Schools of the
Past and Present

Sixteenth Section Public School Trust Lands

After the formation of the Union, the English tradition of reserving land for the public schools was incorporated into the Land Ordinance of 1785 written by Thomas Jefferson.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 was designed to encourage westward expansion into the area west of Pennsylvania, north of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi River, and south of the Great Lakes, and it provided for the survey and sale of land *in this area known as the Northwest Territory. The ordinance adopted the "rectangular survey system" which has as its basic unit of measurement an area six miles square designated a township. Townships are subdivided into 36, one-mile square sections. Sections in a township are numbered consecutively with section number one *in the northeast comer of the township. Numbering runs east to west across the first row of sections, then west to east across the second row, and thereafter alternating so that section number 36 is in the southeast comer of the township. The Land Ordinance of 1785 " reserved the lot no. 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within said township...." In each township, lot or Section Sixteen falls in the third row of sections and is the third section from the west side of the township, placing it near the center of the township.

The reservation of land for public schools was further confirmed in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which provided for the government of the Northwest Territory. This law acknowledged that "[r]leligion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness

In 1798, Congress established the Mississippi Territory and provided that the territory would be governed by the provision of the Northwest Ordinance. Initially, the Mississippi Territory was composed of an area lying in the southern two-thirds of the present day states of Mississippi and Alabama. The territory was still subject to claims by the state of Georgia under its original charter from England. However, in 1802, Georgia ceded this land to the United States upon the condition that statehood be granted on the same terms and with the same privileges as land in the Northwest Territory under the Northwest Ordinance.

In 1803, Congress provided for the survey and sale of all land south of the state of Tennessee and made provision for the reservation of Section Sixteen in each township for the support of public schools. In 1804, the Mississippi Territory was extended northward to the Tennessee line.

Congress divided the Mississippi Territory in 1817 to form the state of Mississippi in the west and the state of Alabama in the east. Congressional action granting statehood to Mississippi also called for the survey of land in the state and provided for the reservation of Section Sixteen 'in each township.

At the time of statehood, Mississippi was inhabited by the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians. More than a decade passed after statehood before the land claims of the Native Americans were resolved.

In September 1830, the United States and the Choctaws signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek resolving the claims of the Choctaws. In accordance with the treaty, Sixteenth Sections were reserved from government land sales in the area formerly occupied by the Choctaws.
The claims of the Chickasaws were resolved with their removal under the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek 'in 1832. Under this treaty, lands of the Chickasaws were ceded to the United States. These lands were to be sold by the government to private parties, and the Chickasaws were to receive the proceeds of the land sales. Despite a clause in the treaty which stated the land would be sold " the same manner and on the same terms as other public lands....," Chickasaw lands were, in fact, sold by the government with no reservation of Sixteenth Sections.
Today, 15 counties "including Prentiss, lie entirely north of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Boundary and have no public school trust lands.

In 1836, to compensate for the failure to reserve the Sixteenth Sections from the sale of the Chickasaw Cession lands, Congress passed legislation granting the state of Mississippi 174,555 acres of unsold public land in Bolivar, Coahoma, Tallahatchie, Quitman, Panola, and Leake Counties. In the 1850's Congress and the State of Mississippi enacted laws allowing this lieu land to be sold. Mississippi invested the $1,047,330 realized from the sale of these lands in 8 percent interest loans to railroad companies in the state. The prinicipal was lost with the destruction of the railroads during the Civil War.

Having sold the land and lost the proceeds from that sale, the Mississippi Legislature began making annual appropriations to school districts in the Chickasaw Cession equal to the 8 percent interest on the lost principal. The Constitution of 1890 reduced the amount of interest from 8 percent to 6 percent.

Taken from M1SSISSIPPI Official and Statistical Register 1990-2000
The above provides some interesting history and the explanation of measurements also may provide some help in researching land records.

by Ann Sparks

Prentiss County Teachers  1899-1900

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