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Are you interested in HISTORY?  Then you might find one of these Homestead.org articles handy:

Victory Gardens - Winners and Losers by Barbara Bamberger Scott

The Farmer, Civilization, and Liberty by Alexander Craig

Prehistoric Homesteaders by Barbara Bamberger Scott

An Illustrated History of Log Cabins by Doug Smith

An Early History of Rock by Karen Hanson

The Fine Art of Moonshining by Catherine Lugo

He Who Shall Not Work Shall Not Eat: Part One of the History of American Homesteading by Barbara Bamberger Scott

The Little Cabin at Sinking Spring: Part Two of the History of American Homesteading

The Cabin at Sinking Spring: Part Three of the History of American Homesteading

Uncle Sam Is Rich Enough to Give Us All a Farm: Part Three of the History of American Homesteading

Generous Fruits That Never Fail: Part Four of the History of American Homesteading

Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish: Part Five of the History of American Homesteading

Time Traveling with the WPA: Missouri

The Humble Spud – From Inca to Ireland to Idaho by Barbara Bamberger Scott

The Tygart Valley Homesteads by Barbara Bamberger Scott

Bamewawagezhikaquay by Neil Shelton

Homesteading in Appalachia by Karyn Sweet

The First Homesteader by Neil Shelton

The Metz 22 Non-Stop Run

 

 

 

The Exodusters

The Roots of African-American Homesteading

by Barbara Bamberger Scott

History’s ironies never cease to amaze me.  The same day that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, the Homestead Act went into effect; but there was no immediate connection between these two famous pieces of paper.  One was law.  The other was a use of the President’s war powers to foment rebellion, to give harm and discomfort to the enemy; it could be seen, in today’s terms, as the hostile intent of a terrorist state.  Only time has told us that, in the long run, the two instruments did eventually connect, and the beneficiaries of that connection were America’s newly freed slaves. 

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the ten Confederate states, serving the purpose of inciting those suffering souls to defect from their masters and their lives of hopeless bondage to flee to the welcoming arms of the Union armies, many there to assist in quelling for good and for all the upstart South, and reuniting the broken nation. 

However... despite the obvious yen of many ex-slaves to quit the South, they were not going to be allowed to claim land out West; the first requirement of the Homestead Act of 1863 for those who wanted to “prove a claim” was -- citizenship.  This was followed by the requirements that the claimant:

  • Be 18 years old or older;

  • Never have waged war against the United States (a clause both sensible on its face and also obviously intended to keep nearly all Southerners out of the game);

  • Pay $18 in fees;

  • Promise to improve the land with buildings, wells, and crops over a five year period. 

That being accomplished and duly witnessed, the settler would own the property outright.

Ex-slaves were not made citizens until the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which declared:

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude....."

Then, and only then, could people of color assume the right to grab the land being snatched up by whites, proffered by their rich Uncle Sam. 

Former slaves would seem to have had plenty of incentive to leave Dixie after the Civil War was finally over, and, with it, the institution of slavery.  If they didn’t, it was probably because of the false hopes of Reconstruction, an idea that died on the vine in a few short years.  It might have been because they were unaware of other options such as the Homestead Act, or fearful yet of what would happen to them if they removed themselves from known environs, since in former times, the punishment for such adventuring could get a black person whipped, sold, or dead.

Nonetheless, there was a trickle of African-Americans westward; the migration, though short-lived, was remarkable for the numbers.  The trek was labeled the “Great Exodus” and the wanderers were quickly dubbed Exodusters, an apt Biblical reference that would have resonated well with most blacks at the time. 

The Last Moments of John Brown by Thomas Hovenden

Inspired by racial separatists like Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, himself a former slave, African-Americans were encouraged to settle in Kansas, partly because of its rumored connection to the near-mythological figure of abolitionist John Brown, and in Oklahoma, which at one time was envisioned as an all-black state.  Pap, something of a self-promoter as well as a rabble rouser, first exhorted ex-slaves to settle in Tennessee, but when locals refused to sell them land, they pushed on to Kansas, with Pap considering himself the Noah of this large migration.  Afro-American enclaves in cities like Topeka offered safety in numbers, and black men were quickly swallowed up into low-paid industrial jobs, their wives to domestic service.  The Exoduster movement faded as quickly as it began, lasting only from 1879 to 1880, leaving its charming moniker blowing in the wind.  Bad crops and fear of yellow fever along the Missouri River were two discouraging factors, especially as some locals blamed the outbreak of fever on the poor black transients. 

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton

The Homestead Act allowed about one hundred thousand former slaves to seek claims west of the Mississippi.  Despite the racial phobias that seemed to exist at all times, there was a more tolerant attitude towards every kind of strange, marvelous and scurrilous character in the wide open spaces, where a man was judged, as one observer put it, “by how he sits in the saddle.”  The Border States like New Mexico even then had a long history of accommodation to people of other races, and that made transitions for migrating blacks less painful. 

Farming was something in which many blacks had experience, often forced under slavery’s restraints to grow small garden plots for basic survival.  So logically ex-slaves might refuse farm labor, having done so much, and in fact many preferred safe city life and a regular paycheck to the risk of alien landscapes and the vagaries of agriculture.  But those who were motivated by the Homestead Act were cut from different cloth from the mainstream of ex-slaves. 

  Continued on page 2   >

 

 

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