Land Ordinance of 1785 (excerpts)
Land Ordinance Of 1785, May 20, 1785
(Journals of the Continental Congress, ed. by J. C. Fitzpatrick, Vol. XXVIII, p. 375 ff.)
An Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of Lands in the Western Territory.
BE it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, that the territory ceded by
individual States to the United States, which has been purchased of the Indian inhabitants, shall
be disposed of in the following manner:
A surveyor from each state shall be appointed by Congress or a Committee of the
States, who shall take an oath for the faithful discharge of his duty, before the Geographer
of the United States....
The Surveyors, as they are respectively qualified, shall proceed to divide the said
territory into townships of six miles square, by by lines running due north and south, and
others crossing these at right angles, as near as may be, unless where the boundaries of the late
Indian purchases may render the same impracticable, . . .
The first line, running due north and south as aforesaid, shall begin on the river
Ohio, north from the western termination of a line,which has been run as the southern boundary
of the State of Pennsylvania; and the first line, running east and west, shall begin at the same
point, and shall extend throughout the whole territory. Provided, that nothing herein shall be
construed, as fixing the western boundary of the State of Pennsylvania. The geographer shall
designate the townships, or fractional parts of townships, by numbers progressively from south
to north; always beginning each range with No. l; and the ranges shall be distinguished by their
progressive numbers to the westward. The first range, extending f rom the Ohio to the lake Erie,
marked No. 1. The Geographer shall personally attend to the running of the first east and west
line; and shall take the latitude of the extremes of the first north and south line, and of
the mouths of the principal rivers.
The lines shall be measured with a chain; shall be plainly marked by chaps on the trees, and
exactly described on a plat; whereon shall be noted by the surveyor, at their proper distances,
all mines, salt-springs, salt-licks and mill-seats, that shall come to his knowledge, and all
water-courses, mountains and other remarkable and permanent things, over and near which such
lines shall pass, and also the quality of the lands.
The plats of the townships respectively, shall be marked by subdivisions into lots of one
mile square, or 640 acres, in the same direction as the external lines, and numbered from l to 36;
always beginning the succeeding range of the lots with the number next to that with which
the preceding one concluded....
. . . And the geographer shall make . . . returns, from time to time, of every seven ranges as they
may be surveyed. The Secretary of War shall have recourse thereto, and shall
take by lot therefrom, a number of townships . .. as will be equal to one seventh part of the
whole of such seven ranges, . . . for the use of the late Continental army....
The board of treasury shall transmit a copy of the original plats, previously noting thereon
the townships and fractional parts of townships, which shall have fallen to the several states, by
the distribution aforesaid, to the commissioners of the loan-office of the several states, who,
after giving notice . . . shall proceed to sell the townships or fractional parts of townships, at
public vendue, in the following manner, viz.: The township or fractional part of a township
No. l, in the first range, shall be sold entire; and No. 2, in the same range, by lots; and thus in
alternate order through the whole of the first range . . . provided, that none of the lands,
within the said territory, be sold under the price of one dollar the acre,
to be paid in specie, or loan-office certificates, reduced to specie value, by the scale of
depreciation, or certificates of liquidated debts of the United States, including interest, besides
the expense of the survey and other charges thereon, which are hereby rated at thirty six
dollars the township, . . . on failure of which payment, the said lands shall again be offered for
There shall be reserved for the United States out of every township the four lots, being
numbered 8,11,26,29, and out of every fractional part of a township, so many lots of
the same numbers as shall be found thereon, for future sale. There shall be reserved the lot No.
16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within the said township, also
one-third part of all gold, silver, lead and copper mines, to be sold, or otherwise disposed of as
Congress shall hereafter direct....
And Whereas Congress . . . stipulated grants of land to certain officers and soldiers of the late
Continental army . . . for complying with such engagements, Be it ordained, That the secretary
of war . . . determine who are the objects of the above resolutions and engagements . . . and cause
the townships, or fractional parts of townships, hereinbefore reserved for the use of the late
Continental army, to be drawn for in such manner as he shall deem expedient . . .