Lynn Jinks

Several centuries after the acre was established in England as the accepted unit of land measurement, its upstart Colony, America, started a revolutionary war. That war was concluded in 1783. Under the terms of the peace treaty signed in Paris that year the United States came into possession of what was then known as the Northwest Territory, a massive expanse of land located in what is now the states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. At this time the United States government was broke. After all, wars are expensive. In order to raise money, and also to reward the revolutionary soldiers, the government decided to sell or give away parcels of this land. But first they had to come up with a way to describe these parcels of land.

To do this Congress enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785. This ordinance established a survey system now known as the United States Public Land Survey System. (PLLS) In subsequent years this system was also used to survey lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase and territories to the west. Today 72% of the land area of the United States has been surveyed by this method. This includes the State of Alabama. The PLLS divides the country up into rectangular blocks. To do this it establishes base lines and principal meridians. The base line is the east west line and the principal meridian is the north/south line. Each line runs through an established point call the point of beginning. There are 37 principal meridians. The principal meridian that was used to survey what is now the State of Alabama is called the Saint Stephens Meridian. It passes through Saint Stephens, Alabama and runs south to Mobile Bay.

The PLLS divides the country up into blocks that are six miles to a side, more or less. These blocks of land are called townships. The townships are identified by the east/west line, called a range, and the north/south line, called a township. Bullock County lies in 21 separate townships. Each township contains six square miles or 36 sections. Each section contains 640 acres and is a mile square, more or less. Land can be legally described by reference to the section, township and range that identifies where it is located within its township. As an example, the Bullock County Courthouse is located in Section 2, Township 13 north, and Range 23 East.

The PLLS survey system is the basis for the legal description and ownership of land in most of the United States, including the State of Alabama. For this reason, it is also the basis for the accumulation of wealth and power. It has worked well since 1785. There was only one small problem: the land being described, bought and sold was already occupied by the Indians, who had resided there for tens of thousands of years. The Indians had no concept of the private ownership of land

There is an Indian boundary line that runs through Bullock County. It was established by a treaty. In my lifetime there have been no American Indians living in Bullock County.

Lynn Jinks is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.

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