2 of the acres called for in the entry, or 10 pounds – Virginia currency per 1,000 acres.
The land bounties given by Virginia to her Revolutionary War soldiers ranged from 100 acres for a private to 15,000 acres for a major general.
The process the soldier used to obtain land was an involved one. After obtaining a military bounty warrant stating his rank and the amount of land to which he was entitled, he hired an authorized deputy surveyor to make an entry for him. This entry was a general description of the tract on which he was locating the warrant. The entry was numbered, dated, and recorded in a book in the Principal Surveyor’s Office in Louisville. The tract was then surveyed by the deputy surveyor and a plat was made. The survey then had to be resubmitted to the Principal Surveyor’s office, and accepted by him. Then the warrant with the survey plat was sent to the Federal government for a patent.
The patent (first-title deed) was the consummation of title to land in the VMD section. The governors of Virginia had been granting patents for their bounty lands in Kentucky. Since the warrants could be used on both sides of the Ohio River, the governors of Virginia also issued patents for their bounty lands in Ohio. These patents were nullified by an act of Congress on Aug. 10, 1790, which required U.S. Presidents to sign patents. Some survey owners, unaware of this law, lost their land because they failed to exchange their Virginia patents for U.S. patents.
It was not until Feb. 20, 1796, that the first U.S. patent was issued for VMD land. This was 13 years after British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. This long delay in acquiring title to bounty lands induced some Virginia veterans to cash in their warrants.
Washington loses his land
General George Washington was entitled to receive 23,333 1/3 acres (valued at $233,333.33) for his services as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. But he refused to accept any bounty land in his own right. Instead he purchased two warrants for 3,100 acres from other soldiers. He had John O’Bannon survey three tracts of land on these warrants:
Survey No. 1650, 839 acres in Franklin Twp.
Survey No. 1775, 977 acres in Union Twp.
Survey No. 1765, 1,235 acres in Miami Twp.
Washington’s certificates, warrants, and survey plats were sent to the office of Richard Clough Anderson, Principal Surveyor, and properly recorded. In the belief that it was incumbent upon the Commonwealth of Virginia to complete the title, the papers were returned to the Land Office at Richmond, Virginia. Patents for the surveys were issued to Washington by Governor Beverly Randolph on Dec. 1, 1790.
While living at Mt. Vernon in 1798, Washington heard rumors that the titles to his Ohio lands were in jeopardy. He wrote to Richard Clough Anderson at Louisville, asking his help in protecting his titles. Anderson replied that his titles were secure, but Anderson was wrong. He should have advised Washington to obtain U.S. patents from President John Adams.
Washington died in 1799 believing he still owned these surveys. In his will, he listed the three tracts of land at $5 an acre, for a total of $15,251. After his death, his heirs paid $20.13 in taxes on the land. In 1806, Joseph Kerr, a deputy surveyor, re-entered and allegedly resurveyed the lands as Surveys 4848, 4847, and 4862. He registered them in the name of other. Virginia veterans who sold land to him. He sent the surveys with the proper certificates and warrants to the Secretary of War. U.S. patents were issued to the “claim jumpers” and Washington’s heirs lost a valuable part of his estate for which they never received compensation.
Many Virginia soldiers sold their bounty land for economic reasons or because they preferred to live in Virginia. However, a sufficient number of Virginians came to Clermont County to give it a southern tone. Farms were often called plantations.
Lieutenant George Washington, a nephew of the general, was more fortunate with his Clermont County army land. His 1,000 acre tract of land surveyed on Military Warrant No. 135 is in Pierce Township. After Lt. Washington’s death, a U.S. patent was issued to his devisee, George Fayette Washington, by President James Madison.