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Yazoo land scandal

The Yazoo land scandal, Yazoo fraud, Yazoo land fraud, or Yazoo land controversy was a massive Yazoo lands, what is now portions of Alabama and Mississippi, to political insiders at very low prices in 1794. Although the law enabling the sales was overturned by reformers the following year, its ability to do so was challenged in the courts, eventually reaching the US Supreme Court. In the landmark decision in Fletcher v. Peck (1810), the Court ruled that the contracts were binding and the state could not retroactively invalidate the earlier land sales. It was one of the first times the Supreme Court had overturned a state law, and it justified many claims for those lands.

Some of the lands sold by the state in 1794 had been shortly thereafter resold to innocent third parties, greatly complicating the ceded all of its claims to lands west of its modern border, to the U.S. government, in exchange for which the government paid cash and assumed the legal liabilities. Claims involving the land purchases were not fully resolved until legislation passed in 1814 established a claims-resolution fund.

The Yazoo land fraud is often conflated with the land grants for the same parcels, resulting in the issuance of grants totaling much more land than was available in the state of Georgia.


  • Background 1
    • Previous development attempts 1.1
  • Yazoo land sales 2
  • Repeal of sale 3
  • Pine Barrens speculation 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The origins of the Yazoo land scandal lay in the desire of the U.S. state of Mississippi River, and included most of the present states of Alabama and Mississippi (from 31° N to 35° N, excepting only the coastal areas of those states). Some of this territory was claimed and occupied by Native Americans, and southern portions of the territory were also claimed by Spain as part of Spanish Florida. Lands along the Mississippi near present-day Natchez, Mississippi had been settled during the British administration of West Florida, and had a strong Loyalist presence. Some Georgia authorities and speculators thought these developed lands could be seized.

Previous development attempts

The first attempt to organize settlement in this area was a 1784 proposal to establish Houstoun County in the Muscle Shoals area. This attempt never got off the ground because its major proponents became involved instead in an effort to establish the State of Franklin in present-day eastern Tennessee.

In 1785 Governor Choctaw and Chickasaw Native American tribes had not been extinguished.

Map of the American Deep south, showing the three areas which constituted the 1789 Yazoo land scandal.

In about 1789, a secret society called the Combined Society was formed; the members' sole purpose was to make money by land speculation. This group secured influence in the Georgia legislature to further its aims. In 1789 three companies, The South Carolina Yazoo Company, The Virginia Yazoo Company (which was headed by Edward Telfair signed a deal to sell 20,000,000 acres (81,000 km2) of land to the Yazoo companies for $207,000, or about 1 cent per acre. These lands were located north of the mouth of the Yazoo River and extended eastward from the Mississippi. The deal fell through in 1792 when the companies sought to pay with depreciated old currency, which the state refused to accept. The existence of the Combined Society was also exposed in 1792; some of its principals continued to be active in attempts to develop Georgia lands.

Yazoo land sales

In 1794, four new companies were formed: the Georgia Company, the Georgia-Mississippi Company, the Upper Mississippi Company, and the new Tennessee Company. Their principals included individuals active in the 1789 purchases, as well as leading Georgia politicians and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice James Wilson. These companies persuaded the Georgia state assembly to sell more than 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2) of land for $500,000. Many Georgia officials and legislators were offered shares in these companies or bribes to secure their agreement to the sale. On January 7, 1795, Governor Mathews signed into law a bill authorizing the sale of the 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2), known as the Yazoo Act.

The territory that was the subject of these purchases included most of the land that that had been the subject of the 1789 purchase attempt, and a significant portion of it was resold to buyers in other parts of the country who were not aware of the shaky nature of the transactions.

Repeal of sale

When the details of the sale were revealed, public outrage was widespread, and people protested to federal officials and Congressmen. George Washington. Jackson resigned as Senator to run for office as next Governor of Georgia. He was elected and took office two years later.

But the matter was not over. The state refunded money to persons who had purchased land, but some refused the money, preferring to keep the land. The state did not recognize their claims, and the matter was to wind through courts for the next decade. In 1802 the state Treaty of San Lorenzo; Native American claims to the area were extinguished by a series of treaties ending in the 1820s.

Legal challenges to Georgia's attempt to repeal the sale reached the Supreme Court in 1810. The landmark Fletcher v. Peck decision marked one of the first times the Court overturned a state law, deciding that the land sales were binding contracts and could not be retroactively invalidated by the passage of superseding legislation.

Pine Barrens speculation

During the same period, in what was called the Pine Barrens speculation, the governors and legislature of Georgia made overlapping land grants in the eastern part of the state, effectively granting three times more land than existed in the state. Although land grants were supposed to be limited to 1,000 acres (4 km2) per individual, the state awarded multiple grants of 1,000 acres (4 km2) to certain people.

See also


  1. ^
  • (1810)Fletcher v. Peck, University of Tulsa Law School

Further reading

  • Cadle, Farris W. Georgia Land Surveying History and Law (1991). Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press.
  • Magrath, C. Peter. Yazoo: Law and Politics in the New Republic. The Case of 'Fletcher v. Peck'. (1966). Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press.

External links

  • Report of the committee to the Georgia House of Representatives, recommending consideration of proposals from private companies for the sale of western lands, December 9, 1794. One of many Yazoo Land Fraud documents in the Georgia Archives.
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