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What Is A Town (Township)?

Township: from the Columbia Encyclopedia

A geographical division of the county, established in land surveys and usually made up of 36 sections, each with roughly an area of 1 sq mi (2.6 sq km). Except in the Middle Atlantic states, townships are seldom units of local government.

To Sum Up:

A township consists of 36 sections, each measuring one square mile.
A mile measures 5,280 feet.
A square mile measures 27,878,400 square feet

How many acres in a section?

An acre measures 43,560 square feet which is roughly 208.71 feet on a side.
A section (one square mile) measures 27,878,400 square feet. Divide 27,878,400 by 43,560 and that equals 640 acres in a section.
A half (1/2) section is 320 acres.
A quarter (1/4) section is 160 acres.
An "eighty" is an eighth of a section equal to 80 acres.
Forty acres is half an eighty.
Forty acres is just about big enough to turn around a recalcitrant team of mules, according to the song.
"Forty Acres and a Mule" was a sweet dream placed in the minds of post Civil War freedmen by a recalcitrant US government.

County: from the Columbia Encyclopedia

From the French "comté," domain of a count

A division of local government in the United States, Great Britain, and many Commonwealth countries. The county developed in England from the shire, a unit of local government that originated in the Saxon settlements of the 5th cent. By the 11th cent. the shire system was fully established throughout most of England, with each shire being ruled by a shire-reeve, or sheriff, appointed by the crown. By the 14th cent. the office of justice of the peace had developed; in each county a court of three or four justices, also appointed by the king, assisted the sheriff in the administration of local affairs. With the passage of the Local Government Act of 1888, power passed from the king's appointed officials to the newly created county councils, elected by local residents. The county system of government was adopted in most of the nations settled by the British. 1

In the United States there are some 3,100 counties (254 in Texas alone); most are rural or suburban, but except where, as in Virginia, a city may be independent (not part of a county), every part of a state is also part of a county. Some cities, like New York (where the five boroughs are also counties) comprise more than one county. Louisiana, influenced by the French, has instead parishes, which are essentially similar to counties; Alaska has boroughs. The major functions of county government in the United States include law enforcement, the recording of deeds and other documents, and the provision and maintenance of public works such as roads and parks. Some states, though, notably Connecticut, have abolished almost all county governmental functions. 2

See H. S. Duncombe, County Government in America (1966); J. C. Bollens, American County Government (1969).

Wabasha County Plat Map

Purchasing Land

There were three ways to acquire land in the pioneer days. In the beginning, some pre-empted the land which, if I understand correctly, was an outright purchase or contract to purchase. By definition, preemption (as in "preempted land") is the right of purchasing before others, especially the right given by the government to the actual settler upon a tract of public land.

The second way to acquire land was to file a claim. I don't think there was any money exchanged for the claim but I may be wrong. There was probably a fee for registration. At any rate, the claim had to show evidence of "improvement" such as a building built or land cleared, and it had to be occupied. Some who filed claims hired others to occupy the land until they were able to. Of course, this opened up many cans of worms. The Winona County History has many stories of villainous claim-jumping, underhanded agreements and out-right shootings. The new frontier was not a peaceful place.

As a generation passed, those who had managed to hold their land or purchase it out-right were able to sell (making it possible for newcomers to buy) or pass it on to their children. By this time, about the largest holdings were around 500 acres and that was quite rare.

There was one more way of acquiring land and that was by purchasing a section of land which had been awarded to a half-breed, the offspring of an American Indian and a white person. The half-breeds of the earliest times were the children of Native American squaws and French traders. I feel that the US Government honored them with parcels of land more for the recognition of their fathers than of their mothers, as it was the French and Canadian traders who opened the frontier and paved the way for others. The scrip, in this case, referred more to a deed or title than a substitute for money. By definition, scrip is any of various documents used as evidence that the holder or bearer is entitled to receive something, as a fractional share of stock or an allotment of land. The half-breeds could sell this land that the government had given them but I believe the process was complicated.

I remember from living in Kentucky that scrip was used in the mining company stores in place of money. The companies paid their men with scrip which was then used to buy things in the company store. In the end, the company held total control of the men and their families.

This chapter, "Treaties With The Natives" at tells more about the half-breed tracts and the scrip.

Much of the information for this section came from the page: "How to Speak New-World Vitorian ~ A Glossary" at .