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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Illinois in 1818

Solon J. Buck

in the sesquicentennial edition,
University of Illinois Press
Urbana, Chicago, and London 1967

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p40  Chapter 2
The Public Lands

Thayer's Note: When the various counties are mentioned, the boundaries of which changed constantly thruout the period covered by this book, it may be useful to you, as it was to me, to refer to Michael L. Hébert's excellent page of maps, Illinois County Boundaries 1790‑Present.

No more important and interesting story can be found in the annals of the human race than that of the progress of settlement across the North American continent — the transformation of successive areas of wilderness into highly organized agricultural and industrial communities. The significance of this phase of American history has been widely recognized in recent years, and the region undergoing this transformation at any particular period has come to be known as the frontier. The process is a long one, however, with many different stages that appear simultaneously in different areas so that the frontier at any time includes a wide belt of territory whose boundaries shade away on one side into the wilderness, on the other into civilization. Using the term as here defined, the whole of Illinois can be said to have been frontier country in 1818. The northern part of the state had passed through the stage of the explorer's frontier and represented the frontier of both the Indian trader and the military post, while the southern part had emerged into the frontier of the pioneer settler.

The expression "frontier" may also be used in another but closely allied sense, as connoting the extreme limit of progress of some phase of the movement. Thus the frontier of exploration is the line between the territory which has been visited by explorers and that which has not, and similarly there are frontiers of India land cessions, government surveys, land sales, and actual settlement. The fact that the lines of several of these frontiers run through the Illinois of 1818 adds interest to the study of the region at that time. Progress along some of these lines was always irregular, however; and the frontier in such cases can be indicated only approximately, by drawing a line to connect up the extreme points. Considering the nation as a whole, these frontiers were, in the main, north and south lines; but various  p41 factors, principally geographical, resulted in their running in Illinois from east to west across the state.


[image ALT: A map of Illinois with various shadings and cross-hatchings.]

Indian Land Cessions in Illinois 1818

[A fully readable large version opens here.]

The southern limit of the Indian country in Illinois in 1818 was a line drawn east from the mouth of the Illinois River to a point about ten miles west of the Wabash and then northward bearing slightly to the east to the Vermilion River. The location of this line was determined by a series of treaties between the United States and the various Indian tribes. By a treaty negotiated at Vincennes in 1803, the Kaskaskia surrendered to the United States all their claims to land in Illinois covering an immense tract stretching from the Mississippi on the west to the divide between the Kaskaskia and the Wabash on east, and from the Ohio on the south, northward to a line running in a northeasterly direction from the mouth of the Illinois River. Previous to this the United States had secured, at the Treaty of Greenville of 1795, which was participated in by most of the tribes of the northwest, a recognition of grants made by the Indians during the French and British periods of a tract of land about Vincennes, part of which lay west of the Wabash. In 1803 the limits of this grant were defined by another treaty at Fort Wayne. Two years later the small tribe of the Piankashaw ceded to the United States their claims to the land between the Kaskaskia cession on the west and the Wabash River and Vincennes tract on the east, extending north a short distance beyond the thirty-ninth parallel.1

In 1809 a narrow strip of land along the boundary between Illinois and Indiana, stretching from the Vincennes tract to the Vermilion River, was acquired by treaties negotiated by Governor William Henry Harrison with various tribes of Illinois and Indiana Indians, including the Potawatomi and Kickapoo. The purpose of this cession was to open the way for the advance of settlement up the Wabash River. When the Illinois tribes had  p42 been driven out from northern and central Illinois, the territory had been occupied by a stream of northern tribes, the Sauk and Fox, Kickapoo, Winnebago, and Potawatomi. Mingled with the latter were also fragments of the Ottawa and Chippewa. Newcomers in the region, these various tribes had illy defined holdings, and a large number of overlapping cessions had to be secured before their claims were extinguished. In 1804 a treaty was made with certain members of the allied Sauk and Fox tribes by which the United States claimed to have acquired from these tribes the vast stretch of country lying between the Mississippi on the west and the Illinois and Fox rivers on the east and extending northward into what is now Wisconsin. The validity of this cession was denied by the Indians, however, on the ground that it was made by men who had no authority to represent the tribes; and in 1815 and 1816, when peace was made with the Sauk and Fox respectively, after the War of 1812, the United States secured confirmations of this grant. The Indians retained the privilege of living and hunting on the land so long as it remained the property of the government. The region between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers having been selected for military bounty land, the United States was desirous of perfecting its title in order that the surveys might proceed. For this purpose it was necessary to secure a relinquishment from the associated Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa. By a treaty negotiated at St. Louis in August, 1816,​2 these tribes gave up their claims to the Sauk and Fox cession south of a line drawn due west from the southern extremity of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, while the United States in turn relinquished to them its claim to the part of the cession lying north of that line. By the same treaty, these Indians also ceded a strip about 10 miles wide from the Fox River to the Kankakee along the north side of the Illinois and about 20 miles wide from the mouth of the Kankakee on both sides of the Desplaines River and the portage to Lake  p43 Michigan. The purpose of this cession was to make possible the construction of a canal from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, and the Indians were allowed to continue to hunt and fish on the ceded land.

The title of the United States to the military tract having been cleared up, it was expected that settlement would follow rapidly, and the desirability of securing a cession of the area between that tract and the Kaskaskia cession of 1803 was realized. In 1817 commissioners were appointed and instructions received, and on September 25, 1818, representatives of all the remnants of the Illinois tribes met Governor Edwards and Auguste Chouteau, United States commissioners, at Edwardsville and agreed to a treaty. The remnant of the Peoria had not been a party to the treaty of 1803, and so, in order to quiet any claim which they might have, the cession here made included the whole of the earlier cession as well as all the land beyond that cession and south of the Illinois and Kankakee rivers. A week later the Potawatomi ceded their claim to a tract northwest of the Wabash, lying mostly in Indiana but including a small triangle in Illinois between the Vermilion and the state line. Neither of these treaties, however, gave the United States undisputed claim to any additional territory in Illinois, for the Kickapoo, a numerous and powerful tribe, for many years claimed by right of conquest and possession the whole of central Illinois including not only all the new area covered by the treaty of 1818 but also all the original Kaskaskia cession and the Piankashaw cession north of an east and west line through the mouth of the Illinois River. Not until July 30, 1819, were the Kickapoo induced to give up their claim and to agree to move west of the Mississippi. By this cession of 1819 the land claimed by Indians in Illinois was reduced to the region north of the canal cession and of an east and west line through the southern extremity of Lake Michigan, and a smaller tract along the Indiana line extending south from the canal cession and the Kankakee River to the Vermilion. Not until the years 1829, 1832, and 1833 were these claims given up by the Potawatomi, Ottawa, Chippewa, and Winnebago.

When Illinois was admitted to the Union in November, 1818,  p45 therefore, the land in the state upon which all Indian claims had been extinguished, or, more accurately, of which no further cessions were made, lay in two detached areas. The first included all south of the east and west line through the mouth of the Illinois and also a narrow strip along the eastern border of the state extending as far north as the Vermilion River; the second consisted of the military tract and the strip connecting it with Lake Michigan.

After the Indian title to the land was extinguished, it was government land, and the first step in the transition to private property was its survey into the familiar rectangular townships and sections. By an act of 1804 the surveyor general in charge of this work in the northwest was authorized to arrange for the survey of all the land north of the Ohio and east of Mississippi to which the Indian titles had been extinguished.​3 The system of rectangular surveys based on a principal meridian and a base line had already been worked out for the land in Ohio; but the tracts to be surveyed in Indiana Territory were widely separated from this land, and it was necessary to select a new point of departure. For the second principal meridian, therefore, the surveyor general established a line running due north and south through the northeast corner of the Vincennes tract, as confirmed by the Indians in 1803; and this meridian governed most of the surveys in Indiana and those in Illinois east of a line running north from the mouth of the Wabash. In the rest of Illinois south of the Illinois River the surveys were governed by the third principal meridian, which was run north from the mouth of the Ohio. For both of these systems an east and west line, selected because it ran through the westernmost corner of Clark's grant on the Ohio, served as the base line. Ranges were numbered east and west from principal meridians and townships north and south from the base line. Each township was divided into 36 sections one mile square.4

 p46  While the work of locating the main township lines in Illinois was begun in 1804, the same year in which the surveys were authorized, the principal work of the surveyors for a number of years was the marking out of the numerous private claims. Not until about 1810 was the detail work in the townships taken up in earnest, and then it progressed so slowly that much was uncompleted when the sales began in 1814. With the close of the War of 1812, however, the surveys proceeded more rapidly; in 1816 a surveyor general for Illinois and Missouri territories was appointed; and at the close of the territorial period most of the land to which the Indian titles had been extinguished was surveyed.​5 The frontier of government survey then, in 1818, started on the Mississippi near Alton and ran east to the third principal meridian, then south 30 miles to the base line, east again to the southwest corner of the Vincennes tract, and then northeastwardly along the boundaries of that tract and the Harrison purchase to the Indiana line near the boundary between the present Vermilion and Edgar counties. West of the meridian, the line was only a few miles below the frontier of Indian cessions, but between the meridian and the Vincennes tract the two frontiers were 36 miles apart.6

In this statement of the extent of surveys, the triangle between the Mississippi and the Illinois rivers has been left out of consideration. When this land was purchased from the Indians in 1804, it was apparently intended that it should be disposed of in the ordinary way, for an act of Congress of March 3, 1805, attached it to the Kaskaskia land district. At the beginning of the War of 1812, however, Congress, by the act of May 6, 1812,  p47 directed that 2,000,000 acres of this land with like quantities in Michigan and Louisiana territories be reserved for the purpose of satisfying the bounties of land promised to the soldiers — 160 acres to each — by acts of December 24, 1811, and January 11, 1812. The surveys of the "military tracts," as they were called, were delayed by Indian hostilities, but they were under way in the summer of 1815. As the work progressed, the officials reached the conclusion that the Michigan lands were not suitable for the purpose, and so Congress was induced to pass the act of April 28, 1816, substituting for the Michigan lands an additional 1,500,000 acres in Illinois and an additional 500,000 acres in Missouri.​7 This increased the amount of bounty land in Illinois to 3,500,000 acres, and carried the northern boundary of the tract to a line from the Illinois River at the mouth of the Vermilion due west to the Mississippi. As this region was wholly separated from the other surveys in Illinois, it was necessary to run a fourth principal meridian, fixed by the mouth of the Illinois River, with a base line run due west from the point where the meridian crossed the Illinois in the vicinity of the site of Beardstown.

The survey of the Illinois Bounty lands progressed rapidly during the winter of 1816‑17; and on September 25, 1817, the commissioner of the General Land Office announced that the surveys had all been received and that the distribution of the land by lot as provided by law would begin on the first Monday in October. Warrants had been issued to the soldiers entitle to bounties, or to their heirs, and between October 6, 1817, and January 28, 1819, some 18,000 of these warrants were exchanged at the General Land Office for patents to quarter sections of land in Illinois, covering the greater part of the military tract. While the warrants were non-transferable there was no requirement that the patentee settle upon the land and nothing to prevent him from disposing of the patent as soon as received. As a matter of fact the title to most of this land passed at once into the hands of eastern speculators; and no settlement appears to have  p48 resulted from this wholesale distribution of land until after the admission of the state to the Union.8

The regular procedure in the disposition of the public lands at this time was sale by the government without distinction between settlers and speculators. To facilitate its sale, the region in which the land was located was divided into districts, in each of which was established a local land office. In 1818 there were three such land offices with their corresponding districts wholly in Illinois, while the strip along the eastern border north of the base line was included in the Vincennes district, the greater part of which lay in Indiana. Land offices had been established at Vincennes and Kaskaskia as early as 1804; but their only work for many years was the settlement of claims, of which there were a large number, based on the rights of the old French inhabitants and on various donations by Congress to the early settlers. It was obviously desirable that the validity of each of these claims and the location and limits of those which stood the test should be determined before the remainder of the land was offered for sale. The process of settlement dragged on from year to year, however, and it was not until 1814, only four years before the state entered the Union, that land could be purchased from the government in Illinois. In the meantime another land office had been authorized at Shawneetown in 1812, the boundary between the two Illinois districts being the third principal meridian. With the beginning of sales and the progress of the surveys the need for another land office in the west, north of Kaskaskia, was apparent, and in 1816 one was established at Edwardsville for the sale of the land north of the base line and west of the meridian. This left in the Kaskaskia district the triangle between the Mississippi, the meridian, and the base line. While the acts establishing the Shawneetown and Edwardsville districts had not definitely fixed their northern boundaries, these coincided in practice with the frontier of survey; that is, the base line for the  p49 Shawneetown district, and a line five townships or 30 miles farther north for the Edwardsville district. The Kaskaskia district, then, contained approximately 2,188,800 acres or 95 townships, the Shawneetown, 3,018,240 acres or 131 townships, and the Edwardsville, 1,059,840 acres or 46 townships.9

The system of public land sales in operation in Illinois in 1818 was that inaugurated by the act of Congress of May 10, 1800, with some modifications by later acts. The land was first offered at public sales on dates fixed by proclamations of the President; all land for which two dollars or more an acre was offered was sold to the highest bidder. After land had once been offered at public sale without finding a purchaser, it could then be bought at private sale for the minimum price. Under the act of 1800 all the land was to be sold in half sections or 320‑acre tracts; but in 1804, the sale of quarter sections was authorized and an act of 1817 permitted six specified sections in each township to be sold in half-quarter sections or 80‑acre tracts. Of the purchase money, one-twentieth had to be paid down to hold the land, and enough more to amount to 25 per cent was due in 40 days. The remainder was due in three equal installments at the end of two, three, and four years from the date of entry. No interest was charged if payments were promptly made; but if not, they drew 6 per cent from the date of sale. A discount of 8 per cent was allowed, however, on all advance payments, which reduced the minimum cash price to $1.64 an acre. If the installments were not all paid at the end of five years from the date of entry, the land reverted to the United States and was offered at public auction. Should it then bring more than the amount still due with interest, the balance went to the original purchaser. As a rule, in Illinois, only a small proportion of the land offered was disposed of at the public sales, and the bulk of that brought only the minimum price. It was possible, therefore, for anyone with $80 to enter a quarter section of land, "looking to the land to reward your pains with the means of discharging the other three-fourths as they  p50 become due," as Morris Birkbeck expressed it.​10 From the records of land sales in Illinois it appears that practically all the purchasers took advantage of the credit system and most of them bought only the minimum amount.

The protracted delay in the opening of the land sales resulted in a situation which is well described in a memorial addressed to Congress by the first territorial legislature in 1812. This declared that,

from the establishment of a land office in the Territory several years ago, a general opinion prevailed that the public land would shortly thereafter be offered for sale, whereby the great majority of the citizens now residing in the Territory were induced to move into it and settle themselves, hoping that they would have an opportunity of purchasing the land they occupied before they had made such ameliorations thereon as would tempt the competition of avaricious speculation, in which reasonable expectation they have been hitherto disappointed, in consequence of the unexampled postponement of the sales owing to causes which are well understood and which it is unnecessary to detail . . . those good people have made valuable and permanent improvements on the land they thus occupied (at the same time that they have risked their lives in defending against the barbarous savages who invaded it), but are now in danger of losing the whole value of their labor by competition at the sales or by the holders of unlocated claims being permitted to locate on their improvements.​11

In the eyes of the law these settlers on the public domain were intruders with no legal rights to their "improvements," and Congress had in the past usually refused to recognize the claim of such settlers, on the ground that to do so would encourage illegal settlement. The sales in Illinois had been so long postponed, however, that the justice of some measure of relief was obvious and on February 5, 1813, Congress passed an act of great importance to the people of that territory. By the terms of this measure, settlers who had "actually inhabited and cultivated a tract of land, lying in either of the districts established for the sale of public lands, in the Illinois territory" before the passage  p51 of the act, were granted a pre-emption right to not more than the quarter section on which they had located; that is, they were allowed to purchase the tract at the minimum price at any time up to within two weeks of the opening of the public sales in the district. The terms were the same as for other purchases at private sales, but the settler was relieved from any danger of having to bid against others for the land which he had occupied. About a year later, before any sales had been made in the Kaskaskia district, Congress passed another act, dated April 16, 1814, which enlarged and extended pre-emption rights in that section of the territory. The greater part of the Kaskaskia district, including what was later set off as the Edwardsville district, was designated as a reserved tract in which the numerous confirmed unlocated claims must be located. Settlers within this tract who had established themselves before February 5, 1813, the date of the original pre-emption law, were allowed pre-emption rights to not less than a quarter or more than a whole section, application to be made on or before October 1, 1814. Settlers holding  p52 confirmed unlocated claims were allowed to use them as payments for the land to which they had pre-emption rights, while other holders of such claims might locate them within the tract between October 1, 1814, and May 1, 1815. It was expected, apparently, that the situation would thus be cleared up by May 1, 1815, so that the public sales could take place; but another act of February 27, 1815, extended the time for pre-emptions to May 1, 1816; and an act of April 27, 1816, made a further extension in certain cases to October 1, 1816. By this last act, also, holders of unlocated confirmed claims were allowed to locate them in the tract up to the same date.12

These various acts relating to pre-emption rights created distinctions in different parts of Illinois, the reasons for which are not apparent. Thus in the Shawneetown district those who had settled on the land before February 5, 1813, were given the preference in the purchase of a quarter section only, while within the reserved tract, the preference was extended to a whole section. Especial provision was made in the Kaskaskia district, moreover, for settlers on fractional sections; but the law was so interpreted as to allow such settlers no pre-emption rights in the Shawneetown district, with the result that a few had to pay advanced prices for their lands at the public sales. The worst discrimination, however, was with reference to that part of Illinois within the Vincennes district. The act of 1813 was interpreted as not applying to this tract at all and the settlers there were left to compete with speculators in the public sales for the lands on which they had made improvements. The legislature of Illinois Territory, at its session of 1816‑17, after the sales had taken place, forwarded to Congress a long memorial devoted to proving that the pre-emption act had not been correctly interpreted in this particular, and asking some measure of redress for those settlers who had lost their land or had been forced to pay advanced prices for it. This memorial, together with a petition from the settlers themselves drawn up in 1818, was referred and  p53 re-referred to the House Committee on Public Lands until finally Congress passed the relief act of May 11, 1820. By this act all settlers who would have been entitled to pre-emption rights, had the act been interpreted to apply to the part of the Vincennes district in Illinois, were given credit certificates for the sums above the minimum price which they had paid; of, if they had not purchased, they were allowed to exercise a pre-emption right on any land in Illinois which might be surveyed before September 1, 1820.13

The first government sales of land in Illinois took place, as has already been stated, in 1814. During the year ending September 30, 1814, the only sales were 8,837 acres in the Shawneetown district; these were all made to settlers in accordance with the pre-emption act of 1813, and consequently at the minimum price. The first public sale in the territory took place in the same district in October of 1814 and included the sale of town lots in Shawneetown, which had been laid out for that purpose by the government surveyors under acts of April 30, 1810, and March 28, 1814. Only a part of the land in the district could be offered at this sale because the surveys were incomplete, and only a little over 50,000 acres were sold in the district in the year ending September 30, 1815. Sales under the pre-emption acts began in the Kaskaskia district in the fall of 1814, and about 30,000 acres were disposed of during the fiscal year. During the year ending September 30, 1816, the sales were still smaller, amounting to less than 34,000 acres in the Shawneetown and less than 13,000 in the Kaskaskia districts. The bulk of the Shawneetown sales must have been of land which had been offered in 1814 and which was now available at private sales at the minimum price, while at Kaskaskia land could still be purchased only by pre-emptioners.

The largest offerings of land at public sales in Illinois, prior  p54 to the admission of the state to the Union, took place in October and November, 1816, when sales were held at all three of the offices in the territory.​14 The intention was that the government land in the respective districts, not hitherto offered and not reserved for schools or other special purposes, should be offered at these sales; but the officers at Kaskaskia reported that certain townships could not be sold because descriptions had not been received from the surveyor general, while certain sections in 15 townships in the Shawneetown district were not actually offered until October, 1818. Nineteen townships and fractional townships, comprising about two-thirds of the part of the Vincennes district in Illinois, were offered at public sale in September of the same year. So much of the best land in the Kaskaskia and Edwardsville districts had been covered by private claims and pre-emption rights that only small amounts were disposed of at these sales. In Edwardsville the bidding could not have been very brisk for none of the 60 or 70 tracts sold brought more than the minimum price, while at Kaskaskia only five or six tracts which were located near the mouth of the Ohio, and were bought up by town-site speculators, sold for an advanced price, the  p55 highest being five dollars an acre.​15 The significance of the public sales, however, lay not in the amounts of land disposed of but in the fact that after they were over, extensive tracts of land in all parts of Illinois below the frontier line of survey were available for purchase at private sale at the minimum price.

With the return of peace on the frontier after the War of 1812, immigrants poured into the territory, and the sales increased by leaps and bounds. During the year ending September 30, 1817, almost 250,000 acres of land were sold in the three districts wholly within Illinois, Edwardsville leading with over 100,000 acres. This was nearly twice as much as had been sold in all the previous years, but the amount was again doubled in the next fiscal year, the total being nearly 600,000 acres. This time the Shawneetown district led with about 240,000 acres. The fiscal year ending September 30, 1819, shows a falling off in the total sales to less than 400,000 acres, due in part to the fact that the choicest tracts had already been selected, and in part to the financial panic of 1819. The total sales of public land in these districts to September 30, 1818, amounted to 980,698 acres. Approximately the sales to the end of 1818 amounted to about 1,080,000 acres, of which 440,000 were in the Shawneetown, 320,000 in the Kaskaskia, and 320,000 in the Edwardsville districts. Thirty per cent of the Edwardsville district had been sold but only 14½ per cent of the Shawneetown and Kaskaskia districts. Taking the three districts together, only about 17 per cent of the available land has passed out of the possession of the government.16


[image ALT: A map of the south half of today's state of Illinois.]

Lands Entered in Illinois 1818

Tracts in the Edwardsville district have been taken from the Tract Book, those in the Kaskaskia district from the Application Books, and those in the Shawneetown district from the Tract Book and Entry Books. These records are in the auditor's office, Springfield, Illinois. Entries in the Illinois part of the Vincennes district have been plotted from the Entry Books in the General Land Office, Washington, D. C. Lands included in the old surveys have been plotted from copies of the plats in the surveyor's office, St. Louis, made for and ceritifed by F. R. Conway, surveyor of the public lands in the states of Illinois and Missouri, February 7, 1848 (bound volume in the auditor's office, Springfield). The boundaries of the Wabash saline reservation have been taken from American State Papers, Public Lands, 3:270.

[A fully readable large version opens here.]

The actual location of the land in Illinois which had become private property by the end of 1818 is indicated on the accompanying map.​17 From this it appears that the largest solid blocks  p57 of private holdings were in the present Madison and St. Clair counties. In the American bottom, also, stretching along the Mississippi above Kaskaskia, practically all the land had been taken up. On the opposite side of the territory a tract equivalent to about two and a half townships had been entered in Edwards County, where the English settlement was located. There was a smaller block in the neighborhood of Shawneetown, and along the lower Ohio an extensive tract had been purchased by firms of speculators who hoped that great commercial cities would spring up on their holdings. The map brings out in a striking way the importance of streams in giving value to land in their vicinity. Along the Kaskaskia River and its tributaries, as far as the surveys extended, along the Big Muddy in Jackson County, and the Cache in Union County, extended ribbons of purchased land. On the eastern side of the state, the land along the Saline River was all in the United States reservation, but the influence of the Little Wabash is clearly seen. Another factor in giving value to land was its location along the main roads which crossed the state. Thus the lines of the roads from Shawneetown to Carlyle, Shawneetown to Kaskaskia, and Golconda to Kaskaskia are clearly indicated by the holdings, although these are more broken than those along the streams. Between these roads in the interior of the state were tracts containing ten or a dozen townships, in each of which scarcely a single section of land had been sold.

Significant as is the distribution of purchased land, it is not a definitive index of the progress of settlement for two reasons; in the first place much land was purchased for speculation rather than for settlement, and in the second place many settlers lived on land which still belonged to the government.

Before land could be purchased from the government, the speculators had been obliged to confine their operations to the field of private claims; but many of the original French and American holders of these claims were readily induced to dispose of them to the more enterprising men with capital, and as a result thousands of acres passed into the possession of such men as John Edgar and William Morrison. When the government land sales began, speculators were always on hand to pick  p58 up the choice tracts, which, because of their supposedly favorable location, were expected to rise in value rapidly. As has already been noted, much of the land along the lower Ohio was purchased in large tracts by firms of eastern men. The resident speculators wisely devoted themselves largely to land in the Edwardsville district, which was settling up rapidly, while on the eastern side of the territory, Morris Birkbeck entered 26,400 acres of land in Edwards County during 1817 and 1818. Birkbeck's purchases were made in part to secure the land for the English immigrants whom he was inducing to come to Illinois, but it is undoubtedly true that he and the other leaders in the English settlement hoped for great personal returns from the rise in value of the land. The effects on settlement of the extensive purchase of land by speculators was very great. Desirable tracts in the neighborhood of settlements were held at prices too high for most of the immigrants to pay, and consequently they were forced to go farther afield or take up less desirable land. The result of this and of the uniform price of government land, regardless of quality, was a widespread scattering of settlers over a vast extent of territory instead of an orderly progression along a definite frontier.18

The occupation of the public lands by settlers long before they could purchase and the measures which were taken for their relief have already been noted. The pre-emption acts did not entirely solve the problem, however, for no provision was made for those who settled after February 5, 1813; and many who had established themselves before that were too poor to exercise their pre-emption rights. Nor were these people inclined to surrender the land when it was purchased by others. The situation is well described in a letter written by the register of the Shawneetown land office to his superior in Washington in 1815. "Several persons," he wrote,

have called on me as the public Agent, to give them peaceable possession of their Lands — persons who are residing on them now, & were  p59 previously to the sale, refuse to give them up — a[n]d the rightfull owner is kept out of possession, who thinks his case a very hard one to be compelled after paying the Government for a tract of land to be reduced to the necessity of commencing a suit at Law to obtain his just right — There are nearly a thousand improved places in this district that are not located, and if the Government does not adopt some energetic measures to nip this conduct in the bud it will retard the Sale of all those places which are or may be improved hereafter. I hope this subject will present itself forcibly to your mind as it will materially affect the public sales.​19

The situation was so serious that the matter was taken up with the Secretary of State, and the President issued a proclamation directing that after a certain day in March, 1816, all squatters on the public lands should be removed. Against the execution of this proclamation, Benjamin Stephenson, the delegate from Illinois territory, protested vigorously. "Should this order be inforced," he wrote to the Secretary of State, "it [wi]ll . . . be distressing to many Citizens and not beneficial to interest of the government. My object in addressing you, is, to solicit that a time may be set for the removal of the above settlers one or two months after they shall have an oppertunity [sic] of purchasing the land on which they have sett[l]ed and made improvements." The marshal of Illinois Territory actually made preparations to remove the intruders; but the Secretary of the Treasury wrote him on May 11, 1816, recommending "a prudent and conciliatory course"; and nothing seems to have been accomplished. Two months earlier Congress had passed an act authorizing the land officers to issue to settlers on unsold public lands permits to remain as tenants at will on condition of their agreeing to "give quiet possession" whenever required to do so; but very few applications for such permits appear to have been received.20

The situation in Illinois at this time is typical of the history  p60 of the American frontier. Although large quantities of government land were on the market, the attraction of the wilderness and the desire to secure the choicest locations regularly led to settlement in advance of the purchase of the land; and this was true regardless of whether or not the land sales were delayed. Often, indeed, the frontier line of settlement was beyond the line of survey and even beyond that of the Indian cessions.

The Author's Notes:

1 The cessions are listed chronologically, with the essential data, and excellent colored maps, in Royce, Indian Land Cessions. The treaties can be found in full in Kapper, Indian Affairs, Laws, and Treaties, vol. 2. The two volumes of American State Papers, Indian Affairs contain many documents relating to the negotiations.

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2 Such tracts, not to "exceed the quantity that would be contained in five leagues square" as the President might reserve, were excepted. It was expected that these would be so located as to include the Galena lead mines. See Wisconsin Historical Collections, 13:286.

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3 Statutes at Large, 2:277.

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4 Treat, National Land System, ch. 8; Niles' Weekly Register, 12:97‑99; 16:362.

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5 Land records, auditor's office, Springfield; Statutes at Large, 3:325.

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6 Additional surveys were frequently urged by the land officers, and during the late summer of 1818, 36 townships above township 5 north, and west of the third principal meridian were surveyed. This land was not offered for sale, however, until 1819, and the line described above is for convenience referred to as the "frontier line of survey in 1818." Orders were issued September 26, 1818, for the survey of the tract north of the base line and east of the meridian, and the work was completed the following year. Land records, auditor's office, Springfield; Intelligencer, October 21, 1818.

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7 American State Papers, Public Lands, 3:162‑164; Statutes at Large, 2:344, 669, 672, 728; 3:332; Niles' Weekly Register, 9:15.

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8 "Lands in Illinois to soldiers of the late war," House Documents, 26 Congress, 1 Session, no. 262; Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1910, p151; Chicago Historical Society Manuscripts, 52:29, 177; 53‑59; Intelligencer, November 6, 1817.

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9 Statutes at Large, 2:277, 684; 3:323; American State Papers, Public Lands, 3:312.

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10 Birkbeck, Letters from Illinois, 97; Statutes at Large, 2:73, 277; 3:346; Niles' Weekly Register, 12:99.

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11 James, Territorial Records, 109.

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12 Statutes at Large, 2:797, 3:125, 218; Treat, National Land System, 382‑385.

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13 Legislative memorial in Intelligencer, January 22, 1817; petition of James McFarland and others, November, 1818, and petition of inhabitants of Crawford County, December 25, 1818, in House Files; Statutes at Large, 3:573.

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14 The following table gives the acreage of land sales in the three Illinois districts for the periods indicated, with amounts of reversions deducted from the sales. It is compiled from statistic in Reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1:550; 2:68, 97, 135, 137, 157; American State Papers, Public Lands, 3:312; Executive Documents, 16 Congress, 2 Session, no. 8:19.

Years ending Sept. 30 Shawneetown Kaskaskia Edwardsville Total
1814 8,837 . . . . . . . . 8,837
1815 51,735 31,005 . . . . 82,740
1816 33,975 12,765 . . . . 46,740
1817 67,084 78,508 104,073 249,665
1818 239,011 160,446 193,259 593,316
1819 161,654 124,303 97,398 383,355
Total 562,296 407,027 394,730 1,364,053
Total to Sept. 30, 1818 400,642 282,784 297,332 980,698
Est. total to Dec. 31, 1818 440,000 320,000 320,000 1,080,000
Area of districts 3,018,240 2,188,800 1,059,840 6,266,880
Proportion sold Dec. 31, 1818 14½% 14½% 30% 17%

See also Statutes at Large, 2:591; 3:113; President's proclamation, April 5, in land records, auditor's office, Springfield.

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15 President's proclamations in Intelligencer, June 12, 1816; August 5, 1818; Letter Book A, 109‑11, 115, and land record, Palestine district, auditor's office, Springfield; Intelligencer, November 20, 1816; House Documents, 15 Congress, 2 Session, no. 46:6.

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16 See table in note 14.

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17 Compiled from records in the auditor's office at Springfield, and in the General Land Office in Washington.

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18 Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 11:277; Birkbeck, Letters from Illinois, 37, 81, 85, 120; Dana, Geographical Sketches, 143; Intelligencer, November 20, 1816.

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19 Extract from Sloo to Meigs, March 11, 1815, in United States State Department, Bureau of Indexes and Archives, Miscellaneous Letters.

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20 Stephenson to Monroe, January 19, 1816, Dallas to Fouke, May 11, 1816, Fouke to Pope, January 5, 1817, in United States State Department, Bureau of Indexes and Archives, Miscellaneous Letters; Statutes at Large, 3:260; Intelligencer, June 5, 1816; correspondence in auditor's office, Springfield.

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