Honoring Black Resilience Through the Black Homesteader’s Project

Juneteenth is a special occasion of celebration honoring the anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved communities in Texas on June 19, 1865. It’s a day to mirror on the previous, however to additionally look ahead and honor the resilience of African American communities.

In that vein, I’d wish to share my family’s story and an thrilling historic initiative known as the Black Homesteaders Venture which is a part of the Homestead Nationwide Historic Park Service.

Within the midst of the Civil Conflict, Abraham Lincoln proposed new laws known as the Homestead Act of 1862. The thought was to supply, for a minimal payment, as much as 160 acres of public land to any citizen prepared to farm the land and change into a “homesteader.” After 5 years, the homesteader earned the suitable to personal the land outright. 

The legislation was distinctive in that it didn’t discriminate on the premise of colour and was notable for the chance it gave African People to personal land. The U.S. authorities handed the Homestead Act to encourage western migration.

Each citizen in “good standing” was allowed to use to change into a homesteader, and for newly emancipated African People this initiative turned a technique to set up their lives as free residents.

My grandmother instructed me that the land the place she grew up in Louisiana was owned by her grandfather, Peter Clark. This impressed me to look into his story. 

Photo of Peter Clark and son Moses [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Picture of Peter Clark and son Moses [Credit: Bernice Bennett]

By the documentation surrounding Peter’s software to change into a homesteader, I not solely confirmed that he utilized to change into a homesteader on April 25, 1887 and was issued his land patent in 1896, I additionally discovered fascinating particulars about him and the life he led in nineteenth century Louisiana.

Peter Clark homestead application [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Peter Clark homestead software [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Peter Clark Homestead application [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Peter Clark Homestead software [Credit: Bernice Bennett]

By his software testimony, I discovered the precise location of the homestead and that he had already established residence on the land 10 years prior. He had a home, an outhouse, and 5 fenced-in acres that he had cleared. 

His testimony continues, “My spouse and 4 youngsters have lived there repeatedly since first establishing residence.”

When requested concerning the character of the land, he described it as “Piney-woods land — most beneficial for farming when cleared.”

A number of years later, Peter traveled again to the New Orleans workplace to replace on the land and he supplied the names of 5 witnesses who may attest that he efficiently carried out what was required of him as a homesteader. In 1894, the names of the people have been printed within the Southland newspaper.

Document listing Peter Clark’s witnesses [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Doc itemizing Peter Clark’s witnesses [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Article listing Peter Clark’s homestead application and names of witnesses [Credit: The Southland Newspaper, October 17, 1894.]
Article itemizing Peter Clark’s homestead software and names of witnesses [Credit: The Southland Newspaper, October 17, 1894.]

Researching the identification of those witnesses gave me extra particulars about Peter’s group at the moment. Marshall Douglass was a former member of the US Coloured Troops; Charles Baptiste was additionally a witness at my grandmother’s marriage ceremony in 1913; Henry Tinkshell lived down the highway from my Third-great-grandfather, and Robert Benefield was the editor of the newspaper. Most of those witnesses have been African-American homesteaders themselves.

I additionally discovered a doc stating that Peter didn’t have the cash to go in for his remaining testimony, and needed to wait till he’d saved sufficient to finish the method. Lastly, in 1896, his patent was issued and his declare to the land was authorised. Peter’s extraordinary tales have been documented in my award-winning e book, Tracing their Steps: A Memoir.

Peter Clark’s homestead patent [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Peter Clark’s homestead patent [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Peter Clark’s final homestead certificate registration [Credit: Bernice Bennett]
Peter Clark’s remaining homestead certificates registration [Credit: Bernice Bennett]

You may watch me inform my story and reveal my analysis, and listen to tales of different descendants who I used to be in a position to assist, on this Nurturing Our Roots Family tree Dialogue:

Discovering the story of my ancestors’ land possession impressed me to assist others study their very own ancestors’ tales. Many individuals who’ve inherited land are usually not acquainted with their household’s historical past of land possession. By the Black Homesteaders Venture, many descendants have been in a position to hint the lives of their ancestors throughout this pivotal time in historical past. This Venture initially centered on the Black Homesteaders of the Nice Plains and now descendants of Homesteaders all through the US are additionally researching and sharing their tales. Learn extra about their inspiring tales within the Nationwide Park website, Black Homesteading in America.

In the event you suppose your ancestors might have acquired their land by means of the Homestead Act, I like to recommend visiting the Bureau of Land Administration, the place yow will discover data of the landowners. That is the place I discovered my great-great grandfather’s identify listed, together with a number of the aforementioned witnesses. I’ve additionally began a brand new Fb group known as Descendants of African American Homesteaders that gives useful ideas and necessary data.

Blissful Juneteenth!

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