Getting to Know the Homestead Act
OverviewIn "Getting to Know the Homestead Act" students utilize a written document analysis worksheet to practice the skill of analyzing primary sources.
The Homestead Act and President Lincoln unit is broken up into five lesson plans, taking 45-50 minutes to complete, targeting sixth through eighth grade students. A class does not have to complete every lesson in the unit - each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources. This is lesson 1 of the unit.
Why did people move? Why did people move west?
The Homestead Act of 1862
- analyze historical documents.
- name the requirements to claim land under the Homestead Act of 1862.
President Abraham Lincoln made the Homestead Act a law by signing it on May 20, 1862. This law gave 160 acres of land away to individuals who met certain requirements. In order to file a claim, an individual had to be at least 21 years of age or be the head of household. This law allowed women to file claims and own land. The act also required a person to be a citizen of the United States or declare intention to gain citizenship. This allowed many European immigrants, African-Americans and others to stake claims as well. Many railroads and western towns sent representatives to European countries to entice people to move to the United States. These representatives showed pictures of beautiful towns with tree-lined streets and rich soil for farming.
The applicant of a claim had to file an affidavit with the local land office stating they met the conditions required by the law. At this time, the claimant would pay a fee of $12 for filing the paperwork.
Once the filing was complete, there were additional requirements to meet in order to receive the patent and title to the land. A person had to build a home, live on the land, make the land his/her permanent residence, and work the land for a period of 5 years.
Many people who came to claim land paid for the services of a locator. This person would assist them in finding an unclaimed tract of land. Many locators showed individuals land near their own claim in order to "settle" the country and have neighbors nearby.
After living on the land, building a home, and farming the land for 5 years, it was time to "prove up." This simply required the homesteader to find two individuals who would serve as witnesses. These witnesses had to state they had known the homesteader for 5 years, knew the claimant had tilled the land and grown crops. With witnesses in tow, a claimant would proceed to the land office to "prove up," paying another small filing fee of $6 and having both witnesses sign the final documents. Afterwards, the claimant would receive a final certificate or patent to the land, having met all the conditions.
Homesteading by the Numbers
10 Percent of U.S. land given away under the Homestead Act.
30 Number of states in which homestead lands were located.
40 Percent of homesteaders that "proved up" on their claims and earned the deed from the federal government.
123 Years the Hoemstead Act was in effect.
160 Acres in a typical homestead claim.
4,000,000 Approxiamate number of claims made under the Homestead Act.
27,000,000 Total number of acres distributed by the Homestead Act.
For this lesson you will need:
Copy of the Homestead Act of 1862
Copy of the National Archives Written Document Analysis Worksheet
Poster Paper with colored pencils, markers etc.
Ask students why their family lives in the community that they do? Students will likely respond with jobs or family.
Ask why people move from one place to another. Answers will likely be opportunities or family.
Ask students to imagine they were living in the 1860's and identify where in the United States they would most likely live.
Remind students that while there were American Indians living throughout the 30 Homesteaded states there were few others living on the plains.
Share with students that today they will become familiar with the Homestead Act of 1862 that encouraged the settlement of the west.
Have students complete the National Archives Written Document Analysis Worksheet in order to practice the skill.
Students should answer the following questions in regard to the Homestead Act.
- How old did you have to be to make a claim?
- Could women make a claim?
- Did you have to be a citizen of the United States?
- How much land could you claim?
- What did you have to do to earn the deed to the land?
Discuss the answers to the questions with the entire class.
Once students have completed their questions they will create an illustrated poster that tells the story of the Homestead Act through images.
Other Lesson Plans
This lesson plan is part of a larger curriculum unit on the The Homestead Act and President Lincoln for grades sixth through eighth. To view the entire curriculum or other individual lesson plans, please click the links below.
Lesson 1: Getting to Know the Homestead Act
Lesson 2: Homestead Act Paperwork
Lesson 3: Homesteading by the Numbers
Lesson 4: Legacy of the Homestead Act
Lesson 5: The Legacy of Abraham Lincoln
Additional ONLINE Lesson Plans created by Homestead National Monument of America in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration.
The Homestead Act of 1862
Students will examine congressional laws and homesteading records while searching for clues as to what order to put them in. The documents used in the activity should be examined carefully as to their correct order. The names and dates are of no significance. It is the type of document that is significant and what order they would have been done to claim land under the Homestead Act of 1862.
Beginning of a Dream, Homestead Act Made Law Part 1
Beginning of a Dream, Homestead Act Made Law Part 2
Students will examine primary sources to help them understand relationships among events. After each document or set of documents students will be asked to make the connection between the documents.
Videos to complement activities
Beginning of a the Dream: Homestead Act Made Law (21:31)
Beginning of the Dream, Homestead Act Made Law is a short film on the Homestead Act of 1862. It was done in the partnership with Homestead National Monument of America and the National Archives and Records Administration. This film covers a brief history of the Homestead Act of 1862 and its impacts. The film discusses the document itself; where it is kept, how it is preserved and its current condition. It also discusses the National Archives and their role in preserving documents and materials such as the Homestead Act of 1862 for generations to come.
Filled with Stories: Homestead Records Project (11:10)
Filled With Stories: The Homestead Records Digitization Project is a short film on how the original records of those who claimed land under the Homestead Act of 862 are being digitized. This film was done in partnership with Homestead National Monument of America and the National Archives and Records Administration. This film covers the digitization process from beginning to end. It also gives an in-depth look at how records are restored/preserved by paper conservators.
Impacts of the Homestead Act (4:26)
Produced by Homestead National Monument of America, this video describes the impacts of the Homestead Act of 1862.