When I was a freshman in high school, a class that I was enrolled in took a trip to the Homestead National Monument. I never knew that there could be such valuable history so close to home. Today I am going to talk about the Homestead Act.
I will start off by telling you about the Homestead Act of 1862. Then I will discuss to how it gave people the opportunity to own land. Finally I will be talking about how the Homestead Act still affects farming today.
In 1862, the Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln (Homestead, 2008).According to the book, Homestead: National Monument of America by Rose Houk, on May 20, 1862 the Homestead Act would change the lives of Americans forever. The Homestead Act affected the majority of the United States. 30 out of the 50 states were changed because of it. Settlers were each allowed up to 160 acres of land according to online article The Homestead Act, last revised May 7, 2007.
Not just anyone was handed land. There were some requirements. Homesteaders that were able to claim land had to be the head of a household, or at least twenty-one years of age. Those who were immigrants weren’t just handed land, they had to file for citizenship. The settlers had to live on the land for 5 years, or live on the land six months out of the year (Homestead, 2008).
Daniel Freeman had the first claim under the act on January 1, 1863. Freeman’s homestead is now known as the Homestead National Monument. In 1936, the United States Congress identified Freeman’s homestead as the “first homestead” in the US (The Library, 2007).
The Homestead Act provided many opportunities for settlers. Without the Homestead Act, many may not have had the chance to own land (The Library, 2007). The goal of the Homestead Act was to give the less fortunate like immigrants and underprivileged Americans a chance (Houk, 2000).
Farmers and their children were the majority of people who claimed the land. The farmers and their families had the expertise to improve the conditions of the land and make use out of it. After certain requirements had been met, the homesteader was able to pay a $10 filing fee to claim the land. A $2 commission fee was also required for the land agent (Homestead, 2008). With this payment homesteaders were able to take ownership of their new purchase.
Each person who purchased land needed to find two people to give their word that all of your intentions for the land were true. They had to sign the “proof” document for certainty that they would follow through with their intentions (Homestead, 2008).
Farming in the 1800s has sure changed from farming today. There were many different types of farming techniques and inventions along the way. In a discussion with Jim Katz, on February 7, 2009 about farming then and now he stated, “Tractors, combines and custom harvesters weren’t available to the homesteaders, but I’m sure they would have made life much simpler.”
A way of farming during the time when the Homestead Act was passed was called the dry farming method. During my discussion with Katz (2009), I asked him if he knew of this farming technique. “The dry farming method was used in the Great Plains. This required planting seeds deep into sod where there would be enough moisture for the crop to start growing.” Being a third generation farmer himself, Katz was always eager to know how things work. He would analyze things now, and ask his father and grandfather how things were then and make comparisons.
As time went by, many different farming inventions were created. I asked Katz if he knew about any of the machinery that was used back then. He told me how the seed drill was a machine that would drill small holes into the ground then cover them up. This eliminated planting seeds by hand. Today, there is such a wide variety of equipment. Close to the seed drill is the planter that is used today. Technology has come a long way, and is helping improve agriculture all over the United States.
Now that I have told you a little bit about the Homestead and how it has affected farming, let’s review. Today I told you about the Homestead Act and farming. I first told you about the Homestead Act. Then I discussed how it gave people the opportunity to own land. Finally I talked about how the Homestead Act still affects farming today.
History is all around us. There is so much to learn. I never thought that one of the most important pieces of history in the United States would be only a few miles away.
Houk, R. (2000). Homestead: National Monument of America. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National.
J. Katz (personal communication, February 7, 2009)
The Library of Congress. (2007, May 7). The Homestead Act. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/may20.html