George Washington Papers

Request for Alteration of Patent to John Cleves Symmes, 29 September 1794

Request for Alteration of Patent to John Cleves Symmes

[Sept. 29, 1794]

Be it known unto all men by these Presents that whereas in pursuance of certain resolutions of the United States in Congress assembled bearing date respectively the 23rd & 27th days of July and the 23rd day of October 1787,1 or some of them a Contract was duly made & executed between Samuel Osgood, Walter Livingston & Arthur Lee Esqrs. Commissioners of the board of Treasury of the United States of the first part, Jonathan Dayton & Daniel Marsh Esqrs. of the second part,2 and John Cleves Symmes Esqr. of the third part for the purchase & grant of a certain tract of Land in the Western Country adjoining the River Ohio, beginning on the bank of the same river at a spot exactly twenty miles distant along the several courses of the same from the place where the Great Miami empties itself into the said river Ohio from thence extending down the said River Ohio along the several courses thereof to the great Miami River thence up the said River Miami along the several courses thereof to a place whence a line drawn due East will intersect a line drawn from the place of beginning aforesaid parralel with the general course of the Great Miami River so as to include one Million of acres within those lines and the said Rivers and from that place upon the said Great River Miami extending along such lines to the place of beginning containing as aforesaid one Million of Acres to be granted to the said John Cleves Symmes and his associates their heirs and assigns upon certain terms & conditions as in and by the said Contract bearing date the 15th day of May 1788 reference being thereunto had will fully appear—And whereas by an Act of the Congress of the United States bearing date the 12th day of April 1792, entitled “An act for ascertaining the bounds of a tract of Land purchased by John Cleves Symmes”3—The President of the United States was authorised at the request of the said John Cleves Symmes to alter the said Contract made between the said late board of Treasury and the said John Cleves Symmes in such manner that the said tract may extend from the mouth of the Great Miami to the mouth of the little Miami, and be bounded by the River Ohio on the South, by the Great Miami on the West, by the little miami on the East, & by a parralel of Latitude on the North extending from the Great Miami to the little Miami so as to comprehend the proposed quantity of one Million of Acres; provided that the Northern limits of the said tract shall not interfere with the boundary line established by the Treaty of Fort Harmar, between the United States and the Indian Nations,4 and provided also, that the President reserve to the United States such lands at & near Fort Washington as he may think necessary for the accommodation of a garrison at that Fort, as in and by the said act reference thereunto had will fully appear.

Now these presents witness that I the said John Cleves Symmes have requested and hereby do request the President of the United States that the said Contract so as aforesaid made by the said Commissioners of the late Board of Treasury on behalf of the said United States of the one part and the said John Cleves Symmes by my said Agents Jonathan Dayton and Daniel Marsh on behalf of myself & my associates of the other part be altered so as to include only the last mentioned tract, butted, bounded and described as in the said act of the Congress aforesaid (subject to the same conditions and with the same limitations & reservations as in the said Contract and Act of Congress are expressed) is set forth. And also subject to the reservation of the quantity of fifteen Acres being for the accommodation of Fort Washington and the garrison thereof and including the said Fort in such part of the said tract as the President of the United States shall find convenient and suitable for military purposes & shal cause to be located therefor and further subject to the reservation of one mile square at or within four miles of the mouth of the Great Miami to be located by such person as the President of the United [States] shall appoint for that purpose, provided that a law be passed within the space of two years from the date of these presents to authorise the last mentioned reservation and location and that the President of the United States shall appoint a person to make such location within the space of one year after such law shall be passed. And provided also that the same law shall authorise the President to make and the President shall make & execute to the said John Cleves Symmes and his associates his and their heirs within the said last mentioned term of one year a grant and release of the aforesaid fifteen Acres reserved for the use and accommodation of Fort Washington and the Garrison thereof. And I do hereby for myself and my associates and our heirs remise release and quit claim unto the said United States all right title interest claim and demand whatever in and to so much of the lands contained and included within the bounds & limits described in the said first mentioned Contract as is not contained meant and intended to be contained and included within the bounds and limits secondly abovementioned.5

(signed) John C. Symmes

Sealed & delivered in the presence of
(signed) Wm Bradford
(do) Benjn Bankson

Copy, DNA: RG 49, Letters Received by the Surveyor General of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio 1797-1856.

Symmes originally proposed to purchase 2 million acres between the Great and Little Miami rivers, but by the summer of 1788 he had cut his request in half. The contract with the Board of Treasury dated 15 Oct. 1788 awarded Symmes one million acres, but gave him less frontage along the Ohio River than he had asked because it placed Symmes’s boundary twenty miles east of the mouth of the Great Miami River instead of at the Little Miami River. Symmes objected to the contract and feared that his earlier sale of an extensive tract to Benjamin Stites would not be included in the new grant. In 1792 Symmes and his attorneys successfully persuaded Congress to authorize GW to issue a new patent that would restore the Little Miami River boundary, and that law provided the basis for this request.

1For these resolutions, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 33:399-401, 427-29, 701-2.

2Jonathan Dayton (1760-1824) was a Revolutionary War veteran and lawyer. He served in the New Jersey General Assembly, 1786-87 and 1790, the Continental Congress, 1787-88, and the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. From 1791 to 1799 Dayton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he twice served as Speaker. He sat in the U.S. Senate from 1799 to 1805.

Daniel Marsh (1735-1802), of Rahway, N.J., was elected to represent Essex County in the state assembly, 1780, 1782-83, 1785-86, 1789, and 1793. He served on the N.J. council, 1799-1800. He was a mason and became junior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey upon its establishment in 1786. Thomas Jefferson appointed Marsh collector for Perth Amboy, N.J., in 1801.

3See Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 6:7-8.

4The Treaty of Fort Harmar consisted of two agreements, both dated 9 Jan. 1789. The settlement made with the Six Nations, which reaffirmed the line given in the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, established the western boundary of their lands well east of the grant given Symmes. This clause referred to a second agreement made with the Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, and Sac nations, which reaffirmed the boundary line created by the 1785 Treaty of Fort McIntosh. That line began at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and ran up that river "to the portage between that and the Tuscarawa branch of Muskingum," then down that branch, "to the forks at the crossing-place above fort Lawrence." The line continued "westerly to the portage on that branch of the Big Miami river which runs into the Ohio" and ran along that portage to the Great Miami River, then down the river’s southeast bank to the mouth and "along the southern shore of Lake Erie to the mouth of Cayahoga, where it began." The United States was ceded the land south, east, and west of the line, but the Indians retained the land north of it (Kappler, Indian Treaties, 18-25).

5GW signed his consent to alter the patent to Symmes on 30 September. The document stipulated that the land be granted in the area requested by Symmes “upon the same terms & conditions as in and by the said Contract made on the 15th day of October 1788” (negotiations for the contract of 15 May 1788 ended on 15 Oct.). In addition to the fifteen acres for Fort Washington and one square mile near the mouth of the Great Miami, Symmes was required to reserve lots 8, 11, 16, 26, and 29 in each township (copy, DNA: RG 49, Letters Received by the Surveyor General of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio 1797-1856; see also Carter, Territorial Papers, 2:492-95).

A revised grant, dated the same day, conveyed to Symmes and his associates "all that tract of Land, beginning at the mouth of the Great Miami River, and extending from thence along the River Ohio to the mouth of the little Miami River, bounded on the south by the said River Ohio, on the west by the said Great Miami River, on the East by the said little River Miami<,> and on the north by a parallel of Latitude to be run from the said Great Miami River to the said little Miami River so as to comprehend" 311,682 acres "with the appurtenances." The agreement required Symmes and his associates to "cause the said parrallel of Latitude forming the northern boundary of the tract . . . to be truly run, surveyed and laid" and report the results to the secretary of the treasury within five years. The survey was to be run from certain fixed locations along the Great and Little Miami rivers determined by a March 1794 survey authorized by the Treasury Department and conducted by Israel Ludlow. Moreover, "one compleat Township or tract of Land of six miles square . . . as nearly as may be in the centre of the tract of land hereinbefore granted" was to be held in trust "for the sole and exclusive intent and purpose of erecting and establishing therein an Academy & other public schools and seminaries of learning and endowing & supporting the same" (copy, DNA: RG 49, Letters Received by the Surveyor General of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio 1797-1856; copy, OHi: Charles E. Rice Collection; copy, DLC: Short-Harrison-Symmes Families Papers; copy [photocopy], Vi; see also Carter, Territorial Papers, 2:496-98). This new patent awarded only the 248,540 acres upon which Symmes had previously made payments to the U.S. government and 63,142 acres in associated reserved lands.

Symmes sold warrants outside the 1794 patent and north of Ludlow’s survey in expectation of receiving the full one million acres if he made additional payments to the government, but Congress rejected his efforts by 1797. During the early 1800s numerous claimants filed suits against Symmes, and his vast landholdings were seized to pay legal judgments against him. For additional information about the Symmes patent, see Beverley Bond, ed., The Correspondence of John Cleves Symmes (New York, 1925).

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