What was a lot of land for an American to own after the Revolution? Know of anyone with more than 90,000 acres?

+13 votes
I am curious as to how much land was considered a lot, especially about the early 1800s in New England, United States.

This gentleman owned well over 90,000 acres in Vermont spanning more than 8 towns and 35 miles.

Does anyone know of other Americans who owned large amounts of land after the Revolutionary War?  I would like to know how unique this is.

Thank you for your time and input :)
WikiTree profile: Silas Hathaway
in The Tree House by Keith Hathaway G2G6 Pilot (607k points)
edited by Keith Hathaway
My experience indicates those who had vast territories were usually pretty high up I the "power circuit" and got them because they knew someone or how to do it.  Just a thought. Barb
Thanks Barb... I think that is the way it's always been
The South Carolina Middleton family rice kings held 50,000 acres and 800 slaves, presided over the Continental Congress and signed the "Big Document".

More common in the South where life was organized around plantations and slaves. (Anyone who's not read Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, take a look: It explores the different kinds of cultures that settled different parts of the country. An excerpt about Sir William Berkeley and the first families of Virginia - younger sons from English aristocracy - can be found here.) I seem to recall, for another example, when Trisha Yearwood was on "Who Do You Think You Are?" that an ancestor of hers had a lot of land - in Georgia or possibly Alabama.

Another book, Allan W. Eckert's "That Dark and Bloody River", about settlement along the Ohio River, describes a process by which large tracts of land were claimed. Including most of George Washington's nearly 60,000 acres. I once attended a lecture where the speaker had reviewed George Washington's correspondence: Yeah they promised they would leave the north side of the Ohio River for the Indians. But they never meant it: George Washington himself claimed land there (from Eckert) - one of his resumé items was "surveyor."

Of course, it was another matter entirely to actually make good on the claims. The Indians were less than pleased by incursions that violated previous agreements. A lot of it proceeded out of Pittsburgh, and arguably was motivated by much of the same rebellious attitude as the Whiskey Rebellion.

As I understand it "Tippecanoe & Tyler, too" was about the Indians getting resoundingly defeated and driven from Indiana west of the Mississippi. It was just in time for the British naval blockades of the War of 1812, which motivated a lot of New Englanders (and other coastal people) to move West to the newly opened territories. (As explained by a docent at the private Tippecanoe battlefield memorial near Lafayette, IN.)

Huge tracts of land got seized for private owners through corrupt practices in New Mexico after the Mexican-American war. Some of them are still intact: 10s and even 100s of thousands of acres. There are still active disputes about them today. But I don't think that's what you're talking about. Ted Turner bought a couple of 500,000 acre tracts in NM a few decades back.

Great read... thank you Elizabeth!
I think we all 'know' that, Elizabeth, - in the back of our heads - but we've never spent time to really pay attention and you explained it beautifully with  references too! Funny, can't remember the times I've regretted not paying attention in history class.  Now I can't get enough.   In my own history, I am sure this is the way it was - on a much smaller scale.  Thank you again.
T Y for the Edmonston link, I added it to his page :)
William Blount was VERY influential in Tennessee, particularly in East Tennessee. Blount County is named for him. Also my 3x ggf Joseph Blount Stover. :)
Thank you Summer... so are you saying he owned large tracts of land post-revolution?  Do you know if it was more than 90,000 acres?

Enjoy your day :)
Sorry Summer... I re-read the previous comments and am re-informed about Mr. Blount.


10 Answers

+3 votes
Thousands as in several since it would take so much labor unless it was virgin timber. Regards
by Anonymous Stringfellow G2G4 (4.6k points)
Hi Tim, thanks for your answer... forgive me, but I don't understand the wording..  Are you saying thousands of people owned over 90,000 acres... or that several thousand acres would have been a lot?
90,000 is a ridiculous amount of land to farm in practical terms. Both paternal and maternal 18th Century grandfathers had large families in Virginia and the Carolinas with several thousand acres. Regards

Besides for farming themselves, some bought land for resale... buying towns and selling farms.  At least this guy bought more than that and sold whole towns as well as farms and smaller.  His personal residence was only a couple hundred acres.

I know my own back yard is more than enough for us :)

It is my understanding most of the land was given away by British authorities to promote settlement in a wild and dangerous place with much hope and prospect for freedom from old country societal prerequisites. James Madison's grandfathers distributed the Shenandoah Valley to large landowners willing to take responsibility for clearing it. Tobacco made way for cotton when the industrial revolution went into full swing. Many lost their jobs in Britain when the cotton supply dried up. Regards
Thank you Tim!
Watch the PBS documentary on the monopoly barons in 19th Century America. You might enjoy that. Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Standard Oil, Chase and all those types if you want to know how much a lot is. Regards
+3 votes

One of my ancestors Josiah Crofut, (in New York State) in the year 1813 had 12 acres of 3rd rate improved land and 178 acres of unimproved. He bought some 2nd rate and sold and gave his children some of the unimproved land. In 1832 he had 28 acres of 3rd rate improved acres plus 5 acres that I think had improved to 2nd rate. That's 21 acres improved in 19 years.

My point being that you only need as much as you can work, so how much is "lots" is relative. Josiah had lots, even though he never owned more than 200 acres.

by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Thanks Anne!

Besides working with, some bought land for resale... buying towns and selling farms.  At least this guy bought more than that and sold whole towns as well as farms and smaller.  His personal residence was only a couple hundred acres.

I know my own back yard is more than enough for us :)
Hi Anne B, your post is very interesting. Been wondering about land prices in the 1820s. What is your take on 600 acres being rated if it brought 370.00 in Barnwell County SC? There was some type of mill and a blacksmith shop for a locksmith with a home there.

I was just looking at some 1821 valuations and taxes in McNett Pennsylvania (this is a really rural nowhere kind of place). There here so you can look and maybe make some comparisons. Land & houses don't seem to have been worth all that much, but look at the Mill (just under Cole, Florence) and the tannery (2nd page).

+3 votes

Although I do not know exactly how much land he owned, George Clymer, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, owned a tremendous amount of land in Central and Western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Indiana and Kentucky as well.  His family donated the land to form the City of Indiana, Pennsylvania. He made a fortune from real estate speculation.  Another town, Clymer, in Indiana County was named after him.  During the Whiskey Rebellion, he traveled to Western Pennsylvania to assess the volatility of the pioneers who rose up after he imposed the tax on spirits.  After visiting his lands and concluding that widespread opposition prevented him from collecting the tax, and, being unable to diffuse the growing protests that became the Whiskey Insurrection, he resigned in 1794. (His son Meredith was one of the troops dispatched to western Pennsylvania by President Washington to put down the rebellion.) 

by Ray Domanski G2G3 (3.4k points)
Thank you Raymond... I'm looking him up now!
They certainly were in a few of the exact same places on the exact same days doing the same things... I'm sure they knew each other.
+4 votes
Regarding the Land Bounty / Warrants issued as a result of the Revolutionary War, in 1776 Congress promised bounty land to soldiers of the Continental line; Privates and noncommissioned officers were to receive 100 acres, captains 300 acres, other ranks varied.

In addition, some states promised / granted bounty land on their own. Massachusetts (with Maine), New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina.  North Carolina was the most generous, giving 640 acres (a square mile) to a private in the Continental line. The tract was in Tennessee; no bounty land warrants were located within the present-day boundaries of North Carolina. Maryland gave the smallest amount, fifty acres to a private.   New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware did not grant any Revolutionary War bounty lands.

In 1788 the government began issuing warrants to those applying applying to redeem their bounties - AND - stipulated that the warrants were assignable, meaning the soldier could sell his warrant and not wait to take the land. This created an instant market in bounty warrants and allowed land speculators to accumulate large quantities of warrants and land.
by Elizabeth Townsend G2G6 Mach 2 (20.3k points)
Thank you Elizabeth!
+3 votes

Not common, but a fair number of wealthy men became land speculators after the War and purchased huge tracts of land.

Alexander Macomb, a wealthy NYC merchant, purchased a tract of more than 3.6 million acres, which included much of northern New York.

Robert Morris supposedly owned 6 million acres from New York to Georgia.

Both men went bankrupt in the Panic of 1797 and ended up in debtors' prison.

by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (253k points)
edited by Chase Ashley
Outstanding find Chase, thank you for sharing.  I'll read up on it for sure!
That's hilarious in a macabre sort of way. Regards
+3 votes
My Virginia families and their neighbors seems to average around 400 to a 1000 acres. In the 1600 to mid 1700s . They were evicted after 1780. Moved to the Carolinas and continued to have around the same amount of land. My father's father died and a large amount of land was sold off for housing development.  If it had been up to me I would have kept the land. But greed out weighs history sometimes.
by Anonymous Roach G2G6 Pilot (186k points)
My last SC guy had 600 when he died in 1830. His son and grandson worked smaller farms in Alabama.
+3 votes
Old Silas Hathaway's house in town (St Albans) still stands on the old Main Street, Route 7.  That guy is responsible for one of my biggest genealogical brick walls. Silas owned pretty much everything in St Albans and Swanton, amd was called Baron Hathaway.  My ancestor was the first storekeeper in the town of Swanton.  Silas gave my ancestor a contract to provide lumber, but my ancestor couldn't deliver it, so Silas sued him.  Silas was also the judge in the county.  The last trace I have of my ancestor,was a note in the civil file that my ancestor, Alexander Ferguson, had left Swanton and was believed to be in Manchester.  He had to get out of Dodge because of Silas Hathaway.  You can't fight city hall.   Have never found what happened to Alex.  Silas, I can report, lost most of his land and money and died without much to pass on to his wife.   

If you are talking about Vermont, look to the Ira Allen story.  Founder of the State, and of my University (UVM), he and his brothers owned huge amounts of land after the Revolution.  He died in debtor's prison in Philadelphia.   Irasburg, Barton, Plainfield  -- he owned a lot of Vermont, lots more than Silas, but when they started taxing that land, it was his downfall.

Not a unique story for land barons after the Revolution.  Morris in New Jersey had the same fate.  Debtors prison.
by Carolyn Adams G2G6 Mach 7 (79.9k points)
Thank you very much for sharing.  I am well read on my 4th great grandfather Silas :)

The brief synopsis you read is but a small part of what he owned and did. Even in that one it says he was poor "in comparison" to what he had before. He still owned land (which I still live on today), was a Judge, and was quite comfortable until his passing.

I am also well read on Ira, as Silas bought Highgate, Swanton, along with most of St. Albans, Georgia, Fairfax, Fairfield, Colchester, Burlington, Sheldon, Shelburne, Essex, etc. from ira and his brothers.

I'm also aware of the court case vs. your ancestor. No hard feelings :)  I think lots of times those guys were all friends, hung out together, played together, conducted business together, and sued each other regularly.

Swanton is right next door; I go there often and can almost see it out my window.  if I can be of any assistance to you there please let me know.  I could take cemetery or farm pics for example.

Maybe the store is still standing?  I could take pics for you or even make you a video of the inside, outside, and surrounding view.  Happy to do it.
I forgot to mention,

I've been inside that house in St. Albans you mentioned.  It's pretty neat.

I am very familiar with your UVM and find myself there every so often for one reason or another :)
Although I doubt my Alexander Ferguson-6393 was much more than an acquaintance of Baron Silas, they were contemporaries.  It doesn't surprise me that Silas retained enough of his vast wealth to be comfortable in his old age.  I can't comment on the comfort of Alex and Nabby, as they had to book out of town in midlife and abandon his business.  I am always hopeful that I will find more about them.   

I appreciate the offer to take pix of the store, but doubt it could have survived.  1807 is about the time they left, and those were very early days for Swanton.  I assume it was new wooden construction then, now long gone.  Of course someone could have purchased it and made it a permanent house.  I have never done much deed work in Swanton to know if he owned property or just rented from Silas.  Some of the children did prosper in the area.  His daughter married Asa Abell, who was a town clerk of Swanton and successful.  I found reference to one of his sons in northern NY state. Suppose Alexander Ferguson-6942 is a grandson, made his fortune in Huntington VT and became what Silas was.  A creditor.

Have found many references to Silas Hathaway in my own research through the years.  Besides my Franklin Co connections, have even more in Bennington Co.  His name has come up there as well.
Several weeks ago I suggested Maureen O'Hara for the March family connection project.  When it was accepted, I worked on her husband, Charles Blair's ancestry, as he was a Vermonter.   I am 19 steps from Maureen O'Hara through her Vermont husband.  #11 is Silas Hathaway.  That must mean I am 8 steps from Silas.  His wife Tryphosa Jewett was sister in law to my one of my ancestors.  Small world.
+3 votes
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, owned more than five million acres in Northern Virginia before the American Revolution. He hired his distant relative, George Washington, to survey his lands in what is now West Virginia. The Fairfax Stone, which marks the source of the North Branch of the Potomac River, and is the southwestern point where Maryland and West Virginia meet, marked the western border of his land, which included all the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He was the only English peer to live in America, but his land was taken from him after the Revolution. Fairfax County, Virginia, where I live, was named for him.
by Henry Chadwick G2G6 Mach 4 (49.6k points)
Thanks Henry, very interesting.  Pre Revolutionary though, so out of my study :)
+4 votes

Not in the East but notable all the same.

The King Ranch comprises 825,000 acres (3,340 km2; 1,289 sq mi) and was founded in 1853 by Captain Richard King and Gideon K. Lewis, includes portions of six Texas counties, including most of Kleberg County and much of Kenedy County, with portions extending into Brooks, Jim Wells, Nueces, and Willacy Counties. The ranch does not consist of one single contiguous plot of land, but rather four large sections called divisions. The divisions are the Santa Gertrudis, the Laureles, the Encino and the Norias. Only the first two of the four divisions border each other, and that border is relatively short. The ranch was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Ranch


by David Selman G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Cleveland is named after a lawyer from Connecticut in a consortium of Connecticut lawyers Thomas Jefferson gave northeast Ohio to. He got the lakeshore acreage. A man named Root surveyed and picked out the section known as Rootstown in Summit County.

The largest ranch in the US was the Xit Ranch, at the NW corner of the Texas Panhandle. The Xit ranch was 3 million acres at its peak. If it were a state, it would be larger than DE, RI, CT or HI. The ranchers raised a stink about much surrounding land being put into wheat in the late 1800s, early 1900s. WWI offered great market opportunities for wheat, and when prices dropped when Europe started farming again after the Armistice, more and more acreage went into production.

Drought hit in the 1930s, and it all blew away, a very large human-created environmental disaster. The Oklahoma panhandle and areas of the 4 surrounding states of TX, NM, KS & CO formed the heart of the Dust Bowl. The population peaked in the 1920 Census for the region, and has been dropping ever since.

Much of the above and much more can be found in Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, about the people who toughed out the Dust Bowl, who didn't leave.

+3 votes
I have perused the comments here. I am surprised that no one but me mentioned seizures from the Indians. Do you all think the country was "empty" for the taking? Really? And very little mention of slavery either, which made the farming of huge tracts possible. It really was how large areas of the Colonies (& then the US) were developed, especially in the South.
by Living Winter G2G6 Mach 7 (72.0k points)
edited by Living Winter
I'm not sure the original post asks anything about those topics, could be how they were overlooked.  I asked what was a large amount of land to own after the revolutionary war, and if anyone knew of more than 90,000 :)

Of course these are interesting aspects and vital information for one to be fully schooled on the subject.

Thank you!

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