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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 "…instead 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 food.


See ya' later,
Henry



 


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