2. John Cleves Symmes and the Miami Purchase
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OHN CLEVES Symmes, who opened the Miami River country to settlement, became the last great proprietor in name, if not in fact, in U.S. history. In 1785, Symmes became interested in western lands as a member of Congress from New Jersey. During May 1787, at the age of forty-four, this Long Island–born Revolutionary War veteran traveled west to the Wabash country in present-day Indiana to investigate lands for colonization. Symmes liked the Wabash River valley, and he soon informed Kentuckians in a circular that he would solicit a land grant from Congress “not merely for himself, but on behalf of all those who will signify to him their wishes to become adventurers.” Symmes proposed to meet interested settlers at Louisville after he received confirmation of his grant. Then, they would travel to Post St. Vincennes where the women and children would remain “until a lodgment be effected and a town fortified at the first eligible tract of country above that place.” Symmes, however, soon decided the Wabash country was too remote from suppliers and adequate military protection to warrant the acquisition. Instead, he cast his eyes on the Miami country, the lands between the Great and Little Miami Rivers in present-day southwestern Ohio. Symmes chose the Miami country sight unseen for a land grant based on the favorable reports of his friend Benjamin Stites, who had visited that area about the time Symmes had traveled to the Wabash country. The acquisition of a large land grant in the Miami country appealed to Symmes not only because the region lay closer to major suppliers in Pittsburgh, but also because the army had established in 1785 a presence at Fort Harmar at the mouth of the Muskingum River, where the Ohio Company of Associates soon founded the . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 14 John Cleves Symmes and the Miami Purchase R. DOUGLAS HURT  J vantne_3rd_chap2.qxd 11/10/2003 3:26 PM Page 14 JOHN CLEVES SYMMES town of Marietta. Indeed, after the Ohio Company applied for a grant of 1.5 million acres west of the Ohio River on May 9, 1787, Symmes petitioned Congress on August 29 for a grant of 2 million acres on the same terms. Symmes asked Congress to begin the grant at the mouth of the Great Miami River then run the southern boundary eastward along the Ohio River to the mouth of the Little Miami River. From there, the grant would run northward up the Little Miami to a point where it intersected with a line that continued from the northern boundary of the Ohio Company’s purchase. The northern boundary would run west to the Great Miami River then downstream to the Ohio River. Congress favorably received Symmes’s petition and, on October 3, 1787, authorized the Board of Treasury to prepare a contract for the two million acres that he requested. Symmes planned to pay for his lands with military land warrants that Congress had authorized to pay soldiers, in lieu of hard money, for their services during the American Revolution. Like other speculators, Symmes planned to purchase those warrants at less than face value from the holders who did not 15 FIG. 1 Portrait of John Cleves Symmes by Charles Willson Peale, 1793 oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Miami University Art Museum. vantne_3rd_chap2.qxd 11/10/2003 3:26 PM Page 15 want to move west and exchange their warrants for land. Symmes could then use those warrants at full face value to pay for lands that he acquired from the national government. The Board of Treasury, in turn, authorized the geographer of the United States, Israel Ludlow, to survey the east and west boundaries of the grant. It also required Symmes, at his own expense, to survey and divide his tract into townships six miles square and sections one mile square according to the provisions of the Land Ordinance of 1785. This requirement included reserving specific tracts for Congress and the support of education and religion “unless the frequency of the Indian irruptions may render the same in a measure impracticable .” The Board of Treasury required Symmes to pay one dollar per acre in either specie, certificates of debt to the United States (then worth about five shillings on the pound), or military land bounty warrants, provided the latter did not exceed one-seventh the value of the whole. Congress, however, reduced the price per acre by one-third to compensate for poor lands. As a result, Symmes prepared...