State Cessions: Wikis


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A map of the United States showing land claims and cessions from 1782-1802.

The state cessions are those areas of the United States that the separate states ceded to the federal government in the late 18th and early 19th century. The cession of these lands, which for the most part lay between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, was key to establishing a harmonious union among the former British colonies.

The areas ceded comprise 236,825,600 acres (958,399 km²), or 10.4 percent of current United States territory, and make up all or part of 10 states.[1]



Most of the British colonies on the east coast of North America were established in the 17th and early 18th century, when geographical knowledge of North America was incomplete. Many of these colonies were established by royal proclamation or charter that defined their boundaries as stretching "from sea to sea"; others did not have western boundaries established at all. These colonies thus ended up with theoretical extents that overlapped each other, and conflicted with the claims and settlements established by other European powers.

By the time of the American Revolution, the boundaries between the various colonies had been for the most part surveyed and agreed upon in the eastern part of the country, where European settlement was densest. (The one notable exception to this trend was the ongoing dispute between New York and New Hampshire over the land that would eventually become Vermont.) The British government's Royal Proclamation of 1763, while not resolving the disputes over the colonies' trans-Appalachian claims, sought to cool them by placing significant restrictions on white settlement in the region. The proclamation was largely ignored on the ground, however, and various frontier settlement enterprises, owing allegiance to conflicting colonial governments, continued.

The claims of the colonies corresponded in varying degrees to the actual reality on the ground in the west at the eve of the Revolution. Kentucky, for instance, was organized into a county of Virginia in 1776, with Virginia serving as practical sovereign over the area right up until its admission into the Union as a separate state in 1792. Massachusetts' claims to land in modern-day Michigan and Wisconsin, by contrast, amounted to little more than lines drawn on a map.

The resolution of the claims

The Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution established American sovereignty over the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi; the jobs of determining how that land should be governed, and how the conflicting claims to it by several of the states should be resolved, were one of the first major tasks facing the new nation.

The potential for trouble arising from these claims were twofold. One problem was obvious: in many cases more than one state laid claim to the same piece of territory, but clearly only one would be ultimately recognized as the owner. The other conflict also threatened the peace of the new union. Only seven of the thirteen states had western land claims, and the other, "landless" states were fearful of being overwhelmed by states that controlled vast stretches of the new frontier. Virginia in particular, which already encompassed 1 in 5 inhabitants of the new nation, laid claim to modern-day Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, and the smaller states feared that it would come to completely dominate the union.

In the end, most of the trans-Appalachian land claims were ceded to the Federal government between 1781 and 1787; New York, New Hampshire, and the hitherto unrecognized Vermont government resolved their squabbles by 1791, and Kentucky was separated from Virginia and made into a new state in 1792. The cessions were not entirely selfless -- in some cases the cessions were made in exchange for federal assumption of the states' Revolutionary War debts -- but the states' reasonably graceful cessions of their often-conflicting claims prevented early, perhaps catastrophic, rifts among the states of the young Republic, and assuaged the fears of the "landless" states enough to convince them to ratify the new United States Constitution. The cessions also set the stage for the settlement of the Upper Midwest and the expansion of the U.S. into the center of the North American continent, and also established the pattern by which land newly acquired by the United States would be organized into new states rather than attached to old ones.

Georgia held on to its claims over trans-Appalachian land for another decade, and this claim was complicated by the fact that much of the land was also disputed between the United States and Spain. When Georgia finally sold the land west of its current boundaries to the United States for cash in 1802, the last phase of western cessions was complete.

Details of the cessions


Landed states

New York

Date ceded: 1780-02-19
Date accepted: 1782-10-29
Claims, cessions and dispute resolutions: Ceded claims west of Lake Ontario, sold Erie Triangle to Pennsylvania, stopped squabbling with New Hampshire over what would become Vermont.


Date ceded: 1781-01-02
Date completed: 1784-03-01
Claims and cessions: Ceded its territory north and west of the Ohio River (and east of the Mississippi), the land which was to become the Northwest Territory. The land south and east of the Ohio was not ceded and was then called Kentucky County, Virginia. It was organized and admitted as Kentucky in 1792, after multiple attempts to agree upon a state constitution that was also acceptable to Virginia and the Congress.


Date ceded: 1784-11-13
Date completed: 1785-04-19
Claims and cessions: Ceded swath between present north and south border-latitudes across present-day Michigan and Wisconsin, to which it was entitled by its interpretation of its original sea-to-sea grant from the British crown.


Date ceded: 1786-05-11
Date completed: 1786-05-28
Claims and cessions: Ceded land from western border to Mississippi River, notably the Wyoming Valley disputed in the Pennamite-Yankee War, but held back Connecticut Western Reserve in Ohio Country until 1800.

South Carolina

Date ceded: 1787-03-08
Date completed: 1787-08-09
Claims and cessions: Claimed narrow 12-mile strip from western tip to Mississippi, running above Georgia and what would later become Mississippi and Alabama. Surrendered land to Georgia and U.S. gov't. Note that the claim was for land between the headwaters of the Savannah River and the North Carolina boundary; in fact, later surveying showed that the Savannah headwaters actually began in North Carolina, which meant that the strip did not exist in reality.

North Carolina

Date ceded: 1789-12-22
Date effective: 1790-02-25
Claims and cessions: Ceded what became the Southwest Territory, quickly transformed and admitted as Tennessee (1796).


Date ceded: 1802-04-24, 12 years after all other cessions made (save Connecticut Western Reserve in 1800)
Date ratified by Georgia Legislature: 1802-06-16
Claims: Yazoo lands, between 31 to 35 degrees north latitude to Mississippi River
Cost to U.S. government, unique among the "cessions": $1.25 million

Landless states

Note: These states may have had western (or other) land claims during their colonial eras, but by the 1780s, were generally out of the expansion business.

  1. Pennsylvania: Original grant land between 39th and 42nd north latitude for 5 degrees; had claims to Erie Triangle, which was ceded 1781-1785 to the federal government by New York and Massachusetts. The U.S. government, in turn, sold it back to Pennsylvania in 1788.
  2. New Hampshire: Claimed New Hampshire Grants/Vermont
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Delaware
  5. Maryland
  6. New Jersey


Map of Texas, illustrating the area under de facto control of the Republic of Texas, the full extent of the Texan claim, and the eventual border of the US state of Texas

Later in the 19th century, there was one other case of a state ceding some of its land to the U.S. federal government. Before the Republic of Texas was annexed to the U.S., it claimed a significant portion of land that was not under the de facto control of the Texan government. The border dispute with Mexico that the U.S. thus inherited upon Texas' annexation was one of the major causes of the Mexican-American War; after American victory in this war, the Mexican government recognized U.S. sovereignty over the disputed area and ceded much more land in addition.

Nevertheless, the Republic of Texas' maximalist claims did not ultimately define the borders of the U.S. state of Texas. In the Compromise of 1850, Texas ceded much of its western claims—including portions of the current states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas—to the federal government.[1]


  1. ^ a b Table 1.1 Acquisition of the Public Domain 1781-1867

See also

External links


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