George Colvin and the 1820 Ohio Land Act

George Colvin land patent 1 of 2

George Colvin Land patent — one of two — issued 7 November 1837.

A recent inquiry by a living Colvin descendant pointed me in the direction to George Colvin – long believed to be the progenitor of the Ohio branch of this family. Family lore has it that George left his Piedmont-area Colvin clan, disturbed by the idea of chattel slavery and whippings and headed in the 1830s with his wife Sophia ____  in tow, northward to Pennsylvania where he stayed briefly, where Sophia bore a daughter, Eliza Jane Colvin (1835-1915)  and from whence he headed West finally settling in Ohio. While difficult to determine his motives, George has been tracked in the federal census and land records, and it is known that he fathered at least three children – Eliza Jane, Charles, and Roseberry Colvin between 1835-1842, Eliza Jane Colvin truely having been born in Pennsylvania in 1835.[1] Much is known of these heirs as well as of George’s spouse, Sophia ______, including where and when she died and where she is interred.[2] Much less is known of George aside from that bit of family lore already noted. We know a bit of his family composition from census records. But thus far no marriage records have been found regarding his marriage to Sophia or, for that matter, even where she was born – although un-sourced claims abound.[3]

Yet, sometimes even land records offer clues to a person’s whereabouts, and George’s patent records offer a worthwhile lesson in how to begin establishing one’s ancestor at a fixed time and place.

In George Colvin’s case, the first thing one notices on the patent is the Land Act under which the land was purchased. In other words, the  piece of legislation that governed the land sale offer. In George’s case, it was the Ohio Land Act of 1820, which we can tell because of the language used: “…according to the provisions of the Act of Congress… 24 April 1820.”[4]  That’s boilerplate legalese for Land Act.

Next, it’s necessary to know something of that bit of lawmaking, to understand its historical context. In other words: what caused that law to come into being?

The Land Act of 1820

During the early 1800s, many Ohioans purchased land on credit. During the War of 1812 and afterwards, for example, farmers bought many acres of land from the federal government. This land had been part of the Congressional Lands, set aside by the national government as it organized the Northwest Territory. It was not difficult for Ohioans to make payments on their loans as long as the economy remained strong, but by the late 1810s the state was in the midst of severe economic problems. During the Panic of 1819, for example, there was a shortage of currency that made it impossible for many farmers to make the necessary loan payments. In addition, other parts of the nation were also experiencing these economic problems, making it difficult for farmers in Ohio to sell their crops. Many people feared that they would lose their farms as a result.

Congress responded to the farmers’ concerns with the Land Act of 1820 and the Relief Act of 1821. The Land Act essentially reduced the number of acres that Ohioans had to purchase from 160 to 80 and the cost from $2.00 per acre to $1.25, in an attempt to encourage additional land sales. The Relief Act permitted Ohioans to return land that they could not pay for back to the government, granting a credit towards their debt for the returned land. Additionally, Congress extended credit to the buyer for eight more years. The government hoped that with the time extension, the economy would improve. Farmers would then be able to sell their crops and make payments on their loans. By allowing the return of land that Ohioans could not afford, Congress helped farmers not lose everything that they had worked for. People could often afford a smaller acreage, but not the 160 acres originally mandated by the Land Act of 1804. Overall, the federal government’s policies were successful, and many Ohioans were pleased that Congress had taken action to help them.

But, where did the settlers make their land purchases? That also changed with each new Land Act. Thus, in 1820 or thereafter, a purchaser (also known in period land jargon as an “entryman”)  would have gone to the Federal Land Office in Chillicothe, in Ross County. There he’s make his payment or down payment (he was required to buy a minimum of eighty acres for the federally-guaranteed price of $1.25 per acre price,) and his name and some particulars recorded in what were called “land entry books.” Basically transaction logs. We do not yet have the land case files, for George Colvin who managed to received two patents in  1837 and 1843 respectively thus we cannot yet know exactly when George took out the patents which helps to establish his settlement in Ohio.  We know only that, he was able to satisfy all of the rigorous requirements necessary to have the patent issued despite the various delays in said patients being delivered. It’s worth noting that the 1820 Land Act patents also had to each be signed by the President of the United States, adding to their delay in being returned to the Land Office in Ohio who thence dispersed them to the patentees.  Many patentees never claimed their hard-earned patents and thousands languish today in the National Archives — returned to Washington, D.C. and voided when they went unclaimed.  It’s also important to remember that the date of the patent ought never be confused by researchers with the date patentee arrived in the state where it was issued.   In all likelihood  such a settler would have arrived years earlier and begun the settlement process.  In the case of  George Colvin, his entry would likely be in the Land Tract Books of Ohio which are held by the Eastern States Office, Bureau of Land Management[5] In the case of his patents,  The Colvin Study already has the digitized originals in its database. (see inset.) Obviously, our next step will be to acquire the land entry data if it is extant. A review of addition period tax records may also help to establish his arrival in Ohio. Thus, personal property and land tax records for the period will also be explored. The microfilmed originals are currently held with the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. [6] Other microfilmed copies are available through Family History Centers for rental fees.

With luck, these land entry and tax records should aid in helping to fix George’s settlement  in Ohio; afterward will be the task of trying to establish when he died – or at least where, neither of which are currently known. See update here.


[1] Digitized original of Jacob Rowles household, 1900 Federal Census, Grandview, Washington County, Ohio line 79, hh 203. Eliza married Jacob Rowels (1833-1914) ca. 1857 in Ohio. In this census, Eliza gives her birthdate as May, 1835, and place of birth as Pennsylvania. This birth year also appears on her  grave marker in the New Matamoras Cemetery in Washington County, Ohio where she is interred beside her husband. Digital images of both headstones are on file with The Colvin Study.

[2] Sophia [–?–]  was interred in the Whitten Cemetery, Belpre, Monroe County in February 1893. The inscription on her obelisk reads: ” Sophia wife of G. Colvin born Oct 20 1807 died Feb 10 1893 Aged 85 Y 3M 20D”  It can be viewed in situ at her memorial. # 6364632. The Colvin Study also has a digitized copy of this headstone image on file.

[3] Tina Kitlack, “George and Sophia Colvin”  in  Monroe County,  Ohio Families,  Monroe Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society of Woodsfield Ohio, 1992. pp 106. Kitlack makes numerous claims regarding George, his wife, and their heirs, none of which are cited. See also Tina Kitlack,  “Colvin-Elliot” entry, pp 106.

[4] Ohio History Central  website at:

[5] The National Archives website has an excellent overview of these land records and how to obtain them. See: “Land Records: Introduction and Links to Resources on Land Entry Case  Files and Related Records,”

[6] Newly emerging  data from census records suggests  Charles Colvin, Jr. (Charles B. Colvin),  Charles Colvin, Sr.’s eldest son, may have pre-dated George’s arrival by several years and thus may usurp George Colvin’s place as the progenitor of this line’s Ohio branch. This possibility remains under inquiry.


About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.