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The Reeds Bought Land

Early settlers on newly opened American lands had a couple of options for acquiring their property. Some used bounty land warrants received as payment for military service. Others purchased land from the government. Thomas Reed used the second option.

My ancestor left Kentucky in December 1829 and took his family to Illinois. This part of the Northwest Territory had become a state eleven years earlier in 1818. Before Thomas’ arrival, most of the population was clustered in the southern part of Illinois, but Thomas pushed northeast to an area where settlement had begun only five years earlier.

He rejected the first site he had in mind because of rumors of the prevalence of milk sickness, the malady that took the life of Abraham Lincoln’s mother. He and his family settled instead in a wild area near present-day Ashmore, Illinois.

They were pioneer settlers. In 1830, Thomas received patents for three tracts of land. He purchased another ten parcels from the government over the following ten years.

He ended up owning over 1000 acres, or nearly two sections. His sons, Robertson and Caleb, purchased many of the fill-in parcels. The land was part prairie, and part timber, with a stream running through it. This part of Illinois became rich farmland, and the Reeds made a good living there.

I do not know how Thomas came by the money to purchase all this land. In Kentucky, he had owned some land jointly with his brothers, acquired with a mortgage. He was not wealthy then.

His father Caleb had owned 2-3 hundred acres in Kentucky, and he also worked on the side as an estate appraiser and an officer in the Kentucky militia. He passed away about 1832, and Thomas received only a watch from him. Thomas did not use inherited money to buy his land.

So where did he get it? Did his wife have money? Had his father given him money when he liquidated his Kentucky holdings in the early 1820’s? I do not know.

It took some money to settle on land the government offered for sale on the frontier of America. The price was not high because they wanted to encourage settlement. Yet people like the Reeds needed to have money from somewhere to take advantage of the deal. We do not know how Thomas Reed managed that.

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