In May 1862, while the Civil War raged on, Abraham Lincoln signed in to law the Homestead Act of 1862. This Act gave 160 acres of public land to those who were willing to file an application with a small filing fee, make improvements and file for a patent (deed).1 It was one of the most important pieces of legislation allowing former slaves, women and immigrants to become landowners.2
Harriet Elizabeth Harper saw an opportunity. She was 42 years old and newly widowed just after the Homestead Act of 1862 was signed. Her husband, James Madison Harper, died from wounds during the Seven Days’ Battles in Richmond, Virginia.3 Once divorced and now widowed with five young children in Georgia, prospects must have seemed very slim for Harriet during the Civil War.4 Her uncle had made the move south to Putnam County, Florida. She decided to take a leap of faith!
My recent visit to the National Archives of Washington, D.C. research room gave me the opportunity to see Harriet’s complete homestead application and subsequent follow up documentation. The Bureau of Land Management General Land Office shows the final document in Harriet’s application, the official land patent awarded in 1876.5 Through the National Archives, I finally learned the rest of the story.
It was in 1868 when Harriet and her family made the 300-mile journey from their home in Georgia to Welaka, Putnam County, Florida. Nestled on the shores of the St. Johns River, the area was prime and fertile for growing citrus. The 1870 census enumerated Harriet next door to her uncle Joseph Tucker in Welaka. 6 Between 1869 and 1875, Harriet built her home and other dwellings, living with her five children. They cultivated 11 acres, planting oranges, bananas, peaches and pomegranates. Her son, Edward J. Harper, witnessed the final proof required.7
The Final Affidavit Required of Homestead Claimants tells me Harriet settled her 160 acres on the 13th of November 1869 and it was finalized the 23rd of November 1875. This final affidavit also included the legal documentation from Florida and witness statements made by neighbors.8 In all, her entire Homestead Application folder included 11 pages.
Harriet’s official land patent was granted the 26th of May in 1876. At this very same time, she deeded 40 acres of land to her now adult son who was newly married and sold the rest for $1,200.9 Harriet died 5 months later. According to her obituary in the Southern Christian Advocate, she had been ill for two years, suffering greatly.10
Harriet is one of my favorite ancestors. She was strong willed and an independent woman before her time. As I continuously search for records, I hope to learn more about her life and other great adventures.
- “Homestead Acts.” Wikipedia, 28 December 2019 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead_Acts : accessed 8 January 2020).
- “Homestead Act.” History.com, 9 November 2009. (https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/homestead-act : accessed 8 January 2020).
- Carolyn L. Harper Johnson, “CRAWFORD COUNTY GA Co E – 6th Regiment – Jackson Guards.” USGenWeb Archives (http://files.usgwarchives.net/ga/crawford/military/civilwar/rosters/e6.txt : accessed 9 January 2020).
- “In Crawford Superior Court, August Term, 1840.” (Milledgeville, Ga.) Southern Recorder, 15 December 1840, p.4 col. 3; image, Georgia Historic Newspapers (https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu : accessed 15 December 2019).
- Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (Washington, DC), “U.S. General Land Office Records, 1776-2015,” database and images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 8 January 2020) image for Harriet Harper E Harper, 20 May 1876 land patent, homestead certificate no. 950, application no. 4260; citing Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA; Federal Land Patents, State Volumes.
- 1870 U.S. Census, Putnam County, Florida, population schedule, Welaka Precinct, pp. 88-89 (penned), dwelling 46, family 42, Harriet Harper; image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 1 February 2018), citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 133.
- Application no. 4260, 13 Nov 1869, in Harriet Harper (Putnam County) homestead file bearing final certificate no. 950, 23 Nov 1875, Gainesville, Florida, Land Office; Final Proof Required Under Homestead Act May 20, 1862; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archive, Washington, D.C.
- Application no. 4260, 13 November 1869, in Harriet Harper (Putnam County) homestead file bearing final certificate no. 950, 23 November 1875, Gainesville, Florida, Land Office; Final Affidavit; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archive, Washington, D.C.
- Putnam County, Florida, Deed Book F: 656-657; Harriet Harper & Edward J. Harper, 1 January 1876; Deed Book F: 332-334; Harriet E. Harper & Lionel Jacobs, 1 January 1876; Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Palatka, Florida.
- Southern Christian Advocate (Macon, Georgia) 5 December 1876, p. 196, obituary Harriet E. Harper; photocopy provided by Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina, without identification of column.