Monday, March 30, 2015

Lawrence County as Part of the Vincennes District

Genealogists, in researching the migration patterns of their families, often rely on land records.  So let us review the research of Land Records in Lawrence County.  If you go to our courthouse the recorded deeds begin in 1821. That does not mean people just starting living here in 1821.

A short history lesson just in case you were sleeping in class that day in high school…..In the last half of the 17th century Marquette, Hennepin, Joliet and LaSalle explored the county drained by the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries and claimed the land for the French empire in the new world.  About 1720 Sieur de Vincennes established a post on the lower Wabash. French families from Canada settled around the post as did French soldiers and traders. In 1742 a treaty with the Indians transferred all land in present day Knox county and a southern portion of Sullivan county and some lands on the west side of the Wabash to the French. This was to be known as the Vincennes District. After Clark’s ‘conquest’ during the Revolutionary War, the land in the area became part of the new American republic.  

During the French and British control, this land was occupied and ‘owned’ by French and British citizens. After the American conquest and while Vincennes was commanded by the governor from Virginia, further disposition of the lands were made.  Then after the organization of the Northwest Territory in 1787 the disposal of the lands was regulated by Congress. (This is how Toussaint Dubois Sr came to have 1020 acres called the Shoals that later became Lawrenceville.)   By this time, all these different authorities granting land as the ‘spoils of war’ without a lot of concern who might have owned it before, began to affect the titles to this land.

In 1791 Congress passed a land law trying to clear up any confusion as to the land in the Vincennes District. This law provided: 
  •  That 400 acres of land should be given to the head of each family residing at Vincennes or in the Illinois country in the year 1783.
  •   That a tract of land containing  5,400 acres near  Vincennes, which had been under fence and used as a pasture for 30 years should be given to the inhabitants of Vincennes to be used by them as a common until otherwise disposed of by law.
  •  That the governor of the territory be authorized to donate a tract of land of 100 acres to each man who on the 1st of Aug 1780 was enrolled in the militia, had done militia duty, and had not received a donation;
  •    That the governor upon application should confirm to heads of families, the lands which they may have possessed and which may have been allotted to them according to the usages of the government under which they had respectively settled;
  •   That where lands had been actually cultivated and improved at Vincennes or in the Illinois country under a supposed grant of the same by any commandant or court claiming authority to make such grant, the governor might confirm such claim not exceeding 400 acres per person. 

 The land described in #1 above was known as a donation; the land described in #3 above was known as a Militia donation; and the last as a survey.  Records pertaining to some land situated in what is now Lawrence County, was then a part of the Vincennes District and fell under these provisions.

Due to the lack of authority of the court about 1802, portions of land from 40 leagues west and 30 east of the Wabash River were purchased by speculators and sold fraudulently to eastern settlers in Virginia.  Gen Harrison in a letter to James Madison  dated Jan 1802 stated that upwards of 500 persons had settled  on these lands in consequence of these frauds. A large amount of litigation rose from this condition and it was several years before the claims were investigated and settled. Nevertheless the fact that this land got into the hands of speculators and was offered for sale in Virginia to prospective home seekers no doubt explains why some of the first settlers may have come from Virginia. 

For more on this topic see: