Hancock county, named in honor of the immortal signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock, is located in central Indiana. It lies between the thirty-ninth and fortieth parallels of latitude, and between the eighty-fifth and eighty-sixth meridians of longitude west of Greenwich. The eighty-sixth meridian lies about three miles west of our western boundary line. The county is bounded on the west principally by Marion county; on the north by Hamilton and Madison counties; on the east by Henry and Rush counties, and to the south principally by Shelby county. Greenfield, the county seat, is located on the National road, twenty miles east of the city of Indianapolis.

In size it is an average county of the state, being composed of three hundred and seven square miles and containing 196,480 acres.

Before the white man took up his abode within its confines, charters were given, ordinances adopted, and grants made, in other parts of the world, whose influences reached this county, and determined, in a measure at least, its future land descriptions, its official records and its institutions. The first substantial claim to this region that became a matter of record was made by the English, following the discoveries of the Cabots and other English explorers. As early as 1606 two companies were organized in England for the purpose of making settlements in what was then known as Virginia, and which then included all of the territory from Maine to Florida. In 1609 King James I of England gave to one of these companies- the London Company- an immense tract of land, reaching four hundred miles along the coast. It extended two hundred miles in each direction from Old Point Comfort, and "up into the land throughout from sea to sea west and northwest." This domain granted by the King to the London Company included all of the central and southern part of what is now the state of Indiana. The King also gave "from sea to sea" charters to Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The remaining colonies had no such charters. Under these charters the first group of colonies claimed all the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The result was that when the Revolutionary War broke out and the exigencies of the times demanded that all the colonies unite under some form of government, and that they raise money for the common defense, the colonies which had no "from sea to sea" charters refused to unite with the first group of colonies under the Articles of Confederation unless these colonies should cede this land to Congress, to be used by Congress to pay the costs of the war.

A serious question was also raised on the validity of the title of the colonies to this land, because, it was argued, the Mississippi valley had been discovered, explored, settled and owned by France; that England had never owned the country until France ceded it to her in 1763, and that consequently the English Crown could not have made a valid grant before that time; that when England acquired this territory in 1763, the King drew his "proclamation line" whereby he turned this western territory into the Indian country and cut off all claims of the colonies to further ownership therein. Upon this argument the colonies which had no claims on this western land based their following conclusions: that these western lands were the property of the King; that since the colonies were at war with him, these lands ought to be seized by Congress and used for the common benefit.

The argument that this land ought to be used for the benefit of all the colonies finally prevailed and, one after another, those who had claims, ceded their land to Congress. On January 2, 1781, Virginia ceded to the Congress of the United States, for the benefit of all the colonies, all her right, title and claim to the territory northwest of the Ohio River, subject to certain conditions annexed to her act of cession. Virginia insisted that the other colonies should make cessions equally liberal with hers, and the conditions upon which she was willing to cede this territory were, that the territory so ceded should be laid out and formed into states containing suitable extent of territory, not less than one hundred nor more than one hundred fifty miles square, or as near thereto as circumstances would permit; that the states so formed should be distinct republican states and admitted members of the federal union, having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom and independence as the other states; that the necessary and reasonable expenses incurred by the state of Virginia in subduing any British posts, or in maintaining forts or garrisons within the territory for defense, or in acquiring any part of the territory so ceded or relinquished, should be fully reimbursed by the United States; that one commissioner should be appointed by the Congress, one by the commonwealth of Virginia, and another by those two commissioners, who, or a majority of them, should be authorized and empowered to adjust and liquidate the account of the necessary and reasonable expenses incurred by the state of Virginia, which they should judge to be comprised within the intent and meaning of the act of Congress on the 10th of October, 1780, respecting such expenses; that the French and Canadian inhabitants and other settlers of the Kaskaskias, St. Vincents, and the neighboring villages, who had professed themselves citizens of Virginia, should have their possessions and titles confirmed to them and be protected in the enjoyment of their rights and liberties; that all the lands within the territory so ceded to the United States, and not reserved for, or appropriated for, the benefit of soldiers and officers of the Revolutionary army, should be considered as a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the United States as had become or should become members of the confederation or federal alliance of said states, Virginia inclusive, according to their usual respective proportions in the charge and expenditure, and should be faithfully and bona fide disposed of for that purpose and for no other use or purpose.

Congress did not fully agree to all the conditions imposed by Virginia, but came so nearly doing so in the act of September 13, 1783, wherein the terms were stipulated on which Congress agreed to accept the cession of this western land by Virginia, that Virginia, on December 20, 1783, passed another act, authorizing her delegates then in Congress to convey to the United States in Congress assembled, all the rights of that commonwealth to the territory northwest of the Ohio River, "in full confidence that Congress will, in justice to this state, for the liberal cession she hath made, earnestly press upon the other states claiming large tracts of waste and uncultivated territory, the propriety of making cessions equally liberal for the common benefit and support of the Union."

In conformity with the provision of the latter act, all the territory therein alluded to, which included Hancock county, was, on the first day of March, 1784, transferred to the United States by deed signed by Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Hardy, Arthur Lee and James Monroe, then delegates in Congress from the commonwealth of Virginia.

After the land had been conveyed to Congress it was found that its division into states as stipulated in the terms of the cession was impracticable and that it would be attended with many inconveniences. Congress therefore recommended that Virginia revise her act of cession so far as to empower Congress to make such a division of said territory into distinct and republican states, not more than five nor less than three in number, as the situation of that country and future circumstances might require. In compliance with this recommendation, the commonwealth of Virginia, on the 29th day of December, 1788, passed an act assenting to the proposed alteration, permitting Congress to divide the territory into states as above recommended, and as had been fully set out in the fifth article of the famous Ordinance of 1787.

As soon as this land was ceded to Congress, and as early as 1783, plans were submitted for dividing it by metes and bounds, in order that it might more readily be conveyed to purchasers. Several ordinances were introduced, and on May 20, 1785, Congress determined to have it surveyed into townships six miles square. The ordinance of May 20, 1785, sets out in detail how the entire domain, including the territory of which our county forms a part, should be surveyed. It is very clear, and explains fully the principal features of our system of dividing and locating land. For this reason, parts of it are given in full below. After providing for the appointment of surveyors and a geographer, the ordinance continues:

"The first line running north and south as aforesaid shall begin on the Ohio River, at a point that shall be found to be due 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 townships, by numbers, progressively from south to north-always beginning each range with No. 1; and the ranges shall be distinguished by their progressive numbers to the westward, the first range, extending from the Ohio to Lake Erie, being 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 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 or 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 six hundred and forty acres, in the same direction as the external lines, and numbered from one to thirty-six, always beginning the succeeding range of the lot with the number next to that which the preceding one touched. * * * * And the surveyors, in running the external lines of the townships, shall at the interval of every mile, mark corners for the lots which are adjacent, always designating the same in a different manner from those of the township.

"As soon as seven ranges of townships, and fractional parts of townships, in the direction of from south to north shall have been surveyed, the geographer shall transmit plats thereof to the board of treasury, who shall record the same, with a report, in a well-bound book kept for that purpose. And the geographer shall make similar returns, from time to time, of every seven ranges, as they may be surveyed. * * * *

"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."

This ordinance, adopted May 20, 1785, by the Continental Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, before there was a United States of America in the present sense, show how our land came to be described as it is. Though Congress has passed other acts, changing the above ordinance as to location of base lines and principal meridians, and in fact, our land here in Indiana was surveyed under the act of Congress, 1802, yet the system or plan of dividing the land and locating it has remained practically the same as above set out.

In the survey of the public domain in Indiana, the east line of the state was used as the first principal meridian. The second principal meridian in Indiana passes through Lebanon in Boone county, and through Hendricks county about three miles east of Danville. The base line from which the congressional townships and the land in Hancock county are surveyed, passes east and west through the southern parts of Orange and Washington counties. The second principal meridian crosses the base line in the southern part of Orange county. Hancock county includes all or parts of townships 15, 16 and 17 north of the base line described above, in ranges 5, 6, 7 and 8, east of the second principal meridian. Any farm in Hancock county is thus located with reference to those two lines- the base line and the second principal meridian- as above described.

The original survey of Hancock county was included in the greater survey of practically the entire state. From the reading of our land descriptions — for instance, section 10, township 15 north (of the base line), in range 6 east (of the second principal meridian) — it is evident that the surveyors worked northward from the base line and eastward from the above described second principal meridian.

The survey was made by surveying parties, including the surveyor and his helpers. Augustus Dommanget, father of Adrian Dommanget, of near Gem, spent many days with the surveying gang in Hancock county. In the wilderness of central Indiana in the early twenties, the surveying parties were out for days and weeks at a time. The forest was dense and the swamps were interminable. Roads had to be opened for the passage of the supply and equipment wagons, and at night the party sought rest on some high spot or knoll. For beds, rectangular nets or blankets with rings attached to the edges and corners were used. By passing ropes through the rings and fastening the other end to young saplings or trees, the beds could be swung clear of the ground. As a protection against wolves and panthers, fires were usually lighted at night.

In this survey the land was divided into townships and then into sections. The corners of all sections and the half-mile points on all lines were established and marked. When a corner had been established, a hole eight or ten inches deep was dug at that point. The surveyor then placed a stone, or took a stake eighteen or twenty inches long and two and one-half inches in diameter, with two or three notches cut near the top as marks by which it could be identified, and drove it into the ground to mark the exact location of the corner. The stake was driven down into the hole so that it could be covered with eight or ten inches of soil to prevent rapid decay. At least two "witness trees" were then chapped or "blazed" and notched. And a careful record made on the surveyor’s book of the exact direction of the stake from the trees. For instance, when a corner had been established, the surveyor made a notation on his record as follows:

Beech 18 S 8 E 20
Ash 6 N 39 E 12

This means that the "witness trees" for this particular corner are a beech and an ash. The beech is eighteen inches in diameter and stands south, eight degrees east, and at a distance of twenty links from the corner. The ash is six inches in diameter and stands north, thirty-nine degrees east, and at a distance of twelve links from the corner. Some of the older people still living tell us that in measuring land many years after the survey, these stakes were found to be in a fair state of preservation.

The Ordinance of 1785 also laid the foundation for a school fund for each of the five states that were later formed out of the territory therein described. "There shall be reserved the lot (or section) No. 16, of every township for the maintenance of the public schools within said township." That provision was never repealed or stricken out after the federal government was organized. In fact, the clause was later adopted bodily in congressional legislation. The money accruing from this land by sale or otherwise was later denominated and is now known as the congressional township fund. In the income of this fund, Hancock county shares yearly.

It will be observed that section 16 of the congressional township was not to be sold by Congress, but was to be reserved for the maintenance of the public schools within the township. This section was to become the property of the township, and was to be used for the purpose designated in the ordinance. When the townships were settled, and a civil government was organized, the control of this land was given to the township trustees. All the other public lands was sold by Congress and conveyed by a United States patent. The school section, however, was conveyed by school commissioner’s deed. Any farmer in the county owning land in any section 16, and other land in another section, will observe this difference in the first conveyances on his abstracts of title.

In some of the counties of the state this land was managed and worked many years, and the income therefrom used for the maintenance of the schools. In Hancock county, however, all these sections were sold at an early date. All except two sections (in Buck Creek and Vernon townships) were sold before 1837. The section in Buck Creek was sold in 1849, and the section in Vernon in 1850.

Among the treaties made between the United States government and the Indian tribes which affected the territory of which Hancock county is a part, was possibly the treaty of October 3, 1818, in which the Delawares ceded to the United States all their land in Indiana. Their claim was rather indefinite. They held it, in joint tenancy with the Miamis, and it seems to have been located in the region of White River. On October 6, 1818, the Miamis ceded to the United States their lands, including all of central Indiana and a part of western Ohio. This tract became known as the "New Purchase" and was bounded on the north and west by the Wabash, and in places extended beyond that river; on the southwest, by the famous "ten o’clock line," which began about the center of Jackson county and ran northwest, entering Illinois about the middle of Vermillion county; on the southeast, by a line from the same point in Jackson county northeast along the present slanting northwest boundary of Ripley county, then more nearly north, leaving the state beyond Randolph county just west of Ft. Recovery.

On January 22, 1820, the State Legislature divided a portion of the "New Purchase" tract into Wabash and Delaware counties. In this division Hancock county was included as a part of Delaware county. In 1823 Delaware county was divided, and Madison county was organized as a separate county, including the territory of Hancock county. In 1828 Hancock county was organized as a separate county from a part of the territory of Madison county.

In the act separating the two counties, Hancock county is described as "all the territory lying one mile south of the line dividing townships 17 and 18, and within the former territory of Madison." This included the present territory of Hancock county. In the acts of 1843 the count is again described by metes and bounds as follows: "Beginning at the southwest corner of section 35 in township 15 north, range 5 east, thence east to the southeast corner of section 33, township 15 north, range 8 east, thence north to the northeast corner of section 4, in said range and township, thence east to the southwest corner of section 36, township 16, range 8, thence north to the northwest corner of section 2, in township 16 north, in range 8 east, thence east to the southwest corner of section 36, township 17 north, range 8 east, thence north to the northwest corner of section 12, in said township, thence west to the northwest corner of section 9, in township 17, range 6 east, thence south to the southwest corner of said section, thence west to the northwest corner of section 14, township 17, range 5, thence south to the place of beginning. "

(Whoever drew the above description did not take into account the fact that the range lines are broken at the line dividing townships 16 and 17, and that therefore the last line, south from the northwest corner to section 14, to the place of beginning, is not a straight line.)

Transcribed from History of Hancock County, Indiana, Its People, Industries and Institutions by George J. Richman, B. L., Federal Publishing Co., Indianapolis, Indiana, 1916. Pages 50-57.

Submitted by Sylvia (Rose) Duda, Laingsburg, MI May 24, 2002.

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Tom & Carolyn Ward / Columbus, Kansas / tcward@columbus-ks.com

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