Early Mississippi Territory
Title: Land Offices
Submitter:  Ginny English
Notice:  SOURCE PUBLIC DOMAIN MATERIAL: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History;
Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions and Persona;
Planned and Edited by Dunbar Rowland, LL.D. Director Mississippi Department
of Archives and History; Member American Historical Associations, Vol. II.
L-Z 1907
MSGenWeb Index Page


 LAND OFFICES -  The first enactment of the United States congress regarding
the lands of Mississippi Territory, bears date March 3, 1803.  The
territorial government was established in 1798, but the authority of the
United States to provide for the rights of the inhabitants in the lands they
held and regulate the sale of vacant lands, was not clear until after the
agreement with Georgia in 1802.

This act provided, "That, for the disposal of the lands of the United States
within the Mississippi Territory, two Land Offices shall be established in
the same; one at such place in the county of Adams, as shall be designated
by the President of the United States, for the lands lying West of "Pearl
River", sometimes called "Halfway River"; and one at such place in the
county of Washington, as shall be designated by the President of the United
States, for the lands lying East of the Pearl River; and for each of the
said offices a Register and Receiver of Public Moneys shall be appointed,"
etc., the same regulations being made as in the Northwest territory.

Until more land than the old districts of Natchez and Mobile, north of
latitude 31 degrees, should be acquired from the Indians, it was the duty of
the register in each district to act with two persons to be appointed by the
president, as a commission to adjust the claims arising from grants and
other acts of the former governments of the country.

On July 9, 1803, Edward Turner, of Mississippi , was appointed register of
the land office for the lands lying west of Pearl River.  He was reappointed
Nov. 18, 1804.  On March 3, 1805, Thomas Hill Williams, of Mississippi
territory, was appointed register of the county of Adams, west of Pearl
River, and the latter was succeeded by Nehemiah Tilton, of Delaware, by
appointment Jan 10, 1811.  East of Pearl River Joseph Chambers was the first
register.  The commissioners appointed were Thomas Rodney of Delaware, and
Robert Williams of North Carolina, for the western district, to have their
office at Washington; and Ephraim Kirby of Conn. And Robert Carter Nicholas
of Kentucky for the eastern district to have their office at St. Stephens.

The board for the district west of Pearl River "convened at the town of
Washington on Dec 1, 1803, and continued open for the reception of claims
until July 3 18097, when it was adjourned sine die, after having received
for record 2,090 claims.  Some of these claims were subsequently contested
in the high courts of the United States."  There were no public lands to be
disposed of ab initio, except such as might be found unclaimed in the
Natchez district.  Settlers upon the land, who were in possession March 3,
1803, were to have the preference in becoming purchasers at the price then
fixed by law for public lands, and these constituted the main class of

April 21, 1806, it was enacted that persons entitled to a right of
pre-emption by virtue of certificate from the commissioners, should be
allowed until Jan 1, 1807, to make the first payment, when, if they failed
so to do, their right became void.  As for those without title who were
actual settlers in 1798, they were donated 640 acres to each male settler of
full age.  Finally, by act of Jan. 10, 1808, every person the head of a
family or of full age, who on March 3, 18097, actually inhabited and
cultivated a tract of land not claimed under a land commissioners'
certificate, and had obtained permission to reside on the lands under the
act of Mach 1807, should have the right of preference in becoming a
purchaser of not to exceed 640 acres, and be allowed until Jan. 1, 1809 to
make the first payment.

Sept 19 1808 the Mississippi House of Representatives, F. L. Claiborne,
speaker, adopted a memorial to congress, asking further indulgence in making
the first payment.  It was represented that the planters "have been cut off
from every hope of payment by an act of that government to which they were
indebted.  It has been deemed expedient to suspend, by embargo, our
mercantile operations, and thereby our produce lies, unsold and unsaleable
in our barns.  The policy of this measure is nowhere admired more than by
the people of this territory . . . but . . . we deplore the severe and
destructive effects which will inevitably accompany the operations of the
law, if the payments due to the United States are rigidly exacted."  The
committee on public lands reported adversely to the petition, saving the
pre-emptors already had had a longer time for making their first payment
that other purchasers, and had enjoyed the selection of the best lands
without competition.  In March, 1808, the first Choctaw purchase was ordered
opened to sale, and thereafter the land office had to deal with the original
sale of land outside of the historic ground of Natchez district, and sales
were made under the general land laws of the United States.

Under the act of 1808 Thomas W. Murray of Virginia, was register, and Lemuel
Henry, receiver, at St. Stephens, for the district east of Pearl.

Before the Choctaw cession of 1820 there were 4,792,000 acres of land sold
in Mississippi and Alabama for $17,656,549, of which $5,577,057 had been

The sales were about $150,000 in 1807, when they began; next year, when
there was war in prospect, they dropped to $35,000; after that they varied
from $150,000 to $300,000 until 1813-15, the war period, when the annual
sales were $60,000, $82,000 and $54,000.  Then in 1816 the sales leaped to
over $1,000,000, next year to $2,000,000, and in 1818 to $3,715,000.  The
sales in 1819 were, however, unprecedented - $9,700,000, more than half the
total from 1807.  This was almost entirely in Alabama, however, in the new
Indian cessions.

Under the act of March 3, 1819, a land office was established at Jackson
Courthouse, (county seat of Jackson County), to take evidence regarding
titles to land in the coast region based on French, English and Spanish
grants.  William Barton was register; William Barnett, receiver; John
Elliott, clerk and interpreter.  These officers also had charge of the sale
of the lands in that region, annexed in 1812 from east Florida south of the
Ellicott line and east of the Pearl River.  The report for October 1, 1821,
was west of Pearl River district, total lands in district, 3,502,080 acres,
all surveyed; Jackson Courthouse, 2,097,600, no surveys; east of Pearl River
(Ala), 6,904,320,  (of which) 5,253,000 surveyed.  The receipts of the
Jackson county officer in 1820 were $13,405; at Washington $90,876; while
the receipts at Huntsville, Chawba were $407,000, and at St. Stephens

By the act of May 6, 1822, the old district east of Pearl River in the first
Choctaw cession was divided, and that part of it in Mississippi was assigned
to the Jackson county land office, which was removed to Augusta.  The
territory of this office was then the southeast corner of the State, south
of the "old Choctaw boundary."  The same act also created a new district to
include lands ceded by the Choctaws at Doak's Stand (q.v.) in 1820,
estimated at over 5,000,000 acres, the land office to be established at such
convenient place as the president might direct.  The president was
authorized to order all or part of the land surveyed and offered for sale,
the first sale to be held at any convenient place west of Pearl River if so
desired.  To this new district was attached the lands east of the Tombigbee
in Mississippi, to which the Indian title had been extinguished in 1816, and
which had belonged to the Madison County district (Alabama).

In 1822, the president appointed Gideon Fitz register, and James C. Dickson,
brother of David Dickson, receiver for the land office at Jackson.  Surveyor
Freeman recommended the sales to be at Washington or Port Gibson, but the
legislature in December 1822, petitioned for sales at Jackson, where the
first sale occurred in November 1833.

The act  of Feb. 22, 1827 authorized the president to order the removal of
"the land office now located at Jackson," and it was accordingly, changed to
Mount Salus, the former home of Gob. Leake, (now Clinton), upon request of
the legislature.

Under the act of 1803, there was also appointed a "surveyor of the lands of
the United States south of Tennessee,' to whose duties were added the survey
of the lands of Orleans district in 1805, and the country annexed from West
Florida in 1812.  Isaac Briggs of Maryland, was the first surveyor,
appointed April 7, 1803.  He was succeeded by Seth Pease, of the District of
Columbia, appointed March 2, 1807, who arrive din May of that year.  Thomas
Freeman was appointed Aug. 27, 1810, and he continued in office until his
death in 1821.  His jurisdiction was restricted in 1817, by the appointment
of Gen. John Coffee as surveyor in the northern district of Mississippi
territory, which district was changed in the following year to Alabma
territory, leaving Freeman the surveyor of all public lands in the State of
Mississippi.  Jan. 9, 1822, Levin Wailes was appointed to succeed Freeman.
Joseph Dunbar, collector of the revenue district was appointed surveyor in
Jan. 1830.

The report of B. L. C. Wailes, register at Washington, in July 1824, showed:
Area of Natchez District, 2,031,800 acres; subsequent purchases 12,475,000
acres.  The State was divided into three land districts, one for the
district west of the Pearl, with the land office at Washington, one east of
the Pearl, with office at Augusta, and the Choctaw district, with the office
at Clinton, where all transactions were on the cash basis, no debts or
forfeitures.  In the western district the private claims confirmed by the
United States, chiefly British and Spanish grants, amounted to 545,480
acres.  Only about one third of the lands in the district had been disposed
of, say 988,000 acres.  The forfeitures March 4, 1829 were about $159,000.

There were six land districts, called the Paulding, the Columbus, the
Washington, the Grenada, the Jackson, and the Chickasaw districts, with an
office at each of the towns named, there being no separate office for the
Chickasaw district.  In 1869, all the offices were consolidated in one at
Jackson, with C.L.C. Cass as receiver and Charles W. Loomis register.  The
receivers since Mr. Cass have been Robert J. Alcorn, A. H. Kimball, John T.
Hull, Wallace McLaurin, George C. McKee, Mrs. A. H. McKee, R. W. Banks,
George Edward Matthews, Isaiah T. Montgomery, Thomas B. McAllister.  The
registers in the same period have been R. C. Kerr, James D. Stewart, Henry
Kernagan, Robert E. Wilson, James Hill, F. W. Collins, L. Q. C. Lamar, Jr.