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Topographical Map of Wisconsin Territory

Samuel Morrison, Elisha Dwelle & Joshua Hathaway

Partitioning The Land
This map helped immigrants and settlers understand the survey system and locate the land they bought.

This map, compiled from public surveys of the Wisconsin territory that began in 1831, shows townships surveyed by 1837. These surveys represented the beginning of accurate and detailed land maps. The maps were published by the surveyors themselves; the U.S. government was not yet in the business of publishing maps for general distribution.

In 1785, the U.S. Congress passed the Land Survey Ordinance, which became the model for surveying all U.S. public land. The survey provided for a system of square townships six miles on a side, divided into 36 one-square-mile sections. The ordinance also mandated that section 16 of each township be set aside for the benefit of public schools. The U.S. formally agreed in 1794 to respect the previous land claims of individuals in areas acquired from Great Britain in 1783. Note the long lots in Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, which reflect the French system of land holdings along riverfronts.

With this system, a prospective land buyer could go to any U.S. Government Land Office—wherever it was located—and look in tract books that contained detailed descriptions of the land. The map shows the established roads, trails, natural land forms, vegetation, mill sites, and the lead and copper deposits of the time.