Sales of public land by the United States Government in Indiana began in 1801. In that year the Cincinnati, Ohio, Land Office began selling land in a wedge of government land in southeastern Indiana known as the “Gore.” It comprised all or part of the present day counties of Dearborn, Fayette, Franklin, Jay, Ohio, Randolph, Switzerland, Union and Wayne. Sales were discontinued in 1840.
The first land office in Indiana opened in 1807 at Vincennes. It sold lands in all or part of the present day counties of Clay, Crawford, Dubois, Daviess, Gibson, Greene, Harrison, Knox, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen, Parke, Perry, Pike, Posey, Putnam, Spencer, Sullivan, Vanderburgh, Vermillion, Vigo and Warrick. Sales were discontinued in 1861; unsold lands were attached to the Indianapolis Land Office.
Sales at the Jeffersonville Land Office began in 1808. This district embraced all or part of the present day Indiana counties of Bartholomew, Brown, Clark, Crawford, Decatur, Floyd, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Lawrence, Monroe, Orange, Ripley, Scott, Switzerland, and Washington. Sales were discontinued in 1855; unsold lands were attached to the Indianapolis Land Office.
Land sales in central Indiana began in September 1820 at two land offices. The office at Brookville (moved to Indianapolis in 1825) sold lands in all or part of the present day counties of Bartholomew, Boone, Brown, Clinton, Decatur, Delaware, Fayette, Franklin, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Henry, Johnson, Madison, Marion, Morgan, Randolph, Ripley, Rush, Shelby, Union, and Wayne. The Brookville-Indianapolis Land Office made its final sale in 1876.
The land office at Terre Haute (moved to Crawfordsville in 1823) handled land sales in west central Indiana. The district comprised all or part of the present day counties of Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clay, Clinton, Fountain, Hendricks, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Tippecanoe, Vermillion, Warren and White. The Terre Haute-Crawfordsville Land Office closed in 1853; unsold lands were attached to the Indianapolis Land Office.
As the tide of settlement moved north, a new land office opened at Fort Wayne in 1823. It sold lands in all or part of the present day counties of Adams, Allen, Blackford, Cass, Clinton, DeKalb, Delaware, Grant, Howard, Huntington, Jay, Kosciusko, Lagrange, Madison, Miami, Noble, Randolph, Steuben, Tipton, Wabash, Wells, and Whitley. The final sales were in 1852; all lands remaining unsold were attached to the Indianapolis Land Office.
The land office at LaPorte (moved to Winamac in 1839) opened for business in 1833. The land district embraced all or part of the present day counties of Benton, Carroll, Cass, Elkhart, Fulton, Howard, Jasper, Kosciusko, Lake, LaPorte, Marshall, Miami, Newton, Porter, Pulaski, St. Joseph, Starke, Wabash and White. Prior to the creation of this district a significant portion of its lands had been offered for sale in the Fort Wayne and Crawfordsville offices. Sales at LaPorte-Winamac ended in 1855; unsold lands were attached to the Indianapolis Land Office.
With the closure of the Indianapolis Land Office in 1876, all the federal land records were transferred first to the Indiana Auditor of State and then to the Indiana State Archives. The collection comprises over 400 cubic feet of records.
In order to accurately measure and describe individual tracts of land, the federal government worked out a pattern of surveys using the rectangular land system. Surveys were based on meridian lines running north-south and base lines running east-west. Land was laid off in survey townships six mile square, and each township was subdivided into sections one mile square, or 640 acres. Each 640 acres could be subdivided into lots of 320, 160, 80, and 40 acres or even less. Once surveys were completed, land could be put up for sale at district land offices.
Volunteers at the Indiana State Archives have presently indexed the records of four Indiana land offices--Vincennes, Brookville-Indianapolis, Terre Haute-Crawfordsville, Ft. Wayne--using either the tract books (purchases recorded by survey tract) or the registers of receipts (purchases recorded by date). Information entered in the database includes the name of the land office, the name of the purchaser, the date of the purchase at the land office, the legal description of the tract purchased (survey township, survey range, survey section, subdivision of the section (usually labeled lot or aliquot), the amount of land purchased (acres), and the number of the certificate of purchase (receipt). Many tract books and receipt books contained a column labeled “residence.” Government clerks sometimes listed the purchaser’s previous residence (Van Wert County, Ohio); other clerks entered the county in Indiana the tract was located in. Indexers used a notes field for miscellaneous information.
Researchers should use the Indiana Public Lands database in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management’s online database of patentees and warrantees, which allows researchers to download copies of original patents and warrants. Please note the dates on these documents are the dates of issue by the General Land Office, not the dates of purchase. It often took several years for a patent to be issued. Locating the same parcel of land in the Indiana Public Lands database will provide the user with the original purchase date.
In addition to selling land directly through the land offices, the federal government gave significant amounts of public land to the state of Indiana. Indiana sold or rented the land to finance internal improvements such as canals, to support education, and for other purposes. The state lands include the Indianapolis Donation, Michigan Road Lands, Saline Lands, Seminary Lands, Swamp Lands, University Lands and Wabash and Erie Canal Lands. Purchasers of state lands are not indexed in the Indiana Public Lands database. Researchers should contact the State Archives directly with questions concerning sales of state lands.
For more information also visit www.in.gov/icpr/2722.htm
1. Search the Indiana Public Lands Database for the original date of purchase.
2. Visit the Bureau of Land Management Database to search for a copy of a Patent or Warrant. http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/