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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Certificate of homestead given under the Homestead Act in Nebraska, 1868.

The Homestead Act was one of several United States federal laws that gave an applicant freehold title up to 160 acres (1/4 section) of undeveloped land outside of the original 13 colonies. The new law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government, including freed slaves, could file an application and improvements to a local land office.

The original act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

In 1909, a major update called the Enlarged Homestead Act was passed, targeting land suitable for dryland farming (much of the prime low-lying alluvial land along rivers had been homesteaded by then); it increased the number of acres to 320.[7] In 1916, the Stock-Raising Homestead Act targeted settlers seeking 640 acres (260 ha) of public land for ranching purposes.[7]

Eventually 1.6 million homesteads were granted and 270,000,000 acres (420,000 sq mi) were privatized between 1862 and 1986, a total of 10% of all lands in the United States.[8]



The Homestead Act was intended to liberalize the homesteading requirements of the Preemption Act of 1841. The "yeoman farmer" ideal was powerful in American political history, and plans for expanding their numbers through a homestead act were rooted in the 1850s. The South resisted, fearing the increase in free farmers would threaten plantation slavery.[9][10] Two men stood out as greatly responsible for the passage of the Homestead Act: George Henry Evans and Horace Greeley.[11][12] The agitation for free land became evident in 1844, when several bills were introduced unsuccessfully in Congress.[13] After the South seceded and their delegations left Congress in 1861, the path was clear of obstacles, and the act was passed.[3][4][14]

The Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 gave 320 acres (1.3 km2) to farmers who accepted more marginal lands which could not be irrigated. A massive influx of new farmers eventually led to massive land erosion and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.[15][16]


The end of homesteading

Dugout home from a homestead near Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ended homesteading;[4][17] the government believed that the best use of public lands was for them to remain in government control. The only exception to this new policy was in Alaska, for which the law allowed homesteading until 1986.[4]

The last claim under this Act was made by Ken Deardorff for 80 acres (32 hectares) of land on the Stony River in southwestern Alaska. He fulfilled all requirements of the Homestead Act in 1979, but he did not actually receive his deed until May 1988. Therefore, he is the last person to receive the title to land claimed under the provisions of the Homestead Act.[18]


Dispossession of Indians

While distributing much land to farmers at minimal cost, homesteading took place on lands that had recently been cleared of Native Americans. Economically, the program was a large scale redistribution of land from autonomous tribes to taxpaying farmers, a process carried out directly when Indian reservations were broken up into holdings by individual families (especially in Oklahoma).

Fraud and corporate use

The Homestead Act was much abused.[4] The intent of the Homestead Act was to grant land for agriculture. However, in the arid areas east of the Rocky Mountains, 640 acres (2.6 km2) was generally too little land for a viable farm (at least prior to major public investments in irrigation projects). In these areas, homesteads were instead used to control resources, especially water. A common scheme was for an individual acting as a front for a large cattle operation to file for a homestead surrounding a water source under the pretense that the land was being used as a farm. Once granted, use of that water source would be denied to other cattle ranchers, effectively closing off the adjacent public land to competition.[citation needed] This method could also be used to gain ownership of timber and oil-producing land, as the federal government charged royalties for extraction of these resources from public lands. On the other hand, homesteading schemes were generally pointless for land containing "locatable minerals", such as gold and silver, which could be controlled through mining claims and for which the federal government did not charge royalties.

There was no systematic method used to evaluate claims under the Homestead Act. Land offices would rely on affidavits from witnesses that the claimant had lived on the land for the required period of time and made the required improvements. In practice, some of these witnesses were bribed or otherwise collaborated with the claimant.[citation needed] In any case the land was turned into farms.

Although not necessarily fraud, it was common practice for all the children of a large family who were eligible to claim nearby land as soon as possible. After a few generations, a family could build up quite sizable estates.[citation needed] [19] It should be noted that working a farm of 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) would not have been feasible for a homesteader using 19th-century animal-powered tilling and harvesting. The acreage limits were reasonable when the act was written.

Related acts in other countries

The act was later imitated with some modifications by Canada in the form of the Dominion Lands Act. Similar acts—usually termed the Selection Acts—were passed in the various Australian colonies in the 1860s, beginning in 1861 in New South Wales.

Popular culture

Family history research using homestead papers

Homestead application papers are good sources of genealogical and family history information. Application papers often mention family members or neighbors, and previous residence as shown in dozens of papers which may include land application forms, citizenship applications, family Bible pages, marriage or death certificates, newspaper clippings, and affidavits. A researcher can obtain applications and related papers from the National Archives if he can provide a legal description of the land for which the homesteader applied (whether the homestead was eventually granted or not).[20]

Only about 40 percent of the applicants who started the process were able to complete it and obtain title to their homestead land.[21]

The first step to finding homestead applications and related papers is to obtain the legal description of the land for which the homesteader applied.

  • Obtaining the Legal Land Description of Completed Homesteads. The BLM-GLO Land Patent Search index only lists people who were actually granted a federal land patent (homestead or other government-to-individual land transfer).[22] If you find an ancestor in this index, it will provide the legal description of his or her land.
  • Obtaining the Legal Land Description of Incomplete Applications. The 60 percent of homesteaders who never obtained a patent because they did not finish are not in the Land Patent Search, but they are in the application papers. It is possible to get copies of unfinished applications from the National Archives. However, to see such application papers one must figure out another way to obtain the legal description of the land they started to homestead.
If you know the approximate location (at least the county), the legal land description of a homestead may be found in the General Land Office tract books available at the National Archives in Washington, DC, or from Family History Library in Salt Lake City (on 1,265 microfilms starting with FHL Film 1445277 (Alaska and Missouri are missing)). These federal tract books are arranged by state, land office, and legal land description. States often have their own version of these tract books. For instructions see E. Wade Hone, Land & Property Research in the United States (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997), appendices "Tract Book and Township Plat Map Guide to Federal Land States" and "Land Office Boundary Maps for All Federal Land States." Also, you may be able to obtain a legal description of the land from the county recorder of deeds in the county where the land was located.[20]

Obtaining Homestead Papers from the National Archives. For detailed instructions explaining how to obtain homestead papers for (a) homesteads granted, and (b) unfinished homestead applications see “Ordering a Land-Entry Case File from the National Archives” at the end ofHomestead National Monument of America – Genealogy.”

Texas Homesteads. The state of Texas has a Land Grant Index similar to a homestead index.[23]

See also

Further reading

  • Dick, Everett, 1970. The Lure of the Land: A Social History of the Public Lands from the Articles of Confederation to the New Deal.
  • Gates, Paul W., 1996. The Jeffersonian Dream: Studies in the History of American Land Policy and Development.
  • Hyman, Harold M., 1986. American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill.
  • Lause, Mark A., 2005. Young America: Land, Labor, and the Republican Community.
  • Phillips, Sarah T., 2000, "Antebellum Agricultural Reform, Republican Ideology, and Sectional Tension." Agricultural History 74(4): 799-822. ISSN 0002-1482
  • Richardson, Heather Cox, 1997. The Greatest Nation of the Earth: Republican Economic Policies during the Civil War.
  • Robbins, Roy M., 1942. Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain, 1776-1936.
  • Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. New York: Vintage, 1959.

References and notes

Specific references:

  1. ^ "Our Documents - Homestead Act (1862)". 
  2. ^ "Homestead Act: Primary Documents in American History". Library of Congress. 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  3. ^ a b McPherson. - pp.450-451.
  4. ^ a b c d e "The Florida Homestead Act of 1862". Florida Homestead Services. 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-22.  (paragraphs.3,6&13) (Includes data on the U.S. Homestead Act)
  5. ^ "V. Webster Johnson" (1979). "Land Problems and Policies". Arno Press. p. 46. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  6. ^ "Homestead National Monument: Frequently Asked Questions". National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  7. ^ a b Split EstatePrivate Surface / Public Minerals: What Does it Mean to You?, a 2006 Bureau of Land Management presentation
  8. ^ The Homestead Act of 1862. -
  9. ^ Phillips. - p.2000.
  10. ^ McPherson. - p.193.
  11. ^ McElroy. - p.1.
  12. ^ "Horace Greeley". - Tulane University. - August 13, 1999. - Retrieved: 2007-11-22.
  13. ^ McPherson. - p.194.
  14. ^ McElroy. - p.2.
  15. ^ List of Laws about Lands. - The Public Lands Museum
  16. ^ Hansen, Zeynep K., and Gary D. Libecap. - "U.S. Land Policy, Property Rights, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s". Social Science Electronic Publishing. - September, 2001.
  17. ^ Cobb, Norma (2000). Arctic Homestead: The True Story of a Family's Survival and Courage..... St. Martin's Press. pp. 21. ISBN 0312283792. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  18. ^ "The Last Homesteader". National Park Service. 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-22. 
  19. ^ Hansen, Zeynep K., and Gary D. Libecap. "Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s". - Journal of Political Economy. - Volume: 112(3). - pp.665-94. - November 21, 2003
  20. ^ a b United States, Department of the Interior, National Park Service, “Homestead National Monument of America – Genealogy” at,pdf,Genealogy,rvd.pdf (accessed 5 February 2010).
  21. ^ United States, Department of the Interior, National Park Service, “Homesteading by the Numbers” in Homestead National Monument of America at (accessed 5 February 2010).
  22. ^ United States, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records, “Land Patent Search” at (accessed 5 February 2010).
  23. ^ “Texas General Land Office Land Grant Search” at (accessed 5 February 2010).

General references:

External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Homestead Act
by United States Congress
The Homestead Act was a United States Federal law that gave an applicant freehold title to 160 acres (one quarter section or about 65 hectares) of undeveloped land outside of the original 13 colonies. The new law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. Government, including freed slaves, could file an application and improvements to a local land office. The Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. Eventually 1.6 million homesteads were granted and 270,000,000 acres (1,100,000 km²) were privatized between 1862 and 1986, a total of 10% of all lands in the United States.
Excerpted from Homestead Act on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Congress of the United States,
At the Second Session
Begun and held at the city of Washington
in the District of Columbia
on Monday the second day of December one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one
An act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall, from and after the first January, eighteen hundred and. sixty-three, be entitled to enter one quarter section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands, upon which said person may have filed a preemption claim, or which may, at the time the application is made, be subject to preemption at one dollar and twenty-five cents, or less, per acre; or eighty acres or less of such unappropriated lands, at two dollars and fifty cents per acre, to be located in a body, in conformity to the legal subdivisions of the public lands, and after the same shall have been surveyed: Provided, That any person owning and residing on land may, under the provisions of this act, enter other land lying contiguous to his or her said land, which shall not, with the land so already owned and occupied, exceed in the aggregate one hundred and sixty acres.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That the person applying for the benefit of this act shall, upon application to the register of the land office in which he or she is about to make such entry, make affidavit before the said register or receiver that he or she is the head of a family, or is twenty-one years or more of age, or shall have performed service in the army or navy of the United States, and that he has never borne arms against the Government of the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies, and that such application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and not either directly or indirectly for the use or benefit of any other person or persons whomsoever; and upon filing the said affidavit with the register or receiver, and on payment of ten dollars, he or she shall thereupon be permitted to enter the quantity of land specified: Provided, however, That no certificate shall be given or patent issued therefor until the expiration of five years from the date of such entry ; and if, at the expiration of such time, or at any time within two years thereafter, the person making such entry ; or, if he be dead, his widow; or in case of her death, his heirs or devisee; or in case of a widow making such entry, her heirs or devisee, in case of her death ; shall. prove by two credible witnesses that he, she, or they have resided upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit aforesaid, and shall make affidavit that no part of said land has been alienated, and that he has borne rue allegiance to the Government of the United States ; then, in such case, he, she, or they, if at that time a citizen of the United States, shall be entitled to a patent, as in other cases provided for by law: And provided, further, That in case of the death of both father and mother, leaving an Infant child, or children, under twenty-one years of age, the right and fee shall ensure to the benefit of said infant child or children ; and the executor, administrator, or guardian may, at any time within two years after the death of the surviving parent, and in accordance with the laws of the State in which such children for the time being have their domicil, sell said land for the benefit of said infants, but for no other purpose; and the purchaser shall acquire the absolute title by the purchase, and be entitled to a patent from the United States, on payment of the office fees and sum of money herein specified.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the register of the land office shall note all such applications on the tract books and plats of, his office, and keep a register of all such entries, and make return thereof to the General Land Office, together with the proof upon which they have been founded.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That no lands acquired under the provisions of this act shall in any event become liable to the satisfaction of any debt or debts contracted prior to the issuing of the patent therefor.

SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That if, at any time after the filing of the affidavit, as required in the second section of this act, and before the expiration of the five years aforesaid, it shall be proven, after due notice to the settler, to the satisfaction of the register of the land office, that the person having filed such affidavit shall have actually changed his or her residence, or abandoned the said land for more than six months at any time, then and in that event the land so entered shall revert to the government.

SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That no individual shall be permitted to acquire title to more than one quarter section under the provisions of this act; and that the Commissioner of the General Land Office is hereby required to prepare and issue such rules and regulations, consistent with this act, as shall be necessary and proper to carry its provisions into effect; and that the registers and receivers of the several land offices shall be entitled to receive the same compensation for any lands entered under the provisions of this act that they are now entitled to receive when the same quantity of land is entered with money, one half to be paid by the person making the application at the time of so doing, and the other half on the issue of the certificate by the person to whom it may be issued; but this shall not be construed to enlarge the maximum of compensation now prescribed by law for any register or receiver: Provided, That nothing contained in this act shall be so construed as to impair or interfere in any manner whatever with existing preemption rights : And provided, further, That all persons who may have filed their applications for a preemption right prior to the passage of this act, shall be entitled to all privileges of this act: Provided, further, That no person who has served, or may hereafter serve, for a period of not less than fourteen days in the army or navy of the United States, either regular or volunteer, under the laws thereof, during the existence of an actual war, domestic or foreign, shall be deprived of the benefits of this act on account of not having attained the age of twenty-one years.

SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That the fifth section of the act entitled" An act in addition to an act more effectually to provide for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States, and for other purposes," approved the third of March, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, shall extend to all oaths, affirmations, and affidavits, required or authorized by this act.

SEC. 8. And be it further enacted, That nothing in this act shall be 80 construed as to prevent any person who has availed him or herself of the benefits of the fir8t section of this act, from paying the minimum price, or the price to which the same may have graduated, for the quantity of land so entered at any time before the expiration of the five years, and obtaining a patent therefor from the government, as in other cases provided by law, on making proof of settlement and cultivation as provided by existing laws granting preemption rights.

Approved, May 20, 1862.



Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

The Homestead Act influenced settlement in more than one U.S. state.

This page is a "stub" and could be improved by additions and other edits.

This article uses material from the "Homestead Act" article on the Genealogy wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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