INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - June 15, 2005
Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. Keith
the painter, the gardeners and the paint crew regulars continue to work
hard. Ol' Henry saw a strange looking creature in the garden the other
day and it kinda' scared me. Then I heard Carol F. say it was a scarecrow.
Sure fooled me!
Hey, Ol' Henry needs to finish the long history of the Land Offices that
I learned from George's story! As you will remember, the earliest settlers
had bought their land from a middleman like Rufas Putnam. This is the
guy that ended up owning 7 million acres of land at 8 cents per acre.
The Federal government was quick to learn and voted to open offices to
sell the surveyed land directly to the public. The system of Government
Land Offices was established in 1800 and dozens of offices were opened
over the next 100 years. A land office would open and land sale would
begin after the treaties with the Indians were completed and the lands
surveyed. George said each new land office was located at the edge of
the frontier, as close as possible to the land being sold. Ol' Henry has
been telling you all along that Edwardsville was the place to be. Its'
land office was the northernmost in the Illinois Territory and a "jumping
off" spot for young men eager to find new horizons.
These land offices showed the routes the American people took west and
roads of all sizes were built along the routes to the west. George said
that the creation of the land offices and the land sales in the state
of Ohio, the Indiana, Michigan and Illinois Territories led to the construction
of the National Road in 1815. The National Road was almost the same as
the present day U.S. Highway 40 from Baltimore to St. Louis.
So, the stories Ol' Henry heard before about Ninian Edwards and Col. Ben
now fall into place. Before 1800 those who wanted to go to the western
frontier gathered at the frontier's edge to wait for the territories to
be opened. Edwards and Col. Ben waited at Russellville, Logan County,
Kentucky, where they bought land and mingled with the politicians as they
strove to insure their place in the new Illinois Territory.
The two men and their young families came to Randolph County in 1809 when
the Illinois Territory was formed and the land survey began. Edwards wanted
and received the appointment of Territorial Governor of Illinois. Col.
Ben, Edwards' close friend, had his sights on the many opportunities the
new frontier would provide.
By 1816 the Illinois Territory land survey was competed. In the meanwhile
Col. Ben had served as Sheriff of Randolph County, participated in the
War of 1812 and was the Illinois delegate to Congress. In April of 1816,
President Madison appointed him Receiver of Moneys at the Edwardsville
Land Office. Col. Ben's new position paid well in addition to being a
political plum! In October 1816, Col. Ben came from Kaskaskia to Edwardsville
for the opening of the new land office and the first land sales.
The Edwardsville Land Office was an extremely busy office and the town
grew "overnight". During the five years Col. Ben was Receiver,
there were 3500 individual land sales with a total dollar value of nine
hundred thousand dollars! Sid says that Friedman's Inflation Calculator
shows the equivalent is $108,381,190.98 in today's money. Wow! As Receiver
of Moneys Col. Ben received a yearly salary of $1000. In addition, he
received 1% commission on the land sales in his office. It looks to Henry
that 1% of nine hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money! Well, it
looked that way to the Federal Government too because they soon set the
commission limit at $3000. a year!
Sid and Karen agree that the land office was located somewhere on Main
Street in 1816, probably in Col. Ben's first house. Robert Pogue built
his store in 1819 right next to Col. Ben's home and soon the Land Office
was in this new building. Pogue's Store was today's Rusty's Restaurant.
Col. Ben had a prestigious, well-paid position but Ol' Henry thinks a
lot of candles were burned in the wee hours of the morning for Col. Ben
to write required reports. It was not an easy job! Sid located some of
the letters between Col. Ben and Josiah Meigs, head of the General Land
Office in Washington, that give an idea of a few of the problems encountered
with the land office at the most western frontier. The land office opened
in late 1816 and within 3 months Meigs wrote saying that the reports were
arriving "considerably damaged" and asked Col. Ben "
of making them in the form of a long roll, attach the sheets together
in book form
" and use better envelopes. In October 1817 Meigs
asked that the documents be well wrapped in paper, tied and put into a
cover of leather or undressed skins with the fur outside."
Two months later Josiah Meigs wrote to Col. Ben: "You may think it
an extraordinary fact, but so it is, that I do not know where Edwardsville
is---Will you tell me the Section, Township and Range?" Well! Now
Henry understands the reason for some of the problems Col. Ben had in
the land office. The men in Washington had no clue where Edwardsville
was and they certainly had little appreciation of the conditions the land
office faced at the edge of the western frontier. As you can imagine,
the distance between Washington and Edwardsville continued to keep Col.
Ben and Land Office Registrar John McKee very busy!
This has been a very long story and Henry hopes you hung in there with
me in my attempt to explain the Land Office. My hope is that you now have
a better idea as to what the land offices meant to the entire United States,
Edwardsville and Col. Ben.
With that said, I'm out of here, maybe to get some exercise or find some
See ya' later,