Bounding the Land

The city of Zanesville was first founded by Colonel Ebenezer Zane when he was commissioned by the U.S. Congress to form a trail through the dense forests of Ohio and to set up ferry services at any river crossings he encountered. This trail became known as Zane’s Trace and it became the travel route for thousands of settlers into Ohio.


Depicted above is the path made by Ebenezer Zane known as Zane’s Trace. Made mostly from old Indian trails, the path spanned just over 230 miles (370 km) and helped establish several communities that still exist today.

Expanding on the topic of ferry services, Ebenezer Zane passed through Zanesville and created a ferry service there at the crossing of the Muskingum and Licking Rivers. It was there that the city of Zanesville came to exist and even derived its name from the man who created the path leading to it (Ebenezer Zane – Zanesville). The city became mostly settled by migrants from Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Connecticut and Maryland. People were now able to travel with a horse or small wagon down the trail into the new frontier land known as the Northwest Territory. This trail, however, came after the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, a law deciding the fate of the Northwest Territory taken from the British at the end of the Revolutionary War.

The Confederation Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance on July 13, 1787. Officially titled “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States North West of the River Ohio,” this ordinance established how these new territories in the Northwest Territory could become states through three stages of government.The first stage dealt with Congress being responsible for choosing the original leaders of the territory. There would be a governor, a secretary, and three judges. The governor and judges would choose existing states’ laws on which to base their territorial legal code. The governor would have power over the militia and Native Americans matters. He also could select law enforcement officials and judges for the lower courts. Congress could reject any law that came to pass in the territories and each of the five members of this kind of “commission” were to be large landowners of the state they planned to create.

The second stage of the statehood creation process set by the Northwest Ordinance is based on whether or not the territory has reached 5,000 free residents. The territory was then allowed to elect a legislature consisting of a legislative council and a house of representatives. Every legislator had to be an adult male who owned at least 200 acres of land while each legislative council member had to be an adult white male who owned 500 or more acres of land. The right to vote was only given to those who were adult males owning 50 or more acres of land.

In the final stage of the statehood process, a territory could apply for statehood if they had 60,000 or more residents. After reaching this mark, the people created a state constitution after convening in a constitutional convention. This constitution would be submitted by the state to the federal government for approval. Once approved, the territory would become a state with one condition; no state created from the Northwest Ordinance could allow slavery. Along these guidelines, Ohio became the seventeenth state to join the United States and the first of the Northwest Territory (became the Indiana Territory on March 1, 1803, the same day Ohio became a state).


Shown above is the Northwest Territory with the modern state boundaries. Only up to 5 states were allowed by the Northwest Ordinance to form from this area. Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin all became states at their own pace from this territory. Part of Minnesota comes from the Northwest Territory but most of it lies to the west of the Mississippi River.

The Northwest Ordinance did not only establish statehood but also established how the land should be distributed, surveyed and bound. Much of the land that was to become Ohio was set to be military reserves or congressional lands. Specifically, there were 15 sections that Ohio was broken up into by Congress, military reserves and purchases made by conglomerate of people (17 in total – if you count the French Grant, which is commonly identified as part of Congress lands East of the Scioto River, and the Firelands, which is a part of the Connecticut Reserve).


The map above shows the lands of Ohio as they were distributed among states and people. A comprehensive list includes: the Toledo Strip, Between the Miamis, Symmes’ Purchase, Connecticut Military Reserve, Virginia Military District, Ohio Company Purchase, Donation Tract, Seven Ranges, U.S. Military District, Refugee Tract, and 5 plots of Congress Lands.

The bounding of the land by such districts allowed the federal government, as well as several state governments, to pay off the military veterans from the Revolutionary War using land. The Symmes’ Purchase was bought by a conglomerate of people who wanted to buy land in Ohio to start anew just as the Ohio Company had bought the land in southern Ohio to start new communities and make money. The U.S Military district was used to pay off those veterans that had served in the Continental Army in the war while the Connecticut Reserve was used to appease people who lost everything in the war, whether they were a veteran or a civilian who lost their town in the war.

The setup, created by the Public Land Survey System, allowed for even distribution of lands into square sets of land. The land was divided into townships measuring 6 square miles (6 x 6). These townships were broke down into 36 sections measuring 1 square mile (1 x 1), or 640 acres. This measurement was reduced even further, going from “half lots” (320 acres) all the way down to “quarter-quarter lots” (40 acres).This is demonstrated below in the map depicting the first area survey known as The Seven Ranges.


Ohio, being the closest to the original thirteen colonies and being the easiest to access, was the natural choice to first start the Public Land Survey System created by the Northwest Ordinance. The majority of Ohio townships were created through this method with some being based on metes and bounds depending on natural landscapes (such as rivers, lakes, or mountainous areas).  Certain sections of the townships became reserved for certain ordained needs set by the government. For example, section 16 in each township was reserved for the support of public schools, making this the first federal aid to education (predating the Constitution). The 88 counties of Ohio were created using this method  and it became a staple for every county created in each state to come thereafter.


Muskingum County, as shown above, is separated into 25 townships with some being sectioned in perfect squares and others being sectioned using metes and bounds. This county has some counties that are bounded by the old method of forming townships, metes and bounds, because of the Muskingum River that runs directly through the county. This shows how the landscape and waterways of the nation can affect how people create their townships and establish boundaries. The state of Ohio even has the southern boundary based on the Ohio River. Rivers, lakes and mountains act as natural boundaries between townships, counties, states, and even countries. The Muskingum County, however, was split at one point between the U.S. Military District and the Congress Lands East of the Scioto River. This split naturally occurred before the founding of the modern day county but cannot be overlooked as it could indicate a difference in culture between the northern half of the county compared to the southern half of the county.


Shown above is the detailing of the territorial separation of Ohio surrounding the area of Muskingum County and Zanesville. This shows the U.S. Military District and the Congress Lands East of the Scioto River

Zanesville, as fate would have it, lies on the southern border of the United States Military District and the northern border of the Congress Lands East of the Scioto River. The Muskingum County, as aforementioned, is split in half with the northern half being in the U.S. Military District and the southern half being in the Congress Lands. The split? Exactly where Zanesville lies. The city was developed after these territorial purchases were made so it is hard to say whether or not the city was formed as a kind of mediator between the two sections or if it was formed as a hub of trade because of early use of canals as transport. This seemed like a strange development in relation to other cities because not many others are founded on the border of two different controlling groups with different purposes (military payment and congressional sale).




U.S. Military District, Ohio

John Kilbourne – Public Lands

Northwest Ordinance – OHC

American History – Northwest Ordinance Effects

Auditor of State of Ohio – Dave Yost

Primary Documents in American History

Brittanica – Northwest Ordinance

Zanesville History

Colonel Ebenezer Zane

Muskingum County – Zanesville

Zane’s Trace – Touring Ohio


Picture Sources:

Zane’s Trace Map

Northwest Territory Map

Congress Lands East of the Scioto River Map

Township Map

Muskingum Township Map

Zanesville Map

Detailed Territorial District Map


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