Monday, June 13, 2016

LAND: They Aren't Making Any More of It

I had an uncle who invested in real estate at a time when it was more popular to invest in stocks and bonds or precious metals. Even though I was in my early twenties, he made a statement that has stayed with me:

“The thing about land is, they aren’t making any more of it.”

Residents of the Netherlands, New Orleans and other areas where they have used dikes and levees to hold back oceans and rivers may disagree with that statement. But, generally, that is true. What land is available on the earth is what we have. My uncle’s attitude was this: if you hold title to land long enough, even land people today don’t think is valuable,  the day will come someone will want it. Why? Populations tend to grow, but there is only so much land on this earth available to them. Eventually, any land will be valuable to someone.

The history of migration tends to prove this out. An example is the sea-bound island nation of Great Britain. Over millennia it was inhabited early by Celts who originated in central Europe and came there by way of the Iberian Peninsula. It later was invaded by the Romans, Danes, Saxons, Normans among a few. One reason the Y-DNA of most men in Great Britain can be from almost anywhere, mostly from middle Eastern by way of Europe, but the Mt-DNA of women is almost all Celtic is because that nation of islands has a history of “They came; they conquered; they copulated.” (That quote is a Robyn Hobusch Echols original, by the way.) One exception is the Mt-DNA of some of the northern islands due to the Norwegians who came and brought their whole families to settle because—guess why?—they ran out of enough farmland in Norway to support their population.

As the population grew in Great Britain, the land could not support it. We think of groups of people like the Pilgrims of Massachusetts who came for religious freedom. However, the motivation behind most migration to this continent was based on obtaining the resources of this land. People were brought here to work the land for the benefit of the British crown and aristocracy, many because this was the penal colony before Australia became the penal colony, and many because of the promise of eventually being able to own land. As people came and worked off their indentures—either penal or to pay their passage, they eventually spread across the land forcing off the original native inhabitants. The Scotch-Irish were brought over to inhabit the frontier to act as a buffer against the native tribes who fought against the Europeans encroaching on their land. The Irish famine drove many from that island to North America in the 1800’s.

These suggestions of the motivation for immigration are very simplified. Books have been written on the topic. But, the one word summary of what was behind the motivation is this:


Immigrants from all over Europe sacrificed to come to North America in order to own what was impossible for them to obtain at home: LAND.

Since money to finance wars was scarce, soldiers in wars, starting with the Colonial wars and ending with the Civil War, were often paid with warrants that granted them the right to LAND.

With the Louisiana Purchase, to deal with the dispute over who should own the Northwest Territory, as part of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny, the United States formulated policies that would encourage westward migration. The lure was the one thing the nation at the time felt it had plenty of: LAND.

Some of the early land policies in North America were these:

1.  Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbade colonists from moving westward past a certain point (called the Proclamation Line) extending from Quebec to West Florida. (We all know how well that worked out.)

2.  The Land Ordinance of 1785 (following the American Revolution) stated that an individual had the right to purchase 640 acres of public land for $1 per acre, later reduced to 320 acres.

3.  Preemption Act of 1841 dealt with squatters, particularly in Kansas and Nebraska territories.

4.  Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 allowed settlers to claim land in the Oregon Territory, then including the modern states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Wyoming.

5.  Homestead Act of 1862 granting the right to obtain 160 acres of public land at a nominal cost by meeting certain requirements.

These land acts are the foundation of the migration motivation behind many of the romances written by our Sweet Americana Sweethearts authors, whether they be Oregon Trail wagon train romances, or mail order bride romances. I will be discussing some of these land acts in more detail in future posts: Land issues in Kansas and Nebraska in July, Donation Land Claim issues in August and the Homestead Act in September.

My most recent Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 novella, Her Independent Spirit, deals with two women claiming a different kind of independence than the one celebrated in July. Beth Dodd seeks her independence by obtaining her own land using the provisions of the Homestead Act. You may enjoy learning more about the this land act in action by reading her story which you can purchase on Amazon by CLICKING HERE  .

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. The first three novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine,  A Resurrected Heart, and Her Independent Spirit, are now available. He Is a Good Man was published as part of the Lariats, Letters and Lace anthology.


  1. Interesting Post, Zina! And I enjoyed all the maps and pictures! My descendants worked so incredibly hard to purchase and farm the land that was handed down. Then, even with five sons, in 1947 only one continued farming. The chance at other "exciting" occupations after spending their lives growing up on a farm, lured them. It has been hard to see the land sold off here and there. Just recently the old farmhouse that my grandparents built and where I'd spend my summers has been sold. Lots of good memories there.

  2. Thank you, Kathryn. It was hard to keep them down on the farm once they saw the city lights. Reality is, as the population grew in North American, the problem of subdividing productive real property among descendants to the point the allotted land could no longer support them all finally caught up with most parts of the Americas. Even most of us today feel fortunate to own a small parcel in a suburban neighborhood, the desire for land/home ownership still continues. The other problem is founding fathers never intended for the United States government to own large tracts of land, but it does.