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Primary School Lands

In June of 1883, the administrator of the estate of George Arlt, deceased, reported to the Probate Court for the County of Presque Isle, Michigan, that he had been successful in selling a piece of property belonging to the deceased.

MI.landThe land — described as the southwest quarter of section 16 in Township 34 north Range 5 east — was a 160-acre tract, and it was sold for $1,060. The high bidder: the deceased’s by-then-remarried widow, Henrietta Arlt Tippmann.1

Like just about every probate file on the face of the earth, this file tells stories. She didn’t have an easy time of it, that widow. She was a second wife, with three very young children of her own at the time of her husband’s death (the probate file says the youngest were four years, two years and two months old in 1880 when George died), and with five older stepchildren. The estate went through three administrators before it was settled.

But what particularly caught The Legal Genealogist‘s eye in this file was part of the land description when this 160-acre tract was sold.

It was land, the file disclosed, “of which the deceased was possessed by virtue of Primary School Land Certificate No. 10590.”2

And the court order granting the administrator permission to sell the land contained a transcription of that land certificate reflecting in part that:

In the name of the People of the State of Michigan, I Charles A. Edmonds, Commissioner of the State Land Office, agreeably to the provisions of law, hereby certify, That at a private sale on the twentieth day of June one thousand eight hundred and seventy one John George Arlt of Wayne County, State of Michigan, for and in consideration of the sum of six hundred and forty dollars purchased the land described as follows, that is to say, the South West Quarter of section No. sixteen in Township No. 34 North of Range No. 5 East, containing 160 acres, according to the returns of the surveyor General, at four dollars per acre. …3

Hmmm… Primary School Land … wazzat?

To understand this completely, we have to back all the way up to a law passed even before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. It was called the Land Ordinance of 1785. Passed by the Confederation Congress, it had provisions for the survey and sale of federal lands.4

And it contained an extraordinary provision: “There shall be reserved the lot N 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools, within the said township…”5

In other words, federal aid to education began in 1785: the proceeds of the sale of part of federal public lands were dedicated to the support of public education — and the part that was to be used for education was Section 16 of each township surveyed.

That emphasis on education was continued in the Northwest Ordinance, the law that set the rules for the territories of the United States, some two years later, in 1787. In Article 3 of Section 14, the Ordinance emphasized that: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”6

Now in most of the new states created out of the lands covered by the Northwest Ordinance, the funds for the school lands went to the townships — the local governments — for the support of the schools.7

But not in Michigan.

When Michigan finally ended its border dispute with Ohio and got itself admitted to the Union, it managed to secure one thing other states didn’t get: control of the school lands. One of the set of statutes passed admitting Michigan as a state provided that “section numbered sixteen in every township of the public lands … shall be granted to the State for the use of schools.”8

So in Michigan it was the State that had control of the school lands — and its earliest documents reflect the establishment of a Superintendent of Public Instruction as a constitutional officer.9

And that’s how it came to be that the State Land Office had 160 acres of section 16 in Township 34 north Range 5 east to designate as Primary School Land and to sell it to George Arlt in 1871.

Federal public lands, yes, but dedicated to the State … for primary schools.


SOURCES

  1. Report of Sale of Real Estate, Presque Isle County, Michigan, Probate Packet No. 10, George Arlt, Deceased (9 June 1883); Probate Court Clerk, Rodgers City, Michigan; digital images, “Michigan, Probate Records, 1797-1973,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 6 May 2015).
  2. Report of Sale of Real Estate, Presque Isle County, Michigan, Probate Packet No. 10, George Arlt, Deceased (9 June 1883).
  3. Administrator’s License to Sell Real Estate, Presque Isle County, Michigan, Probate Packet No. 10, George Arlt, Deceased (9 April 1883); Probate Court Clerk, Rodgers City, Michigan; digital images, “Michigan, Probate Records, 1797-1973,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 6 May 2015).
  4. “An Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of Lands in the Western Territory,” 28 Journals of the Continental Congress 375, 378 (Washington D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1936); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 6 May 2015).
  5. Ibid.
  6. “An Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio,” 32 Journals of the Continental Congress 334, 340 (Washington D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1936); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 6 May 2015).
  7. For a good explanation of this system in Ohio, for example, see George W. Knepper, The Official Ohio Lands Book (Columbus, Ohio: Auditor of State, 2002), 56-58; PDF version (https://ohioauditor.gov/publications/OhioLandsBook.pdf : accessed 6 May 2015).
  8. “An Act supplementary to the act entitled ‘An act to establish the northern boundary line of the State of Ohio, and to provide for the admission of the State of Michigan into the Union on certain conditions,’” 5 Stat. 59 (23 June 1836).
  9. See Article X, Constitution of Michigan, 1835; Michigan Legislature (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/ : accessed 6 May 2015).
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