Federal/Public Land States and State Land States
The signing of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the American Revolution left the new United States owning approximately 270 million acres of land outside of the original 13 colonies. The Revolution also left the new the nation with a mountain of debt.
When the 13 American Colonies sat down and worked out the system by which they agreed to become the 13 original United States, one of the things that that was agreed to was that the new central United States government would give up its claims to any land within the boundaries of the 13 Colonies, including some territory already claimed by the colonies. This land would belong to the new states formed from those colonies and would be sold by them to pay their own debts from the Revolution and to finance their governmental operations.
In return, the Colonies would give up any claim to the lands in all other territories to which the U. S. could lay claim. This land and any additional lands acquired or opened by the new Government would become the public domain – land owned by the United States, but not by any state government. Some of this public land would be laid aside as rewards for the service of Revolutionary War veterans. The remainder could be sold to by the Federal Government directly to settlers to pay war debts and to finance the operations of the new government.
State Land States
Twenty modern states fall into the State-land category:
- The original 13: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia
- Five states carved from territory owned by the original 13: Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia.
- Hawaii, where land was allocated by the King prior to our annexation of the islands, and Texas, which was allowed to become a state without ceding any of its lands to the U.S.
For the most part, the states retained the old system of surveying their lands – the metes and bounds system that rendered land descriptions like “From a big black rock, 12 chains NNW to a white oak tree…”
Federal or Public Domain States
The other thirty modern states were the Public Domain states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
The land in these states were under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office, and the rectangular survey system, also known as the Cadastral system, or the Public Domain Survey system, was used. This system was designed to quickly and, relatively, easily define any specific parcel of land in the new territory.