• Sixteenth Section Land History

    The practice of reserving land for schools is an English custom that the colonies continued when settling America. Schools being supported through land endowments was a practice rooted in European and even ancient Greek and Egyptian origins (Culp et al., 2005).  The Land Ordinance of 1785 reserved the Sixteenth Section of every township for the maintenance of public schools within said township.  The Mississippi Territory was divided by Congress in 1817 to form the State of Mississippi in the west and the Territory of Alabama in the east.  Congressional action granted statehood to Mississippi and called for the survey of land in the state and provided for the reservation of Section Sixteen in each township.   Therefore, the Mississippi's Sixteenth Section Land Trust was created in 1817.

    In instances where it was found that Section Sixteen Lands were already owned by an individual, either by grant from the State of Georgia, England, or some other country that had formerly owned or claimed territory, Congress provided that there would be set aside and selected a different and other section in place of that particular Sixteenth Section for the benefit of the schools.  This is where the “lieu lands” came into being.

    Members of the new Continental Congress were worried about several problems that might occur if they did not act, such as land speculation, loss of valuable natural resources, fracture of the new Union if settlements decided to secede or establish non-democratic governments, and fear of foreign influence spreading in the unsettled territories (Onuf, 1987).  This is why the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 required that any new state, in order to be admitted to the Union, must adopt a Republican (i.e., democratic) form of government and it also declared that "Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." (Culp, et al., 2005). Education was the most promising way to make sure that Americans, no matter where they were located were being raised as English-speaking citizens loyal to the ideals of democracy (Culp et al., 2005).  It also included a section addressing the role of education in the new territories that stated "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."  Together, the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set forth the rules and regulations that helped to establish the surveying and reservation of Sixteenth Section Lands for school use.

    The Enabling Acts of each public domain state (states that were surveyed using the Public Land Survey System or PLSS) establish a legal trust that sets out how lands were to be held and managed.  The fact that Congress was not more specific about the process for allocating and managing the lands led to many differences among states regarding their trust lands.  An example is that Minnesota was the first state to be granted two sections (16 and 36) per township for the use of schools as well as 72 sections for a university.  After Utah was admitted in 1894, states began receiving four sections per township, except for Oklahoma, which only received two).  Over time, a lot of these lands were sold. The early Enabling Acts stated the trustees should lease their grant lands but in the 1840's when states were designated as the trustees, they added provisions to their constitutions specifying what states could do with the lands.

    It was the State of Michigan that came up with the method of establishing a permanent fund into which proceeds from the sale of trust lands would be invested and the interest from that fund, combined with rental revenues from the lands, would be returned to the schools.  This is how Mississippi's Sixteenth Section fund allocations are also set forth in its Statutes.  Currently, the monies received from the leasing of Sixteenth Section Lands are applied as detailed in the attached chart.

    In September, 1830, the United States and the Choctaw Indians signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek that resolved the claims of the Choctaws.  Sixteenth Sections were reserved from the government land sales in the area previously occupied by the Choctaws.

    The claims of the Chickasaw Indians were settled with their removal under the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek in 1832.  These lands were ceded to the United States and were to be sold by the government to individuals with the proceeds from the sales to go to the Chickasaws.  Despite wording within the treaty that stated that the land would be sold in the same manner and terms as other public lands, the Chickasaw lands were sold with no reservation of Sixteenth Sections.  This is why fifteen counties that lie entirely north of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Boundary have no public school trust lands.  These counties are Tishomingo, Alcorn, Tippah, Benton, Marshall, Desoto, Tunica, Tate, Lafayette, Union, Prentiss, Itawamba, Lee, Pontotoc, and Chickasaw Counties.  Seven counties that are bisected by the Choctaw-Chickasaw Boundary have no public school trust lands in the portions of those counties lying north of the Indian boundary.  These seven counties are Quitman, Panola, Yalobusha, Calhoun, Webster, Clay and Monroe Counties.

    Miss. Code Ann. § 29-3-137 (1972, as amended) addresses the disbursement of funds from the State Department of Education each year to the Chickasaw counties.  Funds are paid to school districts affected by the sale of the Chickasaw school lands in proportion to the number of teacher units allotted under the program.

    As early as 1895, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Sixteenth Section Lands are held by the State in trust for public schools.  Administration of the Sixteenth Sections and Lieu Lands in the State of Mississippi has gone from the county courts to the president and directors of each county's "literary fund," to owner townships (a five man board of trustees elected by the voters of a township," to the ill-fated Planters Bank to county boards of school commissioners to county boards of supervisors. In 1974, the Legislature gave local school boards veto power in the leasing of Sixteenth Section Lands over the local board of supervisors.  However, it wasn’t until the Sixteenth Section and Lieu Land Act of 1978, commonly called the “Sixteenth Section Land Reform Act,” that control and jurisdiction of the Sixteenth Section Lands and lands granted in lieu thereof, was transferred from the county boards of supervisors to the local boards of education under the general supervision of the Mississippi Secretary of State. (Organizational Chart).

    As early as 1958, management of timber on Sixteenth Section Lands and Lieu Lands was to be managed by the Forestry Commission but it wasn't until the Sixteenth Section Land Reform Act that the Secretary of State was granted the authority to negotiate a timber contract with the Forestry Commission for all Sixteenth Section Lands and Lieu Lands so that every school district has Forestry Commission oversight regarding the timber.

    The 1978 Land Reform Act began the system of land classification that is used today within the State of Mississippi.  The classifications are forest land, agricultural land (pasture and row crop), industrial, commercial, residential, recreational, catfish farming, and other.  Timber lands can be leased for hunting and fishing purposes, and oil, gas and mineral leases can also be granted on Sixteenth Section Lands.  Lease fees for agricultural leases, hunting and fishing leases and oil, gas and mineral leases are based on bid processes as outlined in the Statute, while all other classifications have appraisals performed in order to establish the annual lease fees.  Miss. Code Ann. § 29-3-1 through 29-1-183 (1972, as amended) govern the classification and leasing of Sixteenth Section lands in the State of Mississippi.

    Attached is a table that reflects which states received lands for public school use and which ones did not.

    Culp, P.W., Conradi, D.B., & Tuell, C. C. (2005).  Trust land in the American west:  A legal overview and policy assessment.  Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy as referenced in Usher, Alexandra,  Center on Education Policy, Public Schools and the Original Federal Land Grant Program, "A Background Paper from the Center on Education Policy." https://www.google.com/search?q=public+schools+and+the+original+federal+land+grant+program&rls=com.microsoft:en-US&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&startIndex=&startPage=1&gws_rd=ssl#spf=1576098963053 (April, 2011)

    Onuf, P.S. (1987). Statehood and union:  A history of the northwest ordinance.  Indianapolis, IN:  Indiana University Press, as referenced in Usher, Alexandra,  Center on Education Policy, Public Schools and the Original Federal Land Grant Program, "A Background Paper from the Center on Education Policy." https://www.google.com/search?q=public+schools+and+the+original+federal+land+grant+program&rls=com.microsoft:en-US&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&startIndex=&startPage=1&gws_rd=ssl#spf=1576098963053 (April, 2011)

    States with School Lands and Surveying

    The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is the surveying method developed and used in the United States to plat, or divide, real property.  Also known as the Rectangular Survey System, it was created by the Land Ordinance of 1785 and was used to survey land ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  After the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, the lands of this area were then platted using this system.  It establishes a baseline which runs east and west and a principal meridian, which runs north and south.  The locations of the two are determined by a chosen initial point and standard parallels of latitude are established parallel to the baseline.  So the meridian, baseline and standard parallels establish a type of lattice from which the surveying spreads outward.  Mississippi adopted the Choctaw Meridian in 1821, the Chickasaw Meridian in 1833, the Huntsville Meridian in 1807, the Saint Stephens Meridian in 1805 and the Washington Meridian in 1803.

    The original colonies (including Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia) continued with the British system of metes and bounds.  Descriptions of properties in these states describe property lines based on monumentation or topography of the land.  You may encounter descriptions such as "from the point of the north bank of Tshula Creek one mile above its junction with Indian Creek, then north 40 yards to a large standing rock, west to a large oak tree, south to Muddy Creek and then down the center of the creek to the starting point."  As you can see, this wasn't the ideal way to describe the property as topography changes with time. The states that were not surveyed under the rectangular system were Georgia, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Texas and Hawaii.  The remaining states which are not "metes and bounds" states are called "public domain" states which were authorized by Congress to be surveyed under the Public Land Survey System.  There are a few of these states, however, that are only partially surveyed according to the PLSS due to previous land grants, etc. and are California (Spanish and Mexican land grants), Louisiana (French and Spanish descriptions called "arpents"), Alabama ( has Spanish-era land claims, especially near the coastal area), New Mexico (some areas of metes and bounds leftover from the Spanish and Mexican rule), Ohio (some areas used another standard that only has 25 sections per township instead of 36), Texas (Spanish land grants); Wisconsin (French settlements prior to the PLSS); Michigan (French settlements); and parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming that were settled as Donation Land Claims.  Mississippi has all its lands surveyed according to PLLS.

    While it is accepted that each township, consisting of 36 sections, is 640 acres, most are not exactly 640.  Not all sections can be one square mile nor can all townships be exactly 36 square miles.  Therefore, adjustments were done when the lands were originally surveyed and the result is that the northernmost and westernmost tiers of sections are allowed to deviate from one square mile.  A drawing showing a typical section and its acreage look like this. 

    This is why when Madison County Schools advertises Sixteenth Section Lands for lease, they are referred to as Section 16, Township ____, Range ____, Madison County, Mississippi, or a parcel lying within Section 16, Township ____, Range ____, Madison County, Mississippi.  You need to know where the lines of latitude and longitude are located to find the property.  There are maps available at the Mississippi Department of Transportation for every county in Mississippi that not only reflects roads and highway, but also shows lines of latitude and longitude and the 36 sections within each township.  You can purchase the county public roads maps at the Mississippi Department of Transportation Office in Jackson, Mississippi or order online at this site: 


    The original Government Land Office (GLO) maps that reflect the actual size of each section surveyed can be found at various agencies.  Attached is a link that shows the various agencies  that have these maps available:   


    A table of land measurements, township layout, etc., is shown here