As a result, in 1787, Congress passed “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio” which established the manner in which this area would be measured, divided and then distributed.
Hutchens devised a system where the government lands were to be divided into townships of six miles square. The townships were stacked in north-to-south columns called “ranges.” Each township was itself divided into thirty-six numbered sections of one square mile each, and those were in turn divided into half, quarter and quarter-quarter sections, the smallest units being 40 square acres.
This system was eventually extended throughout the Northwest Territory, and then later to most of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, Mexican cession, and Oregon Territory, explaining why so many roads, towns, farms, and other properties west of the Ohio and Mississippi River are so regular and straight-sided.
The first area that Hutchens surveyed was called the “Seven Ranges,” that is, the first seven stacks of townships, each six miles wide and lying between the Geographer’s Line and the Ohio River, running from the Point of Beginning forty-two miles to the west. Hutchens set off on September 30, 1785, but the survey team did not make it very far before they heard of Indian troubles no too far west, and so decided to high-tail it back to Pittsburgh. Hutchens and the surveyors were later able to secure military protection and so returned to finish the job, completing the Seven Ranges in 1787.
“Plat of the Seven Ranges of Townships being Part of the Territory of the United Sates N.W. of the River Ohio Which by a late act of Congress are directed to be sold. That part which is divided into sections or tracts of a mile square will be sold in small tracts at public auction in Pitsburg [sic] the residue will be sold in quarters of Townships at the seat of Government.”
W. Barker sculp.
Surveyed in conformity to an Ordinance of Congress of May 20th 1785. Under direction of Thos. Hutchins late Geographer to the United States