Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
So How Did They Know Where To Go?
From the 1750s through 1900 a continual migration of individuals and families progressed toward the west in our country. The only pauses were during the American Revolution and the Civil War and even then the movement did not totally stop.
What motivated these pioneers and how did they know where to go? Surely it wasnít easy to uproot a family and start over on the frontier. Clearing land, planting crops, building shelter, and many other physically demanding tasks faced the pioneer husband and father. At the same time the wife/mother had the normal household chores of providing meals, clothing, and a safe environment for her children but in more challenging conditions than the home she left behind.
The Western Gazetteer or Emigrantís Directory published in 1817 by Samuel R. Brown has been digitized by Archive CD Books USA. Brown aimed to provide "a useful, correct and faithful guide to the enterprising farmers and mechanics of the Atlantic states" who might be considering a move. He goes into detail about the geography and topography of the entire area east of the Mississippi River excluding the original thirteen colonies, one thousand million acres by his own estimate, but seems to rely on reports from other persons who had visited the new states and territories.
A typical entry is that of Illinois Territory with a population of 20,000 where slavery was illegal and inhabitants were hospitable, moral and religious. Land was fertile and inexhaustible, suitable for crops or livestock with over 1000 miles of rivers, abundant lakes and beautiful scenery. Existing towns established by the French some 100 years earlier appeared to be in a state of decline, just waiting for enterprising Americans to revive them.
Potential pioneers could also find information in their local newspapers. In 1809 the Boston Patriot carried an ad for "30,000 acres in Maine . . . on terms more favorable than ever before offered." Vermont newspapers enticed settlers to the Cazenovia Tract in New York in 1819, "on the Allegany River . . . whence grain may be transported to Baltimore at two shillings per bushel."
In 1821, a New York Evening Post land seller offered 400,000 acres in western North Carolina, "where the climate is one of the most desirable in the world, and very healthy. . . water is pure and delicious . . . wheat, rye, oats, barley, Indian corn, and other grains grow in the highest state of perfection . . . ." How could a farmer on New Englandís stony ground resist?
With the advent of the railroads, convenience was mentioned more often. An ad for land in Iowa in 1858 mentions a nearby town of 600 inhabitants with grocery stores, saw mill, flour mill, and "two fine hotels." A few years later a Wisconsin newspaper advertised 120 acres of "choice raw, land in Linn County, Kansas convenient to three good railroad towns." By 1875 California land companies enticed readers of Midwestern newspapers with tales of large crops "planted as late as July 15," in contrast to the short growing season in the northern states.
Neither the newspapers or Brownís directory ever mention plagues of insects, summer heat and extended droughts, loneliness of settlers miles from their nearest neighbor, scarcity of doctors, churches, and schools, or long hours worked by the entire family to make a living from the farm. While many pioneers wrote letters "back home" urging friends and relatives to join them, some gave up and went back themselves. Most were not easily deterred, however, and by 1892 the U.S. was declared to no longer have a "frontier" as the pioneers had indeed won the west.
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