Early on, the surveyors developed a low opinion of the land in Michigan. In a letter dated November 30, 1815, from Surveyor General Edward Tiffin to Joseph Meigs, Commissioner of the General Land Office, he wrote:

"Sir: The surveyors who went to survey the military land in Michigan Territory have been obliged to suspend their operations until the country shall be sufficiently frozen so as to bear man and beast. …

"I annex a description of the country which has been sent to me [by Benjamin Hough] and which I am informed all the surveyors concur in, … I think it my duty to give you this information, believing that it is the wish of the government that the soldiers should have (as the act of Congress expresses) lands fit for cultivation, and that the whole of the two millions of acres appropriated in the territory of Michigan will not contain anything like one hundredth part of that quantity, or is worth the expense of surveying it, perhaps you think with me, that it will be proper to make this representation to the President of the United States and he may avert all further proceedings …

"The country on the Indian boundary line from the mouth of the Great Auglaize River [that is, the line established by the Treaty of Detroit, in 1807, and identical, or nearly so, with the principal meridian of the government surveys], and running thence for about fifty miles, is, with some few exceptions, low, wet land, with a very thick growth of underbrush, intermixed with very bad marshes, but generally very heavily timbered with beech, cottonwood, oak, etc.; thence, continuing north, and extending from the Indian boundary eastward, the number and extent of the swamps increases, with the addition of numbers of lakes from twenty chains to two and three miles across. Many of these lakes have extensive marshes adjoining their margins, sometimes thickly covered with a species of pine called tamarack, and other places covered with a coarse, high grass, and uniformly covered from six inches to three feet (and more at times) with water. The margins of these lakes are not the only places where swamps are found, for they are interspersed throughout the whole country and filled with water, as above stated, and varying in extent.

"The intermediate space between these swamps and lakes--which is probably near one-half of the country--is, with very few exceptions, a poor, barren, sandy land, on which scarcely any vegetation grows, except very small, scrubby oaks. In many places, that part which may be called dry land is composed of little, short sand-hills forming a kind of deep basins, the bottoms of many of which are composed of marsh similar to the above described. The streams are generally narrow, and very deep compared with their width, the shores and bottoms of which are, with very few exceptions, swampy beyond description; and it is with the utmost difficulty that a place can be found over which horses can be conveyed in safety.

"A circumstance peculiar to that country is exhibited in many of the marshes, by their being thinly covered with a sward of grass, by walking on which evinces the existence of water, or a very thin mud, immediately under their covering, which sinks from six to eighteen inches under the pressure of the foot at every step, and at the same time rises before and behind the person passing over it. The margins of many of the lakes and streams are in similar situation, and in many places are literally afloat. On approaching the eastern part of the military land, towards the private claims on the straits and lake, the country does not contain so many swamps and lakes, but the extreme sterility and barrenness of the soil continue the same. Taking the country altogether, so far as it has been explored, and to all appearances, together with information received concerning the balance, it is so bad that there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation."

The result was that Congress passed a law (April 29, 1816) repealing that part of the act of 1812 that authorized the locating of Military Bounty lands in Michigan, and, in lieu thereof, provided for the survey of 1.5 million acres in Missouri. As this 1816 act stated, these actions were taken, "… so that the brave men who had periled their lives for their country should not be wronged and insulted by the donation of lands of which, according to the surveyors' reports, not one acre in a hundred was fit for cultivation."

I am grateful to Dr. David Lusch, MSU professor, for his help with this web page.

This material has been compiled for educational use only, and may not be reproduced without permission.  One copy may be printed for personal use.  Please contact Randall Schaetzl ( for more information or permissions.