Judge John Cleves Symmes

John Cleve SymmesJudge John Cleves Symmes was born on 21 July 1742 in New York to Timothy and Mary Symmes (neé Cleves). He married his first wife Anna Tuthill in 1760 and moved to New Jersey in 1770. He was a school teacher for several years before the Revolutionary War, but during the war he became chairman for the Committee of Correspondence for Sussex County, New Jersey, and became colonel of a local New Jersey militia branch. Anna Tuthill died in 1776 and he married a woman named Mary Halsey. After the war Symmes was a delegate to congress, a New Jersey Supreme Court Justice, and a member of the State of New Jersey's Constitutional Convention.

It was while working in congress in the 1780s that Symmes became interested in the Northwest Territory and the Ohio expansion. Symmes petitioned congress to purchase 1 million acres of land in the Northwest Territory, but congress delayed answering. It wasn't until 1794 that President Washington signed a land patent for Judge Symmes. The patent was not for 1 million acres; congress had only approved the sale of nearly 330,000 acres.

Congress had stipulated rules for the land, rules that stated land must be set aside for churches, schools, government use, and a university. Congress also required that Symmes and his investors follow the surveying guidelines as set by the federal government. These rules were ignored and soon became problematic for the judge and his investors. Symmes began selling land he did not own while also sometimes selling the same piece of land to two or more people. By failing to ignore the government surveying rules the government took back the land, meaning that the settlers who had purchased land from Symmes would now have to purchase it once more, this time from the government.

In the end, Judge Symmes married a third time to Susanna Livingston, and moved from New Jersey to Cincinnati in 1788 where he became a judge for the Northwest Territory. He helped create the Maxwell Code in 1795, which was the Northwest Territory's first criminal and civil legal code. Judge John Cleves Symmes died on 26 February 1814 and is buried in Congress Green Cemetery near Cincinnati.


  • Betty Kamerf. "Column: The Life of John Cleves Symmes." The Cincinnati Enquirer. 20 July 2016.
  • Gustavus Myers. History of the Supreme Court of the United States, Vol. I.1912.
  • "Israel Ludlow." Ohio History Connection.
  • "John C Symmes." Ohio History Connection.
  • "Miami Purchase." Ohio History Connection.
  • W.H. Beers and Co. The History of Montgomery County, Ohio, Containing a History of the County. WH. Beers and Co, 1882.