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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - June 1, 2005

Hi! Henry the Stephenson house mouse is back again. Life at "my" house is full of surprises with people coming and going as they continue to work in the house, the gardens and have now started a new "dig" in the yard. The activity just goes on and on and Ol' Henry loves it! The garden committee is working hard and you will notice that it shows. The tall plant with white blooms that you can see from the street is valeriam, the "all-healing herb". Many Heirloom vegetable seeds have been planted in the garden. Heirloom seeds are actually from the plants Thomas Jefferson developed at Monticello! The gardeners meet on Wednesdays and recently they created a beautiful formal garden with boxwood plantings and four wonderful old-fashioned rose bushes. Chuck donated these exceptional plants from his nursery. Thank you, Chuck!
Ol' Henry has been hearing about a new "dig" at "my" house and sure enough, it's happening! Sid and students from SIUE have opened an excavation site in search of Col. Ben's office at the Stephenson House. So far they have not found remains of an office, but once again they have found a rubbish pile! The pile has already produced many artifacts going back to the 1800s when Ben and Lucy were living there, including large pieces of crockery, coins and a boot heel made with square nails! Artifacts dating from the 1820s and a 1980s coin were found during the first few days of digging.


Are you thinking: what, another rubbish pile? Well, remember sanitation was not a big thing in those days and garbage hauling was not a business. So it appears there were several ways to handle trash and garbage. Any left over food scraps were probably fed to the domestic animals. And broken, unusable items apparently were simply tossed in the rubbish pile or into the privy. Even this mouse thinks these rubbish piles were situated very close to the house, but that was in the 1800s. As you folks might expect, 1820 yard grass was probably kept as tidy as it was going to get by grazing cattle and sheep. The vegetable garden, though, was fenced off from the hungry animals while the yard and the rubbish piles were available to these domestic animals.


Well, the other day Henry here overheard George and Sid talking about land offices. And by golly, Ol' Henry learned a lot about what led to the formation of the Government Land Offices and also how the land was acquired. Henry always knew that Col. Ben was the first to hold the prestigious position of Receiver of Moneys at the Edwardsville Land Office. But, for whatever reason the whole picture was not clear.

Ol' Henry learned a lot and here is the story I have to tell. The sale of Federal land had its beginnings after the Revolutionary War and the creation of an American government with a national policy of expansion to the western lands. The United States intended to take possession of the continent by whatever means possible. The United States national expansion policy began with the Ordinance of 1787 that was the original law for the formation of new territories and states. This national expansion policy was included in the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. When the 13 states signed the Constitution they agreed to a new Federal government and at the same time gave up their claims to their western lands for the national expansion. The first land given up by some of the states became the Northwest Territory in 1787. Within the next 15 years other states gave up land that later became Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. By around 1800 the ownership of all this land was in the hands of the Federal government.
Ol' Henry's ears really perked up on hearing about the ownership of these lands! Why would the states give their land to the Federal Government? Well, the new government had no source of income. There were no Federal taxes to run the government, no personal taxes and not even business taxes. The governments of the13 states had been financing the Federal government. These 13 states willingly gave up millions of acres of their western land so it could be sold as a source of income for the Federal Government. Then the states could stop financing the government. It was a darn good plan because the land sales by the U.S. government ended up providing enough money to run the Federal government for the next 100 years without other important taxes levied on the American people.


The Continental Congress created a plan for the new territories and states that would develop from the land sales. Ol' Henry found two policies in this plan real interesting. First it was established that a Governor be appointed for each new territory and secondly, the Governor would be responsible for provisions for a militia to maintain order and protect the settlers moving into the new western frontier. Now Ol' Henry understands why Territorial Governor Ninian Edwards began the Illinois Militia when he arrived in 1809 and why Fort Russell was built. He was directed to do so by the Federal Government! By 1800 the Federal government had developed a consistent land measuring system so they could start to sell the land in the new western frontier. As the government spent ten years developing their measuring system for land sales, the private land speculators had been busy. They set up their own offices and bought Bounty-land Warrants from the Revolutionary War soldiers. Ol' Henry has learned that the Revolutionary War soldiers had been paid with a suit and a certificate called a Bounty-land Warrant for land "out west somewhere". The certificates had a set value of $1.25 an acre but to use it the soldier had to travel to the western wilderness and claim his piece of land. These soldiers also knew that they had hostile Indians to deal with in the west and many were not using the certificates or Bounty-land Warrants. Instead they sold their certificates to the private land speculators who then had the claim for the land "out west somewhere". A guy named Rufas Putnam ended up owning 7 million acres of the Northwest Territory at 8 cents an acre!
The government set up a fair system for measuring the land to be sold, but the land speculators were ahead of "the hounds" with the Bounty-land Warrants or certificates as they "bought low and sold high" thereby realizing great profits. Soon the Federal Land Offices were formed. At this point Ol' Henry says, "Hold that thought". This is a long story and I will finish it next time, OK?


Let's get back to present-day activities for a minute! The Third Annual Taste of Downtown Edwardsville is coming up on June 11 at the Madison County Transit Center. Get your ticket from TheBank of Edwardsville Main Office or from a Stephenson House Board Member and be there when the fun begins at 7:30 on Saturday, June 11. Mary and her committee are preparing another great "Taste". Henry is counting on seeing you there as you continue with your wonderful support of Col. Ben's house!


See ya' at the "Taste",
Henry

 


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