By Richard A. Enochs

Most family history researchers share two points in common with respect to the Wabash and Erie Canal. They have some idea of its course generally following the Wabash River from Fort Wayne to Terre Haute and they believe that all lands sold by the State of Indiana for the benefit of the canal's construction were directly on its route.

What is not as well known is that the canal continued from Terre Haute almost to the Ohio River and that many tracts designated as canal land did not adjoin the canal's course. Some tracts were located in counties through which the Wabash and Erie Canal did not flow. For that matter, a portion of the first of three federal land grants was not in Indiana, but in Ohio.

On May 26, 1824, Congress authorized the State of Indiana to survey a canal route through the public lands, reserving a ninety foot strip on either side of the route. A grant to aid construction of a canal from the Maumee River to the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers was approved
March 2, 1827. This marked the first federal grant to a state for the benefit of canal construction. The Indiana grant embraced one-half of five mile-square sections on each side of the route. The federal government retained interest in each alternate section. Indiana's legislature accepted the terms of the grant on January 5, 1828. A Board of Canal Commissioners was created and its members appointed the following year to select and survey the route. Land sales began in 1830. Patents were issued by the Commissioners to purchasers.

A second federal grant of land was approved on February 27, 1841, for the construction of the canal between the mouth of the Tippecanoe River and Terre Haute. The third grant was approved on March 3, 1845, to aid completion of the canal from Terre Haute to the Ohio River. This final leg passed through Clay, Owen, Greene, Daviess, Pike, Gibson, Warrick, and Vanderburgh Counties. Eventually there was insufficient land within five miles of either side of the canal's route to provide the necessary funding. Therefore the five-mile restriction was removed. Unsold lands in the recently released Miami Reserve in Clinton County were included although the canal did not flow through it. Other lands in canal route counties were more than five miles off the route.

Once the lands were formally transferred from federal to state title, the word "canal" was entered in the purchaser column of the respective federal district land office's tract book. Any further tracing of tract title is in state, rather than federal, records. These Wabash and Erie Canal land records, along with other state land records, are in the Indiana State Archives.

The State Archives has a printed inventory of state land records. An excellent explanation of canal lands is found on pages 114-28. The next step is the microfilmed Atlas of Canal Land Selections. The atlas has two index maps, one for the northern part of the state and one for the southern. The maps show the Indiana (Second) Principal Meridian, the Indiana Base Line, numbered Township Lines (North and South), and numbered Range Lines (East and West).

Within the square representing each Congressional Township formed by the respective township and range lines is a page number. On each page appears the pertinent sections(s) of the Congressional Township that were sold as canal land. The sections and divisions thereof are usually marked with letter/number combinations referring to the volume and page in which the patent record is located.

Rather than using the Atlas of Selections, the researcher may use the bound volumes of Canal Land Title Abstracts. These are arranged by county. Within a given county the arrangement is by township and range. The sections are in numerical order; the quarter sections run from east to west and north to south. Each individual tract sold should have its own page in the Title Abstracts. The abstract references the page in the canal land atlas, tract description, acreage, name of grantee, name of assignor (if
any), patent number, certificate of purchase number, and the date of the patent.

The State Archives has copies of most canal land patents on microfilm, arranged by patent number. Also in the Archives are the original certificates issued to individual purchasers. The certificates were surrendered when the patent was issued. Many are signed by the purchaser. The certificates include the date of purchase and information about assignments. Purchase transactions may predate patents by several years.

For some tracts the word "Pre-emption" appears on the abstract. The patent will specify the enactment date of the state law by which title was conveyed. The research significance is that to qualify for pre-emption rights one generally had to reside on the tract as of the date the law was enacted. A pre-emption notation on the patent, dated December 12, 1849, would establish the purchaser on that tract as of the earlier date, e.g. January 19, 1847.

Using the Indiana State Archives Wabash and Erie canal land records is one more way for family history researchers to move an ancestor back to an earlier given time in a given place.

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