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Report on Sale of Lands on Lake Erie, 19 December 1791

Report on Sale of Lands on Lake Erie

The Secretary of state, to whom was referred, by the President of the United States, a letter from the Governor of Pennsylvania with the documents therein mentioned, on the subject of certain lands on Lake Erie, having had the same under consideration, thereupon REPORTS

That Congress, by their resolution of June 6. 1788. directed the Geographer general of the United States to ascertain the quantity of land belonging to the United States between Pennsylvania and Lake Erie, and authorized a sale thereof:

That a sale was accordingly made to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

That Congress by their resolution of Sep. 4. 1788. relinquished to the sd. Commonwealth all their right to the government and jurisdiction of the sd. tract of land; but the right of soil was not transferred by the resolution:

That a survey of the sd. tract has been since made and the amount of the purchase money been settled between the Comptrollers of the United states and of the sd. Commonwealth, and that the Governor of Pennsylvania declares in the said letter to the President of the United states that he is ready to close the transaction on behalf of the sd. Commonwealth:

That there is no person at present authorised by law to convey to the sd. Commonwealth the right of soil in the sd. tract of land.

And the Secretary of state is therefore of opinion that the sd. letter and documents should be laid before the legislature of the United States to make such provision by law for conveying the sd. right of soil as they in their wisdom shall think fit.

Th: Jefferson
Dec. 19. 1791.

PrC (DLC). Entry in SJPL reads: “[Report of?] Th:J. on sale of lands on L. Erie to Pensva.”

The task of completing Pennsylvania’s purchase of a portion of the public domain lying along the shores of Lake Erie was one of the last legacies of the Continental Congress to the new federal government. When the boundary of New York was finally settled after the cession of the western land claims of New York and Massachusetts to the United States, the Continental Congress discovered that there was still left over a tract of land of about 200,000 acres bounded by New York, Pennsylvania, and Lake Erie. Since this part of the public domain was cut off from the Northwest Territory by the Connecticut Reserve, the cession of which was not then expected, the Continental Congress decided on 6 June 1788 to survey it and offer it for sale at not less than 75¢ an acre. Pennsylvania, which wanted to expand its frontage along Lake Erie, thereupon contracted with the Board of Treasury to buy this tract for 75¢ an acre, and the Continental Congress transferred to the state “all their right, title and claim to the Government and Jurisdiction” over the land on 6 Sep. 1788. But before further action could be taken the Continental Congress passed out of existence. After Comptroller General John Nicholson of Pennsylvania and the Department of the Treasury agreed on the terms of payment in the fall of 1791, however, according to which Pennsylvania undertook to pay the federal government $151,640.25 for 202,187 acres, Governor Thomas Mifflin wrote a letter to Washington on 15 Dec. 1791 in which he asked the President to lay a number of enclosed documents relating to the purchase before Congress so that it could authorize the actual transfer of the land. Following TJ’s advice, Washington submitted Mifflin’s letter and enclosures and TJ’s report thereon to Congress on 20 Dec. 1791. Within eight days Congress approved an act authorizing the President to issue letters patent conveying the Lake Erie tract to Pennsylvania that Washington signed into law on 3 Jan. 1792 (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxxiv, 203, 499–500; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–1979, 26 vols. description ends , viii, 325–7, 412, ix, 92, 239; Pennsylvania Archives, 9th ser., i, 301; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 478–81; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , i, 357–8, 360; Payson J. Treat, The National Land System 1785–1820 [New York, 1910], p. 63–4).

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