Ohio History Journal




It is and has been utterly impossible to fix, with absolute

certainty the date, or place of the birth of Colonel John O'Bannon.

It was not later than the year 1756, and may have been several

years previous. The place, as

near as can be determined,

was called Neville, Virginia.

John  Presley and  Morgan

Neville, prominent officers in

the Revolutionary War, were

her kinsmen, and likely broth-

ers. We are not certain as to

her father's name. From the

best information obtainable,

we are led to the conclusion

that the O'Bannon family was

of prominence in Virginia,

and that John O'Bannon had

a fair education. Among his

other acquirements, he learned

the art of surveying.  We

find that on April 14th, 1784,

Thomas Jefferson wrote him

a letter on the subject of a military commission as Major. It was

addressed to Captain John O'Bannon. It speaks of his men being

in the field and of the expected resignation of Major Buckner.

From the fact that Captain John O'Bannon is not found in Heit-

man's Register, we infer that his service must have been in the

state line. Mr. J. H. O'Bannon, public printer at Richmond, Va.,

is sure that the Captain addressed by Thomas Jefferson, April 14,

1781, is the same one we describe. We are unable to account for

John O'Bannon between April 14, 1781, and April 1786. In that


320 Ohio Arch

320       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


period he probably married. His wife was a daughter of Minor

Wynne, of Loudon County, Virginia. In April, 1786, he was in

Kentucky, and in an expedition against Indians, composed of ten

persons. His party overtook the Indians and fired upon them.

The Indians returned the fire and wounded Col. W. Christain.

Alex Scott Bullitt and John O'Bannon fired on the Indians, and

two of them fell. One Kelley, a member of the party, approached

one of the fallen Indians, believing him to be dead. The Indian

raised on his knees, fired on Kelley and killed him. The Indian

then fell back and expired. Some time in the summer of 1787,

John O'Bannon was appointed a Deputy Surveyor of the Virginia

Military District of Ohio, by Col. Richard C. Anderson, then at

Louisville, Kentucky. The Virginia Military District of Ohio,

had been ceded by Virginia to the United States, March 1, 1784,

but Congress did not open the District to location until August

10, 1790. Notwithstanding this fact, John O'Bannon began

making surveys in the District. The first he made, or rather

which the record shows that he made was No. 386, for Mace

Clements, which lies just east of Ripley, on the Ohio River, and

was for 1,000 acres out of a 7,000 acre warrant. The record

shows that on the same day he made a survey for his relative,

John Neville, in Washington Township, Clermont County, Ohio,

for 1,400 acres on Warrant 937 for 7,7772/3 acres. The record

shows that one John Williams was a chain carrier on both sur-

veys, and that he chained around 2,400 acres in one day, and that

James Blair was a marker on both surveys. When we reflect that

the locations were an absolute wilderness at that time, and that

the parties might expect the crack of an Indian rifle at any mo-

ment, we see the absolute impossibility of these two surveys hav-

ing been made in one day. The records show that John O'Ban-

non, Deputy Surveyor, continued to make these surveys right

along until May 29, 1788, when he stopped work.

In that time he had surveyed along the Ohio River, between

the mouth of the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, 163,548 acres,

and that it was distributed among the counties afterward formed,

as follows:

The Surveys from 1 to 386 had been made in Indiana, op-

posite Louisville, Kentucky, and near that vicinity. The record

Colonel John O'Bannon

Colonel John O'Bannon.               321


shows that on November 17, 1787, John O'Bannon surveyed

5,000 acres of land; Survey 459, at the mouth of Ohio Brush

Creek, on the right bank, for 1,000 acres; Survey 436 for 1,000

acres just above Vanceburg, Kentucky; Survey 496 for 1,000

acres for Byrd Hendricks in Sprigg Township, Adams County,

Ohio, and 1,000 acres for John McDowell, in Liberty Township,

Adams County, Ohio; Survey 418 for 1,000 acres on Warrant

386, for James Page, embraces the site of Ripley, Ohio.

Here were 5,000 acres purporting to be surveyed in one

day and Sylvester Moroney was certified as a chain carrier on

four of these surveys. When it is stated the Survey 496 is just

above Maysville, Ky., and 386 opposite Vanceburg, Ky., and

Survey 418 is at Ripley, Ohio, and when we reflect that the en-

tire country north of the Ohio River was then an unbroken wil-

derness, without a single settlement of white men, we realize the

utter impracticability of 5,000 acres of land between Vanceburg,

Kentucky, and Ripley, Ohio, being surveyed in one day. 640

acres of land in one section is only one mile square, but 1,000

acres on a warrant was a favorite number to be entered by O'Ban-

non in the warrants he held. On November 19, 1787, he certi-

fies to have surveyed 3,600 acres, all in Adams County, Ohio, in

three surveys, lying close together and the same chain carriers

and markers are used to each of the three surveys, which were

some seven miles back from the river. On Christmas Day, 1787,

he surveyed 4,239 acres of land in seven different surveys, in

Clermont County, Ohio.

Evan Shelby, father of Isaac Shelby, afterwards Governor of

Kentucky, was put down as a marker in four of the different

surveys. George Marshall was put down as chain carrier in four

of these different surveys.

To think that anyone would survey on Christmas Day is

bad enough, but to survey 4,239 acres of land, over six square

miles in a wilderness in one day, is more than human nature

could stand. But there is worse and more to come. 839 acres

of these 4,239 acres were for the immortal George Washington.

The latter had a warrant for 3,000 acres of land, which could not

be located in the Virginia Military District of Ohio, and yet

O'Bannon had it there and not only located the 839 acres of it on

Vol. XIV.- 21.

322 Ohio Arch

322       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


Christmas Day, but located the remainder of it, 1,235 acres in

Miami Township, and 977 acres in Union Township, Clermont

County. The one in Union Township lies partly in Hamilton


General Washington's Warrant was founded on a certificate

issued to John Rootes, on December 7, 1763, by Lord Dunmore,

under proclamations in the name of King George.

Washington, who was always around buying claims, bought

this certificate, the basis of a land warrant. On December 14,

1784, the House of Delegates of Virginia, passed a resolution

that certificates of this class owned by persons who purchased

them prior to May 1, 1779, and who served in the Revolution

from May 1, 1779 to the close of the war, could have them

changed into warrants, which could be located on the lands re-

served by Virginia north of the Ohio River. The Senate con-

curred in this resolution January 7, 1785, and on February 14,

1785, Washington had his warrant issued to him for 3,000 acres.

This he gave to Col. O'Bannon, who located it in full and 51

more acres of another in the three surveys, 1775, 1765, and 1650,

in Clermont and Hamilton Counties. This warrant numbered

3,753, could not legally be located in the Virginia Military Dis-

trict in the Northwest Territory.

The resolution of the Virginia Legislature was passed after

the delivery of the deed of cession by Virginia to the United

States, which was on March 1, 1784, and the claim under this

warrant was not in the class of claims for which the land was

reserved. The United States never extended the class of bene-

ficiaries and hence this warrant could not be legally located in the

Virginia Military District, which afterwards became a part of

Ohio. Col. O'Bannon had located the Mayo Carrington Survey

of 1,000 acres opposite Vanceburg, Kentucky, on a state line war-

rant issued to one Edward Williams, and which could not be lo-

cated in Virginia Military District of Ohio. General Washing-

ton wrote in the year of his death as to the ownership of these

3,000 acres. He said he had owned them for 12 years, and that

they were near Judge Symmes' grants, on the opposite side of the

Miami River, in the neighborhood of Cincinnati and Fort Wash-

Colonel John O'Bannon

Colonel John O'Bannon.             323

ington; that he had never seen them, but that the Surveyor had

reported them valuable.

By using the calendar, we find that some of these large sur-

veys were made on Sunday. From January 7 to February 2,

1788, Col. O'Bannon did no surveying. From February 7 to

April 1, 1788, he did no surveying, but on April 1, 1788, he began

and continued busy till May 29, 1788, when he ceased operations.

He made no more surveys in the Virginia Military District, in the

Northwest Territory, till 1792,

when he made one or more.

Col. John O'Bannon had no

right or authority whatever

to make these 199 surveys.

He was a trespasser in so do-

ing. He never, in point of

fact, made them himself, and

it was physically impossible

he should have done so. He,

no doubt, had not less than

six parties of surveyors, and

they did the work. He certi-

fied all the 199 surveys as

Deputy Surveyor, and put

down the names of the chain

carriers and markers as oc-

curred to him.

O'Bannon claimed to have

made these surveys under a law of Virginia, passed in October,

1783, which required the surveyor to actually run the lines and

mark the corners. This law required chain carriers to be sworn.

The Continental Congress, at its last session, became alarmed

at this wholesale surveying of Col. O'Bannon, and, on July 17,

1788, passed a resolution declaring these surveys void, and this

resolution remained in force until August 10, 1790, when the act,

opening the district for location was passed, and the resolution

repealed. The act of August 10, 1790 incidentally referred to

these 199 locations as to be approved, but never directly confirmed

them. However, most of them were afterwards patented. But

324 Ohio Arch

324       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

the business of locating in the Virginia Military District of Ohio,

was stopped and not resumed again until about December 1,


Some lawyers claim that the patents issued on the 199 sur-

veys of O'Bannon are void because the surveys were made with-

out authority of law and were expressly declared void by the

resolution of Congress of July 17, 1788. These lawyers claim the

Act of August 10, 1790, opening up the district, did not confirm

these surveys, and that the latter being void, the patents are void,

but if such were the case, the parties could confirm their titles

by deeds from the Board of Trustees of the Ohio State Univer-

sity, and in that case, the new title would relate to March 14, 1868.

The Cincinnati Waterworks, east of the Little Miami, is on one

of these O'Bannon surveys. In the celebrated McArthur will

cases, which involved two or more of these O'Bannon surveys,

the distinguished counsel on both sides assumed that the patents

to these surveys were valid, and did not raise any question as to

their validity.

As to the three Washington Surveys, they were never sent to

the United States Land Office and never patented. It seems they

were sent to the Virginia Land Office, in Richmond, and grants

issued on them there. On May 20, 1806, some one in the name

of Col. John Neville, who had died July 30, 1803, made a survey

4,847, which completely covered the Washington survey 1650,

in Pierce Township, Clermont County, Ohio. On May 20, 1806,

some one in the name of the same John Neville, covered Wash-

ington's Survey 1765, in Miami Township, Clermont County, for

1,235 acres. On the same day, a survey in the name of Major

Henry Massie, the founder of Portsmouth, Ohio, was made,

overlying the whole of General Washington's Survey 1775 for

977 acres in Union Township, Clermont County, and Anderson

Township in Hamilton County. The Deputy Surveyor who

made these three overlying surveys was Joseph Kerr. Congress,

however, got alarmed at this kind of business and on March 3,

1807, enacted the famous proviso, which forbade the making of

any surveys over previous locations. This famous proviso of

March 3, 1807, was construed in Jackson vs. Clark, 1st Peters,

666, by the great Chief Justice Marshall.

Colonel John O'Bannon

Colonel John O'Bannon.              325

No doubt Joseph Kerr, Deputy Surveyor, knew that Wash-

ington's Warrant was not locatable in the Virginia Military Dis-

trict of Ohio, and he took care to locate them on Virginia Mili-

tary Continental Warrants, though two of the surveys were made

in the name of a person who had been dead over two years.

The value of a survey made in the name of a dead man, I

leave to the lawyers. I have no information as to whether the

overlying surveys 4847, 4848 and 4862 have ever been patented.

After the resolution of July 17, 1788, Colonel John O'Bannon

returned to Woodford County, Kentucky, where he became an

extensive land owner. The Virginia Military District had rest

from any locations after his 199 surveys till 1792. In 1795, John

O'Bannon was trustee of the town of Versailles, Kentucky. In

1808, he was sheriff of Woodford County, Kentucky, and George

T. Cotton, his son-in-law, was his deputy. He had two daugh-

ters, Elizabeth, who married George T. Cotton, and Eliza, who

married a man named Bucham. In the preparation of this ar-

ticle, I was unable to find any descendants of the latter. George

T. Cotton, a son of Mrs. Elizabeth Cotton, was a Lieutenant Col-

onel of the 6th Kentucky Regiment of Infantry (Union), in the

Civil War, and was killed at the battle of Shilo. The titles of John

O'Bannon, Major and Colonel, were acquired after his location

in Kentucky. He made his will on January 7, 1810. He recites

that he is much afflicted with rheumatism, but is of sound mind.

He was an extensive slave holder and land holder. He devised

his wife seven slaves with his home plantation, and his lot in

Versailles. He gave his daughter, Elizabeth Cotton, a plantation

and five slaves by name. He gave his daughter Eliza, 500 acres

of land in Hopkins County, and several slaves. He devised lands

and slaves to his grandsons by the name of Cotton. He gave his

brother, Presley O'Bannon, 1,000 acres of land in Clermont

County, Ohio, a slave and a horse. He gave a slave each to his

niece, Margaret O'Bannon and his nephew, George O'Bannon.

He gave to his brother William, two slaves and a plantation.

He was an extensive owner of horses, cattle and live stock, and

disposed of them by will. He directed certain of his slaves to

be hired out and the hire to be applied in certain directions. His

residuary estate, after the death of his wife, was to be sold and

326 Ohio Arch

326       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

divided into eight parts, two parts to his daughters and the other

parts to go to collateral relatives named by him. He appointed

a committee of three friends, named in his will, to decide all ques-

tions arising under that instrument, without going to law. He

made Robert Alexander and his son-in-law, George T. Cotton, his

executors. He departed this life February 17, 1813, and his will

was probated at Woodford County Court, in April, 1813.

Of his political or religious views, we know nothing. He

evidently enjoyed the acquaintance and respect of Jefferson and

Washington. He also had the complete confidence of General

Richard Clough Anderson, who appointed him a Deputy Sur-

veyor of the Virginia Military District, in the North West Ter-

ritory. He was the only Deputy Surveyor who made any sur-

veys in the District before it was legally opened by Congress.

From the number of surveys made by him in Hamilton and Cler-

mont Counties, it is apparent that he operated with Fort Wash-

ington as a base, and none of his surveys were made over five

miles back from the Ohio River, except in Clermont or Hamilton

Counties. All were made in peril of Indian attacks and no doubt

three or more parties of surveyors traveled together. The lowest

number of surveys made by O'Bannon was 386, made at Ripley,

Ohio, and the highest number 1775, made for General George

Washington. Of the 1190 numbers not taken by O'Bannon, I

am unable to state where they were located-a few of those num-

bers were taken in the district after 1792.

It seems a pity the way General Washington's interests were

sacrificed after O'Bannon's surveys. His own agents did not

know enough to return his surveys with the Warrant to the Gen-

eral Land Office at Washington D. C. The subsequent locators

appropriated his lands, and to add insult to injury, Congress, on

March 3, 1899, outlawed his warrant, and thus the Washington

estate lost that which at one time would have realized $14,250.

The lands which were located under the warrant were doubtless

worth at this time, with improvements, not less than $300,000.

Washington's estate at the time of his death was worth $500,000,

and had it been kept intact, its value now would have been fabu-


Colonel John O'Bannon

Colonel John O'Bannon.              327

In ascertaining the facts set forth herein as to John O'Ban-

non, I have pursued every lead to its source and have been

baffled seemingly, at every point. The facts that I wished to

know have receded into oblivion and cannot be brought to light.

There was not a publication, in February, 1813, which had an

obituary notice of John O'Bannon. There is no mention of him

of any significance in any contemporary history. A man now in

full life, has every opportunity to have his record preserved to

posterity. If he is of the slightest importance, the Daily News-

papers record his doing from day to day, but of John O'Bannon

scarcely anything was preserved, except what the official records