User Rating: 0 / 5

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

Arrived at the nearest point to his destination on the Ohio, the emigrant either cut out a road to his new home or pushed up some tributary of that river in a keel-boat. If he was one of the poorer classes, he became a squatter on the public lands, trusting to find in the profits of his farming the means of paying for his land.

Not uncommonly, after clearing the land, he sold his improvements to the actual purchaser, under the customary usage or by pre-emption laws. [Footnote: Hall, Statistics of the West, 180; Kingdom, America, 56; Peck, New Guide for Emigrants to the West (1837), 119-132.] With the money thus secured he would purchase new land in a remoter area, and thus establish himself as an independent land-owner. Under the credit system [Footnote: Emerick, Credit and the Public Domain.] which existed at the opening of the period, the settler purchased his land in quantities of not less than one hundred and sixty acres at two dollars per acre, by a cash payment of fifty cents per acre and the rest in installments running over a period of four years; but by the new law of 1820 the settler was permitted to buy as small a tract as eighty acres from the government at a minimum price of a dollar and a quarter per acre, without credit. The price of labor in the towns along the Ohio, coupled with the low cost of provisions, made it possible for even a poor day-laborer from the East to accumulate the necessary amount to make his land-purchase. [Footnote: See, for example, Peck, New Guide for Emigrants to the West (1837), 107-134; Bradbury, Travels, 286.]

Having in this way settled down either as a squatter or as a land-owner, the pioneer proceeded to hew out a clearing in the midst of the forest. [Footnote: Kingdom, America, 10, 54, 63; Flint, Letters, 206; McMaster, United States, V., 152-155; Howells, Life in Ohio, 115.] Commonly he had selected his lands with reference to the value of the soil, as indicated by the character of the hardwoods, but this meant that the labor of clearing was the more severe in good soil. Under the sturdy strokes of his axe the light of day was let into the little circle of cleared ground. [Footnote: Hall, Statistics of the West, 98, 101, 145.] With the aid of his neighbors, called together under the social attractions of a "raising," with its inevitable accompaniment of whiskey and a "frolic," he erected his log-cabin. "America," wrote Birkbeck, "was bred in a cabin." [Footnote: Birkbeck, Notes on Journey, 94.]

Having secured a foothold, the settler next proceeded to "girdle" or "deaden" an additional forest area, preparatory to his farming operations. This consisted in cutting a ring through the bark around the lower portion of the trunk, to prevent the sap from rising. In a short time the withered branches were ready for burning, and in the midst of the stumps the first crop of corn and vegetables was planted. Often the settler did not even burn the girdled trees, but planted his crop under the dead foliage.