Saturday, May 18, 2013

A nation of homesteaders

Monday marks the 151st anniversary of one of the signing of one most generous U.S. property laws.  On May 20, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the first Homestead Act into law.  The Homestead Act which went into effect the next January 1 gave everyone, including former slaves and women, who were over 21 or a head of household and had never taken up arms against the US (this was during the Civil War) a claim for 160 acres of  unappropriated federal land.   To be awarded their deed homesteaders had to live on their claim for 5 years and  show proof of having improved the land.

The quarter section grant fulfilled Thomas Jefferson's vision that a nation of small farmers would help protect American democracy, 160 acres was in his view the perfect sized family farm.  The aim was to populate the territory of the Louisiana Purchase.

Oklahoma Land Rush

Over time the Act was amended to meet and comply with federal policy changes, and was finally .  During its 124 year history 4 million families filed claims for 270 million acres, perhaps a quarter of the claims became successful working farms.   The last deed was granted in 1988 to Kenneth Deardorff for 80 acres on the Stony River in Southwestern Alaska



Martha said...

Have you been to Homestead National Park in Nebraska? It may not be the first but it's one of the earliest homesteads. It is an interesting place to visit!

Toad said...

I've yet to visit Nebraska, now I have a reason to go. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I cannot keep count of all the things you've taught me, but here is another one so off I go to the internet to bolster today's information nugget. For the zillionmillionth time, thank you!