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History of Butler County Pennsylvania - 1883

Chapter 3 -- Land Title, Survey and Sale

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Transcribed by Sherry Chestnutt. For an explanation and caution about this transcription, please read this page.





[pg. 22]

It is commonly but erroneously supposed that Pennsylvania was so named by her founder in honor of himself. As a matter of fact, PENN wished to call his province New Wales, but the King (Charles II) objected. PENN then, in view of the fact that the country was heavily timbered, proposed the name of Sylvania. The King agreed to this as a portion of the title, and prefixed Penn, to do honor to the memory of the distinguished Admiral, the father of William PENN. The Admiral at the time of his death had claims against the Crown amounting to £16,000. It was in liquidation of these claims that the title to all of the lands in the charter limits of Pennsylvania was vested in William PENN. The charter conveying the magnificent province, dated March 4, 1681, is the foundation of all land titles in the State.

The province contained, as a calculation shows, about thirty-five million three hundred and sixty-one thousand and six hundred acres. The final adjustment of the charter boundaries with Maryland, Virginia and New York did not take place until after the lapse of many years. PENN's immense landed estate yielded him little revenue, and, indeed, he became pecuniarily embarrassed. He died in 1718, after a busy and useful life, but one full of mental disquietude. By his will, made in 1712, he devised his lands, rents, etc., in America to his wife Hannah, in trust, to dispose of so much as was necessary to pay his debts, and then to convey 40,000 acres to William PENN, Jr., his son by a former wife, and the rest of the vast estate to his children by his second wife. The title was vested in them until 1778, when it was assumed by the State or colony.

PENN, after he had secured his grant from the King, issued proposals for the sale of lands in the province, and a large number of purchasers from London, Liverpool and Bristol soon applied to him for land.


The first Indian purchase after the charter was made by William MARKHAM, a relative of the proprietor, in July, 1682, and secured the right to a small territory about commensurate with the present county of Bucks. In 1683, 1684, and 1685, deeds were executed for small parcels of land west of the Schylkill and on the Susquehanna. In 1686, the deed for the much disputed "walking purchase," of which one [pg. 23] of the boundaries was "as far as a man can go in one day and a half," is said to have been obtained. Other relinquishments were made by the Indians in 1696 and subsequent years, but the lands freed from their claim prior to 1718 were of comparatively small extent. The most important relinquishments of the title of the aborigines by deeds and treaties, were in 1736, 1749, 1754, 1768 and 1784.

It is with the last of these that we are most concerned.

The Indian title to the land northwest of the Allegheny River was extinguished by the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. Since the year 1768, when the first treaty of Fort Stanwix was made, the northwestern boundary of Indian purchases in the State ran from the Susquehanna, on the New York line, to Towanda Creek; thence to the head of Pine Creek (Lycoming County) thence to its mouth, and up the West Branch to its source; thence over to Kittanning and down the Allegheny and the Ohio to the west line of the State.

The purchase of 1784, as it is denominated, included all of the lands in the State northwest of this boundary, except the "triangle" in Erie County, embracing the whole of the present counties of Butler, Clarion, Jefferson, Elk, Cameron, Potter, McKean, Warren, Forrest, Venango, Crawford, Mercer and Lawrence, and parts of the counties of Beaver, Erie, Allegheny, Armstrong, Indiana, Clearfield, Clinton, Lycoming, Tioga and Bradford.

Distinguished men represented the United States at the treaty -- Richard BUTLER, Oliver WOLCOTT and Arthur LEE; Gen. LAFAYETTE was present. The Mohawks, Onondags, Senecas, Cayugas, Tuscaroras and Seneca-O'beal tribes -- the six nations -- were represented by the leading chieftains, among them CORNPLANTER and RED JACKET. The later was opposed to peace, and made a war speech which LAFAYETTTE said was a "a masterpiece, and very warrior who heard him was carried away with his eloquence." CORNPLANTER saw the folly of waging a war single handed against the whole power of the Confederacy, and exerted all of his power for peace. He sought, however, to avoid a definite treaty without the concurrence of the western tribes. The Commissioners refused to listen to any delay, and, after a long conference, the treaty was signed upon the 22d of October. Its leading provisions were:

Six hostages shall be immediately delivered to the commissioners, by the said nations, to remain in possession of the United States, until all the prisoners, white and black, which were taken by the Senecas, Mohawks, Onondags and Cayugas, or by any of them, in the late war, from among the citizens of the United States, shall be delivered up.

The Oneida and Tuscarora nations shall be secured in the possession of the lands on which they are settled.

The line shall be drawn, beginning at the mouth of a creek about four miles east of Niagara, called Oyonwayea, or Johnson's Landing Place, upon the lake, named by the Indians Oswego and by us Ontario; from thence southerly, in a direction always four miles east of the carrying path, between Lake Erie and Ontario, to the mouth of Tehoseroron, or Buffalo Creek of Lake Erie; thence south, to the north boundary of the State of Pennsylvania; thence west to the end of the said north boundary; thence south along the west boundary of the said State to the River Ohio; the said line from the mouth of the Oyonwayea to the Ohio shall be the western boundary of the lands of the Six Nations; so that the Six Nations shall, and do, yield to the United States, all claims to the country west of the said boundary; and then they shall be secured in the peaceful possession of the lands they inhabit, east and north of the same, reserving only six miles square, around the fort of Oswego, to the United States, for the support of the same.

The Commissioners of the United States, in consideration of the present circumstances of the Six Nations, and in execution of the present circumstances of the Six Nations, and in execution of the humane and liberal views of the Untied States, upon the signing of these articles, will order goods to be delivered to the Six Nations for their own use and comfort.*

*ALBACH's Annals of the West

All of the lands within the charter limits of the State were released from Indian title within a period of one hundred and two years (1682 to 1784), and the Commonwealth became possessed of the ownership. *

* What is known as "the triangle" -- the northern part of Erie County, was not within the charter boundaries of the province. This tract, containing an area of 202,187 acres was by the cessions of New York in 1781, by Massachusetts in 1785, and by Connecticut in 1786, left out of the jurisdiction of any particular State. Gen. IRVINE, while surveying the donation lands of Northwestern Pennsylvania, discovered that the northern (charter) boundary of the State would strike Lake Erie, so as to leave but a few miles of lake coast, and that without a harbor in the State. In consequence of his representation, a movement was set on foot to secure from the Indians and the United States, the cession of "the triangle." Its acquisition by Pennsylvania was secured in 1792.


Serious disputes were had by Pennsylvania with the neighboring colonies in relation to boundary lines. The settlement of the line between her and Maryland was attended with much difficulty, and consumed many years of negotiation. Had the claim of Lord BALTIMORE, of Maryland, been conceded, the line would have been run twenty miles or more north of the present boundary, and Pennsylvania would have lost about three million acres of her most fertile soil. Had PENN's claim been conceded, the consequence would have been still more serious to Maryland. She would have lost all north of Annapolis - about two-thirds of her territory, including the site of Baltimore and several important towns. The existing boundary, known as MASON and DIXON's line, was run in the year 1767 and 1768, and the agreement ratified by the King in 1769.

The controversy between Virginia and Pennsylvania in regard to the ownership of territory assumed its most serious aspect about the time the Maryland boundary question was adjusted.

The Pittsburgh region appears to have first been the subject of controversy in 1752, when Thomas PENN [pg. 24] wrote to the Governor of Pennsylvania, desiring him "to enter into any reasonable measures to assist the Governor of Virginia to build a fort there, to wit: at the Ohio, taking some acknowledgement from him that this settlement shall not be made use of to prejudice our right to that country."

Gov. DINWIDDIE, of Virginia, on the 19th of February, 1754, announced his intention of building a fort on the Ohio to oppose further encroachments or hostile attempts of the French, and offered the men who were to be engaged in the work, over and above their pay, 200,000 acres of land, 100,000 acres of which should be contiguous to the fort, and the other 100,000 on or near the river. This proclamation was immediately transmitted by Gov. DINWIDDIE to Gov. HAMILTON, of Pennsylvania, and the latter soon replied that, having inquired very particularly into the extent of this province westwardly, he had the greatest reason to believe that the fort and lands intended to be granted were within the limits of Pennsylvania. Gov. DINWIDDIE was equally firm in the belief that they were within Virginia’s jurisdiction. Thus, as CRAIG states, "the region around Pittsburgh was the bone of double contention; England and France were about to go to war for it, and Pennsylvania and Virginia to commence a controversy about it, which endured for more than twenty years, in the course of which much ill blood and angry feeling were displayed." After the consideration and rejection of many propositions for the settlement of the disputed claims, the present line between Pennsylvania and Virginia, on the south, was agreed upon by the two States in 1782. It is an extension of MASON and DIXON's line, and was not completed and permanently marked until 1784.

"Long continued and vexatious as was this contest for Pittsburgh and the region round about it," says Surveyor General BARR, * "it was well for Pennsylvania that she did not yield her claims. The fertility of the soil and the marvelous richness of the mineral deposits, then almost unknown, prove how well it was worth contending for."

*Report of the Surveyor General (James P. BARR) for the year 1865.


Even before the title to the region northwest of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers and Conewango Creek had been secured, preliminary steps were taken by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for disposing of these lands.

During the later years of the Revolution, the value of the bills of credit issued by Pennsylvania, as well as those issued by the Continental Congress, continued gradually to depreciate until they fell to a mere nominal value. Great losses were consequently experienced by the holders of the State certificates. The officers and soldiers of the Pennsylvania line, the State troops especially suffered, as they received them in payment for their services. Disputes constantly arose in relation to the deductions to be made from the face of the bills. On the 3d of April, 1781, the State Legislature, to remedy this inconvenience fixed a scale of depreciation varying from 1 1/2 to 75 per cent for each month between the years 1777 and 1781, according to which the accounts of the army could be settled. Unable otherwise to pay its troops, the State gave the officers and soldiers certificates in conformity with the prescribed scale, which were made receivable in payment for lands sold by the State. They were called depreciation certificates.

In order to provide for the redemption of these depreciation certificates, it was enacted by law, March 12, 1783, "That for the more speedy and effectual complying with the intention of the law aforesaid, there be, and hereby is, located and laid off a certain tract of land, as follows: Beginning where the western boundary of the State crosses the Ohio River; thence up the said river to Fort Pitt: thence up the Allegheny River to the mouth of Mogulbughtiton (Mahoning) Creek; thence by a west line to the western boundary of this State; thence south by the said boundary to the place of beginning, reserving to the use of the State 3,000 acres in an oblong of not less than one mile in depth from the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers and extending up and down the said rivers, from opposite Fort Pitt as far as may be necessary to include the same; and the further quantity of 3,000 acres on the Ohio and on both sides of Beaver Creek, including Fort McIntosh, all which remaining tract of land, as aforesaid, is hereby appropriated as a further fund for the purpose of redeeming the certificates aforesaid; that is to say, the Surveyor General of this State shall, according to such directions as may be given him by the Supreme Executive Council, cause the aforesaid tract of land to be laid out in lots of not less than 200, and not more than 350, acres each, numbering the same lots numerically on the draught or plat of the country aforesaid, and shall as soon as the same or 100 lots thereof are surveyed, together with the Secretary of the Land Office and the Receiver General, proceed to sell the same lots in numerical order at such times and places, and under such regulations, as shall be appointed by the Supreme Executive Council; the full consideration bid at such sales shall be paid into the Receiver General's office, either in gold or silver or in the certificates aforesaid, upon full payment of which consideration and the expense of surveying, together with all fees of the different offices, patents shall be issued in the usual form to the several buyers or venders, and the differ- [pg. 25] ent sums in specie that may be paid into the Receiver General's office, shall be by him paid over to the treasury of this State for the purpose of redeeming such certificates as may remain unsatisfied at the end of such sales."

The northern boundary line of the Depreciation Lands passed east and west almost centrally through Butler County, and is about four miles north of Butler Borough. Parts of the townships of Muddy Creek, Franklin, Center, Oakland and Donegal, and the whole of Lancaster, Connoquenessing. Butler, Summit, Clearfield, Jackson, Forward, Penn, Jefferson, Winfield, Cranberry, Adams, Middlesex, Clinton and Buffalo are therefore in the Depreciation Lands.

The Depreciation Lands were divided into districts, which were each assigned to a Deputy Surveyor. The dividing lines ran southward from the northern boundary to the Allegheny or the Ohio Rivers, as the case might be, and were parallel. The first district west of the Allegheny extended about four miles west of the eastern boundary of Butler County, and was known as ELDER's. CUNNINGHAM's (James) district was the next. Its width was about ten miles, and its western boundary about half a mile east of the western boundaries of Centre, Butler, Penn and Middlesex Townships. Its area within the present limits of Butler County was approximately one hundred and fifty thousand acres, and within the present limits of Allegheny County nearly as much more. Several surveyors were doubtless employed by CUNNINGHAM in the work of locating warrants in this large tract of territory. West of the CUNNINGHAM district came JONES', NICHOLSON's and ALEXANDER's districts, in the order named, and others extending to the westen [sic] boundary of the State. They were as a rule much smaller than the one we have described.* The survey was begun in 1785 or 1786.

*The discoveries of the Depreciation Lands and also of the Donation Lands are indicated by heavy lines upon the county map drawn expressly for this work by Mr. F. M. GILBERT.

[Note: The explanation of the Depreciation Lands appears on the wrong map in the book--appearing instead on the Indian purchase map. It reads: "The heavy black line extending east and west across the center of the county is the dividing line between the Donation Lands on the north and Depreciation Lands on the south. Each of these divisions, as will be seen, are subdivided. In the Depreciation Lands the parallel lines running north and south are the boundaries of surveyors' districts. In the Donation Lands, the irregularly formed Districts Nos. 1 and 2 appear. The Donation Lands, within the county, not included within these subdivisions, belong to what is known as the "Struck District."]


By a legislative act, passed March 7, 1780, the faith of the State was pledged to bestow upon the officers and privates in the Federal army belonging to the State, "certain donations and quantities of land, according to their several ranks; to be surveyed and divided off to them severally at the close of the war.

For the purpose of effectually complying with the letter and intention of the foregoing resolve, the act passed on the 12th of March, 1783, from which we have already quoted, ordained, "that there be, and there is hereby declared to be located and laid off a certain tract of country beginning at the mouth of Mogulbughtiton (Mahoning) Creek; thence up the Allegheny River to the mouth of Cagnawaga (Conawango) Creek; thence due north to the northern boundary of this State; thence west by the said boundary to the northwest corner of the State; thence south by the western boundary of the State to the northwest corner of lands appropriated by this act (the Depreciation Lands) for discharging the certificates herein mentioned; and thence by the same lands east to the place of beginning, which said tract shall be reserved and set apart for the only and sole uses of carrying, into execution the said resolve."

The act from which we have quoted declared further, "That all officers and privates were entitled to lands as aforesaid shall, and they are hereby directed, to make their respective claims for the same within two years after the peace shall be declared, and in the case of their failure to make such application in person, or in that of their legal representatives, within one year of their decease, then it may be lawful for any person or persons whatever to apply to the Land Office, locate and take up such parts or parcels of said lands upon such term as the Legislature shall hereafter direct, as may remain unlocated by the said officers, non-commissioned officers and private men, their heirs, executors and adminstrators."

It was provided by an act of the 24th of March, 1785, that the Donation Lands should "be laid off in lots of four descriptions, one to contain 500 acres each; another 300 each; another 250 acres each; and another 200 acres each, with the usual allowances; that a quantity equal to what may be necessary for the Major Generals, Brigadier Generals, Colonels, Captains, and two-thirds of the Lieutenant Colonels, shall be laid off into lots of 500 acres; a quantity equal to what may be necessary for the regimental Surgeons and mates; also for the Chaplains, Majors and Ensigns into lots of 300 acres each; a quantity equal to what may be necessary for one-third of the Lieutenant Colonels, and for the Sergeants, Sergeant Majors and Quartermaster Sergeants into lots of 250 acres each; and a quantity equal to what may be necessary for the Lieutenants, Corporals, Drummers, Fifers, Drum Majors, Fife Majors and privates into lots of 200 acres each."

For the impartial distribution of these donations, a lottery was provided, at which "each applicant, if a Major General, should draw four tickets from the wheel containing the numbers on the 500-acre lots; if a Brigadier General, three tickets from said wheel if a Colonel, two tickets from said wheel; if a Lieutenant Colonel, one from said wheel, and one from the wheel containing the numbers of the 250-acre lots; if a Surgeon, Chaplain or Major, two tickets from the wheel containing the numbers on the 300-acre lots; if a Captain, one ticket from the wheel containing the numbers on the 500-acre lots; if a Lieutenant, two [pg.26] tickets from the wheel containing the numbers on the 200-acre lots; if an Ensign or regimental Surgeon's mate, one ticket from the wheel containing the numbers on the 300-acre lots; if a Sergeant, Sergeant Major or Quartermaster Sergeant, one ticket from the wheel containing the numbers on the 250-acre lots; and if a Drum Major, Fife Major, Drummer, Fifer, Corporal, or Private Sentinel, one ticket from the wheel containing the numbers on the 200-acre lots."

Under the law of 1785, an agent was to be appointed, whose duty it was to explore the Donation and Depreciation Districts, to examine the quality of the lands, and especially to report such as in his opinion were unfit for cultivation. Gen. IRVINE received the appointment, explored the country, and reported that a part of the second division of the Donation Lands was generally unfit for cultivation, and, in consequence, the lots included in it were withdrawn from the lottery, and from this circumstance it was known as "the struck district."

A portion of the "struck district" or "struck lands" is in Butler County. It comprises the northeastern quarter, which, in recent years, has been the most valuable portion of the Butler or "lower oil region." A large proportion of the lands in Butler County thus reserved from distribution to the soldiers were originally as valuable as those in any part of the Donation tract, and the oil development has made them far more valuable.

The Donation Lands in this county lie in the northern and northeastern portion, and are comprised in Districts No. 1 and 2.

Lands in the "struck district" were disposed of by warrant and patent the same as other lands of Western Pennsylvania, under the law of 1792.


The lands in the "triangle" and the "struck district" and the residue of the lands in the Depreciation and Donation Districts, including the greater portion of them not taken up by the claims of the officers and soldiers of the Revolutionary army were offered for sale under the act of the 3d of April, 1792.

Of this law, which contains the conditions on which a large number of the Butler County pioneers obtained their lands by "settlers' right," we give a careful synopsis:

Section 1. The price of all the vacant lands within the purchase of 1768, excepting such lands as had been previously settled on or improved, was reduced to the sum of fifty shillings for every hundred acres; and the price of vacant lands within the purchase of 1784, and lying east of the Allegheny River and Conewango Creek, was reduced to the sum of £5 for every hundred acres.

* * * * * * * * * *

Section 2. All the lands lying north and west of the rivers Ohio and Allegheny and Conewango Creek, except such parts thereof as had been, or thereafter should be, appropriated to any public or charitable use, were offered for sale to "persons who will cultivate, improve and settle the same, or cause the same to be cultivated, improved and settled, at and for the price of £7 10s for every one hundred acres thereof, with an allowance of 6 per centum for roads and highways to be located surveyed and secured to such purchasers, in the manner hereinafter mentioned."

Sec. 3. Upon the application of any person, who may have settled and improved, or is desirous to settle and improve, a plantation within the limits aforesaid, to the Secretary of the land office, which applications shall contain a particular description of the lands applied for, there shall be granted to him a warrant for any quantity of land within the said limits, not exceeding 400 hundred acres, requiring the Surveyor General to cause the same to be surveyed for the use of the grantee, his heirs and assigns forever and make return thereof to the Surveyor General's office within the term of six months next following, the grantee paying the purchase money, and all the usual fees of the land office.

Sec. 4. The Surveyor General to divide the lands offered for sale into districts, and appoint one deputy for each district, who shall give bond and security as usual , and reside in or as near as possible to his district, and within sixty days next after his appointment, certify to the Surveyor General the place where he shall keep his office open for the purpose of receiving warrants, that all persons who may apply for lands may be informed thereof. And every Deputy Surveyor who shall receive any such warrant, shall make fair and clear entries thereof in a book to be provided by him for the purpose, distinguishing therein the name of the person therein mentioned, the quantity of land, date thereof, and the day on which he received the same, which book shall be kept open at all seasonable hours, to every applicant who shall be entitled to copies of any entries therein, to be certified as such, and signed by the Deputy Surveyor, the party paying 25 cents therefor.

Sec. 5. The Deputy at the reasonable request, and at the cost and charges of the grantees, to proceed and survey the lands in such warrants described, as nearly as may be, according to the respective priority of their warrants; but they shall not survey any tract of land that may have been actually settled and improved prior to the date of the entry of such warrant with the Deputy Surveyor of the district, except for the owner of such settlement and improvement. And having perfected such surveys, shall enter the same in a book to be kept by him, and to be called the survey book, which shall remain in his office, liable to be inspected by any person whatsoever, upon payment of eleven pence for every search; and he shall cause copies of any such survey to be made out and delivered to any person, upon the payment of 25 cents for each copy.

Sec. 6. Every survey made by a Deputy out of his proper district, shall be void and of none effect. The Surveyor General and his deputies are enjoined to survey or cause to be surveyed the full amount of land contained and mentioned in any warrant, in one entire tract, if the same can be found in such manner and form as that such tract shall not contain or front on any navigable river or lake more than one-half the length or depth of such tract, and to conform the lines of every survey in such manner as to form the figure or plot thereof, as nearly as circumstances will admit, to an oblong, whose length shall not be greater than twice the breadth thereof. Ten per cent surplus to be allowed and paid for pro rata on patenting.

Sec. 7. Every February, the Deputy is to return into the office of the Surveyor General, plats of every survey he [pg. 27] shall have made in pursuance of any warrant, connected together in one general draught, so far as they may be contiguous to each other, with the courses and distances of each line, the quantity of land in each survey, and the name of the person for whom the same was surveyed.

Sec. 8. The Deputy surveyor of the proper district shall, upon the application of any person who has made an actual settlement and improvement on lands lying north and west of the rivers Ohio and Allegheny and Conewango Creek, and upon such person paying the legal fees, survey and mark out the lines of the tract of land to which such person may, by conforming to the provisions of this act become entitled by virtue of such settlement and improvement; Provided, that he shall not survey more than 400 acres for such person and shall, in making such survey, conform himself to all the other regulations by this act prescribed.

Sec. 9. No warrant or survey to be issued or made in pursuance of this act, for lands laying north and west of the rivers Ohio and Allegheny and Conewango Creek, shall vest any title in or to the lands therein mentioned, unless the grantee has, prior to the date of such warrant, made or caused to be made, or shall, within the space of two years next after the date of the same, make or cause to be made, an actual settlement thereon, by clearing, fencing and cultivating at least two acres for every one hundred acres contained in one survey, erecting thereon a messuage for the habitation of man, and residing or causing a family to reside thereon for the space of five years next following his first settling of the same, if he or she shall live so long; and that, in default of such actual settlement and residence, it shall and may be lawful to and for this commonwealth to issue new warrants to other actual settlers, for the said lands or any part thereof, reciting the original warrants, and that actual settlements and residence have not been made in pursuance thereof, and so as often as defaults shall be made, for the time and in the manner aforesaid, which new grants shall be under and subject to all and every the regulations contained in this act. PROVIDED ALWAYS, NEVERTHELESS, that if any such actual settler, or any grantee in any such original or succeeding warrant shall, by force or arms of the enemies of the United States, be prevented from making such actual settlement, or be driven therefrom, and shall persist in his endeavors to make such actual settlement as aforesaid, then, in either case, he and his heirs shall be entitled to have and to hold the said lands, in the same manner as if the actual settlement had been made and continued.*

*Smith's Laws of Pennsylvania, Vol. II.

Sec. 10. The lands actually settled and improved according to the provisions of this act, to whosesoever possession they may descend or come, shall be liable or chargeable for the payment of the consideration or purchase money, at the rate aforesaid, for every hundred acres, and the interest thereon accruing from the dates of such improvements; and if such actual settler, not being hindered as aforesaid, by death or the enemies of the United States, shall neglect to apply for a warrant for the space of ten years after the time of passing this act, it shall and may be lawful for this commonwealth to grant the same lands, or any part thereof to others, by warrants reciting such defaults; and the grantees complying with the regulations of this act shall have, hold and enjoy the same, to them, their heirs and assigns forever; but no warrant shall be issued in pursuance of this act, until the purchase money shall be paid to the Receiver General of the Land Office.

[Section 11, and the subsequent sections of the law we omit, as not being necessary to a general understanding of the subject.][sic]

Much controversy arose out of this act between the actual settlers and the land speculators or "jobbers," and the population and improvement of the country were much retarded by the uncertainty of the ownership of the soil. At the time the act was passed, and until WAYNE's treaty in August, 1795, war existed between the whites and the Indians. It was considered unsafe to attempt settlement west of the Allegheny until after peace had been formally declared. Non-compliance with the provisions of the law requiring settlement to be made within two years after its passage, it was claimed upon one side, forfeited the right of ownership, and left the lands open to any person who obtained warrants for them; upon the other side, it was contended that settlement was impossible prior to 1796, because of the war, and that two years succeeding pacification should be allowed for the making of the actual settlement and improvement prescribed. The wording of Section 9 of the act of 1792 was very obscure, and there was great diversity of opinion upon the bench as to its meaning.

Robert MORRIS, the Revolutionary patriot, and WASHINGTON's Secretary of the Treasury, became a large owner of Butler County lands, and many of the land owners of to-day hold title through this celebrated but unfortunate personage.

MORRIS was the holder of a large amount of the depreciated scrip, redeemable in Western Pennsylvania lands, and (influenced by James CUNNINGHAM, one of the surveyors of the Depreciated Lands, and afterward his agent) located a great number of warrants in what is now Butler County. This he was able to do by a process which, although undoubtedly contrary to the spirit of the law of 1792, was not in violation of any of its provisions. The warrants (which were merely orders for surveys) were made out in the year 1794 in the names of sundry citizens of Lancaster County, Penn., most of them Germans, and then assigned to MORRIS. The latter paid all moneys demanded, and eventually secured patents to most of the tracts of land, but they bore on the maps of the surveyor the names of the Lancaster County men, obligingly lent for the purpose of assisting the speculator.

MORRIS located 311 warrants in that part of CUNNINGHAM's district of Depreciation Lands, lying within Butler County, and was the owner of from seventy to ninety thousand acres of land, including the site of Butler borough.

Litigation concerning title was more common within the limits of this immense purchase than elsewhere in Butler County.

Robert MORRIS' effects were sold in 1807 at Marshal's sale in Philadelphia, and the warrants for the Butler County lands came into the hands of Stephen [pg. 28] LOWREY, of Maryland, and other speculators. LOWREY became the owner of 107 tracts. Upon many of these tracts and upon those of other speculators, settlers were located, who had made improvements, but who held no warrants for the lands. Many of them were summarily dispossessed of their squatter homes, and others were compelled to make terms with the speculators for occupancy. As a rule, the land jobbers were sustained by the law. The feeling against them ran very high, and considering the character of the frontiersmen with whom they had to deal, it is surprising that war did not result from the controversy other than that which was carried on in the courts. As it was, much ill feeling was engendered, and on one occasion at least bloodshed ensued.*

*See the succeeding chapter for a further account of the effect on the settlement and improvement of the country of this contested ownership of the soil; also for an incident of Butler County's early history, illustrating the intensity of ill-feeling which existed between the settlers and speculators.


In the "new purchase," as the territory in Northwestern Pennsylvania released from Indian claim in 1784 was called, the price set on lands from the 1st of May, 1785, to the 1st of March 1789, was £30 ($80) per hundred acres; from the 1st of March, 1789, to the 3d of April, 1792 £20 ($53.33-1/3).

Lands in the "new purchase" lying north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers and Conewango Creek, from the 3d of April, 1792, to the 28th of March, 1813, were £7 10s ($20) per 100 acres. Undrawn Donation Lands from the 1st of October, 1813, until the 25th of February, 1819, were $1.50 per acre, and upon the latter date were reduced to 50 cents per acre.

[End of Chapter 3--Land Title, Survey and Sale: History of Butler County, Pennsylvania. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, Waterman, Watkins, & Co., Chicago, 1883.]

Chapter 02--The Region Prior to 1796
Chapter 04--Advent of the White Man as a Settler
1883 Butler County History Contents
Butler County Pennsylvania USGenWeb Homepage

Edited 16 Nov 1999, 15:28