An extremely rare broadside indenture produced during the tenure of Rufus Putnam as Surveyor General of the United States and reflecting Federal Government efforts to stimulate settlement of the public lands northwest of the Ohio River.
After independence the public lands north and west of the Ohio River presented the Congress with both an opportunity and a problem: A well-managed process of sales and settlement would replenish government finances and allow for the expansion of American control into regions hitherto under the sway of the native American tribes and their British allies. Yet there was a real risk that an unmanaged process could antagonize those same forces and result in a huge region settled by Americans living outside government control. Against this background Congress in the mid-1780s passed a series of landmark laws creating the Northwest Territory and providing for the orderly survey, sale, settlement and ultimately statehood of the lands therein. The Territory encompassed a huge area comprising the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as part of Minnesota.
The survey of the Territory began with Thomas Hutchins’ platting of the “Seven Ranges” of townships immediately west of the Ohio River. Land sales began in 1787 but met with little success, largely due to the high ($1 per acre!) price set by Congress and the ongoing threat posed by the region’s Native American tribes (Though the latter was largely ended by Anthony Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers and the subsequent 1795 Treaty of Greenville).
The slow pace of land sales catalyzed legislative remedies. The Land Act of 1796 (“An act providing for the sale of the lands of the United States, in the Territory North-West of the Ohio, and above the mouth of Kentucky-River”) loosened purchase terms, and also established the position of Surveyor General of the United States. President Washington duly appointed Revolutionary War hero Rufus Putnam to the new position, but the revised terms had little of the desired effect. Thus in 1800 was passed the Land Act of 1800 (aka the Harrison Land Act, after Northwest Territory Governor William Henry Harrison). This further loosened purchase terms and reduced the minimum purchase from 640 to 320 acres, while also making provision for settlers to lease rather than purchase land outright.
Rufus Putnam (1738-1824)
A native of Worcester County, Massachusetts, Rufus Putnam first made his name during the French and Indian War, after which he worked as a farmer and miller. He enlisted in the Continental Army early in the Revolution, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He provided much valuable service, for example in March 1776 engineering the works at Dorchester Heights that forced the British evacuation from Boston, overseeing many other important fortifications, and leading two regiments at Saratoga. He was promoted to Brigadier in 1783.
After the war Putnam turned his attention westward and was a co-founder and leading member of the Ohio Company of Associates, which in 1787 purchased from Congress 1.5 million acres along the Ohio River. Putnam led the first group of Ohio Company settlers to the region, where they founded Marietta as the first American settlement north and west of the Ohio River. He served as a Federal judge and a Brigadier General under Wayne, before being appointed to the Surveyor General position in 1796. He held that role until 1803, when President Jefferson replaced him with Jared Mansfield, due both to Putnam’s strong Federalist leanings and the poor quality of his surveys, which were conducted with an eye toward speed rather than accuracy.
Offered here is an extraordinarily rare blank form (“indenture”) reflecting Putnam’s authority under the little-known Section 15 of the Land Act of 1800, according to which Federal lands in the Northwest Territory “may be let upon leases by the Surveyor-General, in sections or half sections, for terms not exceeding seven years, on condition of making such improvements as he shall deem reasonable.” The intent of Section 15 seems to have used leasing as a further option for luring cash-strapped settlers.
The indenture specifies rather stringent terms: Lessees were to be required to clear a certain amount of acreage within five years, including a two-acre orchard to be “planted with One Hundred Apple-trees, thrifty and of a proper size,” the remainder to be planted “with a sufficient quantity of Herds-grass and Clover-seeds,” with each section to be properly fenced. Likewise, they were to be required to clear specified amounts of land for pasture and “tillage.” The exact quantities of land involved were left to Putnam and the lessees to negotiate. Failure to introduce these improvements to the land within the seven-year lease were to result in a fine, with the specific amount also left to be negotiated.
The broadside is in a superb state of preservation, untrimmed and with the original deckled edge and never completed or folded. It bears no imprint, though the most likely place of printing was either Marietta, where Putnam had his residence, or Chillicothe, which in 1800 was designated capital of the Northwest Territory.
Provenance and references
The indenture was previously in the inventory of a Rhode Island collector-dealer. It is extraordinarily rare, not listed in either Shaw-Shoemaker or OCLC or, for example, the on-line catalogs of the American Antiquarian Society, the Clements Library or Yale. Ernest Wessen’s Midland Notes 20 (1944), item 195 illustrates an impression offered for a whopping $7.50, describing it as “one of six known copies.” Where these are today is anyone’s guess. Finally, the on-line catalog of the Ross County Historical Society (Chillicothe, Ohio) lists what is likely a second example (call #1991.161.26B), though I have not had opportunity to examine an image to determine whether the type and setting are identical.
Morgan, Ohio Imprints, #7418.