Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Virginia Military District

Daytonology is going to experiment a bit with a regional perspective, investigating the area outside of Montgomery County, including the rural landscapes of western Ohio.

In this post a quick introduction to "Virginia in Ohio", the Virginia Military District, VMD for short.

The Virginia Military District is the land between the Scioto and Little Miami River, which means it includes a substantial portion of Greene County. When Virginia ceded it's claims to sovereignity over the Northwest Territory to Congress in 1784 it retained this portion of land for military land grants in case land ran out in it's original military reservation in what is now Kentucky.

Land went under survey and tracts were located starting in 1790. It should be noted that Virginia retained the title to land , not sovereignity or jurisdiction, which went to the Northwest Territory. This was a bit different than the Connecticut Western Reserve up in northeast Ohio.

Chains of Rights and Title: From Military Service to Property Ownership

The land was a bounty or reward to Virginia veterans of the Revolution who served in the Continental Army. There was a rather involved process for obtaining land, starting with the veteran obtaining a certificate of service, which entitled him to a land warrant for an amount of land depending on rank and service. This was for just an amount of land, not specific pieces of property.

Then property in the VMD was surveyed for the amount of the land in the warrant. After the survey the warrant was exchanged for a patent, which was equivilant to a deed. This patent was how title transferred from Virginia to the veteran.

This diagram illustrates the process:

However, this assumes a Virginia veteran would travel all the way to Ohio to locate his tract.

In reality certificates, warrants, and patents could be bought and sold. Speculators could purchase certificates of service (in other words, rights to land) from veterans and obtain a warrant in their own name based on this certificate; the actual veterans name would never appear on these warrants. Or speculators could purchase (and sell) warrants and patents, without ever leaving Virginia.

As an example, of the 34 orginal "proprietors" (indivduals locating property via survey based on warrants) in Xenia Township, little more than half were actual Revolutionary veterans. And none of the orignal proprietors settled in the township, having sold their patents to others.

Surveying the Virginia Military District

What distinguishes the VMD from the rest of Ohio (and the rest of the Northwest Territory) is that this is the only large portion of the state to be survyed using the ancient metes and bounds system used in colonial Virginia and Kentucky. All the other large surveys in Ohio used rectangular coordinate systems. Since metes and bounds used natural landmarks to establish corners the result was an irregular system of land subdivision, with eventually was manifested on the landscape via woodlots, fence lines, and road alginments.

To illustrate, a map of a portion of Greene County bisected by the Little Miami River, in the vicinity of Old Town (between Xenia and Yellow Springs). To the right (east) is the VMD, to the left (west) are "Congress Lands", surveyed using the township and range system.

The irregular nature of the property surveys in VMD is evident. Stripping away the property lines to expose the "bones" underneath subsequent land subdivisions one can see the orginal surveys: townships subdivided into sections and quarter sections with range and section lines running north/south versus the considerably larger, irregular orginial surveys of the VMD.

One can discern that some of the VMD surveys might have been run using the Little Miami as the base line, illustrating the importance of natural features to metes and bounds surveys.

This becomes very clear in the southeastern part of the VMD, where it meets the Scioto River. This is Appalachian Ohio; beyond the wide bottoms of the Scioto the land becomes a rugged maze of hollows, valleys and ridges. And VMD surveys here follow hollows and valleys up the tributaries of ths Scioto and Ohio, as shown by this map of the Scioto valley between Wavery and Portsmouth. In this case the VMD is to the west (left) and Congress Lands to the east (right).

A modern example of the difference in landscape are these two maps of the modern rural road system in the Congress Lands (vicinity of Arcanum at the Darke/Preble county line) and the VMD (far eastern Greene County at the Madisona and Fayette County lines just north of Jamestown)

One can see the pattern is quite irregular, even if the topography is nearly identical.

Virginia in Ohio? Cultural & Landscape Features

Some cultural geographers have noted there are some aspects of this landscape that illustrate a southern influence, such as barn types and perhaps larger sized farms (though this might be a stretch) due to the larger initial surveys. Legal issues with property lines lacking permanent monuments would be another. And, of course, the irregular road and field patterns.

Although many of the original patentees never left Viriginia settlement was, ultimatly by Kentuckians and Viriginians (Thomas Worthington, a personage in early Ohio history, was a Viriginian and VMD settler), but there was also a strong stream of Pennsylvanians in the mix, plus some North Carolinans.

The countryside does remind one a bit of Kentucky, though. Especially as one gets closer to the Ohio river in Highland and Adams County.

And there was that tobacco economy in the countryside around Ripley, akin to a similar rural economy in the Kentucky counties directly across the river. Though, in that case, the tobacco variety (white burley) was first developed and grown in Ohio, and then was adopted by Kentucky farmers. Sidebar: The Tobacco Museum in Ripley is worth the visit, especially since the guides used to work in the industry.

One demographic aspect that reflects proximity to the South is the presence of a rural black population, something uncommon elsewhere in rural Ohio. This was due to freedmen crossing the Ohio, not to southerners brining slaves to the VMD. Slavery was illegal in the Northwest Territory and Ohio's first constitution prohibited involuntary indetured servitude.

As an example, county seats of Greenville and Eaton, north and west of Dayton, have less than 1% black population (Greenville at .6% and Eaton at .4% ). In contrast Hillsboro, a county seat in the heart of the VMD, is 6.4% black. Xenia is 13.5% black, but that may be due to the proxmity to Wilberforce University (Greene County had Ohios' highest rural black population in the 19th century). The rural VMD village of Jamestown is 4.1% black versus the Darke County hamlet of Arcanum, which is 0%. But maybe these percentages aren't that signifigant and might require further study.

Coming Soon: The Ludlow Line and the Top of Ohio.


The Urbanophile said...

Fascinating article. I had no idea about all this history.

Jefferey said...

It is pretty obscure, though the results are fairly obvious on a good detailed road map of the state or in aerial photography.

Anonymous said...

Wait--check the orientation on the map. Are 'right' and 'left' accurate on the comparison along the Little Miami? I think you have it backwards. Please correct.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me where the first map came from. It seems to be a map made in the 1800s.
LaRoux Gillespie