Combined Database of Canal Land Entries


by Carl Leiter


The combined database is a listing of land in Howard County sold as "canal lands" by the State of Indiana with the names of the original landowners or patentees. These lands were in the Seven Mile Strip, a portion of the Big Miami Reserve, and contained approximately seventy-five square miles, which later became Ervin, Monroe, and Honey Creek townships. These were the first public lands opened to settlement in Howard County, and this file provides the names of the county's first settlers together with their location, acreage, date of acquisition, and other pertinent data.


Canal lands were tracts of public land acquired by the federal government from various Indian tribal owners, then awarded to the state for the purpose of financing canals during the first half of the 19th century. The Seven Mile Strip, one of several such tracts, was acquired in the Miami Treaty of 1834, and was obtained expressly to provide funds for extending the Wabash and Erie Canal from the mouth of the Tippecanoe River south to Terre Haute, Indiana.


The Miami Treaty of 1834 failed to be ratified until 1837, thereby delaying early settlement. However, a number of pioneer hunters and farmers moved into Howard County's portion of the Big Miami Reserve ahead of the public land survey, which was carried out in 1838 and 1839, and by the time the county's canal lands were placed on the market in 1844 and 1845 an orderly settlement was well underway in the Seven Mile Strip.


Howard County was not yet established when the canal lands went on the market. Since the State of Indiana handled the land sales, land auctions were scheduled at the county seats in those counties holding jurisdiction over the tract, and Seven Mile Strip lands in Townships 23 and 24 North were entered at Delphi in Carroll County. The procedure is described well in the words of a writer in the Howard County historical atlas of 1877:


"This land was divided into classes and appraised as first, second and third class lands, and put at three different prices to correspond, but was not thoroughly graded. ....The payments were in installments, and upon full payment the State made deeds to purchasers. First-class lands were priced at five dollars per acre, second-class at three dollars and a half and third-class at two dollars, payable one-fourth in cash, and one-fourth annually, with interest."


Placing canal lands on the market was a political issue, as they were in direct competition with Federal Land Office sales, and this was a valid complaint since canal lands held a distinct advantage over lands auctioned at federal land offices. This was due to a form of local currency called scrip.


The state supplied the Wabash and Erie Canal Company with a colored paper currency for meeting expenses of supplies and labor. This currency had the figure of a dog printed on it and had a different color for each tract of canal land it was based upon. Such scrip came to be called Red Dog, White Dog or Blue Dog, depending on its color, and it was Blue Dog that was circulated for Seven Mile Strip land. So scarce was hard cash and so prevalent was Blue Dog in north central Indiana at the time that banks and merchants issued scrip of their own of fractional value, popularly called 'Blue Pup.'


Within a short period of time Blue Dog had depreciated to from thirty to fifty cents on the dollar, and since Blue Dog was expressly accepted at face value to purchase land in the Seven Mile Strip, it was bought up for that purpose alone. Thus, the canal lands of Howard County were snapped up ahead of other public lands, for nowhere else could land be purchased at such bargain rates. Thus, not only did the Seven Mile Strip attract the county's first settlers, but it drew them in number as well even after the remainder of the county was put on the market.


The first canal lands went on the market in Howard County in 1844, when some forty tracts were purchased in Township 23 North, Range 2 East, mostly in what is now Monroe Township. In 1845 more than a hundred tracts were purchased in canal lands when Township 24 North, Range 2 East (Ervin Township) was put on the market, and more than one hundred seventy settlers bought canal lands in 1846, the peak year for canal land sales. These 1846 purchases were in both Ervin and Monroe townships, which were in Range 2 East of the Second Principle Meridian.


A record of canal land sales covering the entire state was maintained in the office of the State Auditor, where they consisted of several volumes made up of Abstracts of Sale. Such records were filed alphabetically by the name of each county that eventually controlled those particular lands. Howard County canal land Abstracts are filed in Volume X, which, together with a number of other volumes of the states' canal lands, are in the keeping of the Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis.


Due to the fragile nature of these individual abstracts and the massive bound volumes in which they exist, photocopying was prohibited. This database was created from many sheets of hand-copied data derived from several trips over a period of a few weeks in March, 2002. Also, data from a Land Office Microfilm Reel entitled "Miami Reserve Book 1" of unspecified, but later date was studied in the Genealogy & Local History Services Department of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library. This film contains names of both similar and alternate canal land purchasers in Howard County and was useful in the verification of details such as name spellings, tract locations, and certificate numbers. Additional and contradictory data for each land tract was inserted in a column added to the file for that purpose.


The database file includes the following columns: the patent number, if one was given, the certificate number (which was the single most important identification in the file of abstracts), the full name of each primary owner, along with that of his "Assignee," if one was given, the date of the patent [year, month, day], and location of each tract [congressional township, range and section numbers], along with a fractional description of the tract within the section. For convenience, each section was quartered, and these were again quartered, if necessary. A description such as "N, SW" would indicate the north half of the southwest quarter of that section. "NW, SE" would indicate the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter, a 40-acre tract. Half-quarter sections, 80 acres, were by far the most frequent parcels, while quarter-sections of 160 acres were not as frequent as 40-acre tracts or quarter-quarter sections. Unusual combinations frequently occurred, with a landholder holding adjoining half-quarter sections in different quarter-sections. In no instance in the more than 600 entries did any tract exceed 160 acres in size, and the smallest tracts approximated 40-acre (quarter-quarter) purchases.


No attempt has been made to establish the exact number of original landholders in the canal lands of Howard County. It should also be noted that Section #16, the "School Section" of each congressional township, is not included in this file. School Sections were the property of each local county and the records of those land sales, if they exist at all, should be found in the local County Recorders' offices. This is true of School Sections in federal land records as well.