The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 399–413 | Cite as

Race and Local Knowledge: New Evidence from the Southern Homestead Act

  • Neil Canaday
  • Charles RebackEmail author
  • Kristin Stowe


The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 was a large-scale effort by Congress to make land ownership accessible for recently freed slaves by opening 46 million acres of public land exclusively for homesteading. Using new micro-data from Louisiana, we examine the factors that led to successful homesteading. We compare homesteaders to the agricultural population, finding few differences other than wealth. A disproportionate percentage of homesteaders were white. We substantiate some of the claims put forth in the earlier literature, such as large amounts of fraud. Further, we present a more nuanced interpretation of a greater success rate for African-Americans. Being local or non-local had no meaningful impact on white success rates but had a large impact on African-Americans. Local African-Americans were more likely to obtain title to their land while non-local African-Americans were less likely to succeed. We hypothesize that regional knowledge, kinship networks, and white resistance to non-local African-Americans are possible explanations for this racial difference.


Literacy Race Homesteading 

JEL Classification

N3 N5 J7 



We thank several anonymous reviewers and the participants of the 2010 Agricultural History Society Conference at Rollins College for their helpful comments. We are greatful to Elbie Bentley for excellent research assistance. Partial support for this research came from Teaching and Productive Scholarship Grants from USC Upstate.


  1. Asher & Adams’ new commercial, topographical, and statistical atlas and gazetteer of the United States. New York: Asher & Adams; 1874.Google Scholar
  2. Deverell WF. To loosen the safety valve: Eastern workers and Western lands. West Hist Q. 1988;19:269–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Donaldson TC. The public domain: its history with statistics. Washington D.C.; 1884.Google Scholar
  4. Gates PW. Federal land policy in the South 1866–1888. J South Hist. 1940;6:303–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gates PW. Federal land policies in the southern public land states. Agric Hist. 1979;53:206–27.Google Scholar
  6. Gates PW, Swenson R. History of public land law development. Washington, D.C.: GPO; 1968.Google Scholar
  7. Hoffnagle W. The Southern Homestead Act: its origins and operations. Historian. 1970;32:612–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Lanza ML. Agrarianism and reconstruction politics: the Southern Homestead Act. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press; 1990.Google Scholar
  9. Libecap GD, Hansen ZK. ‘Rain follows the plow’ and dryfarming doctrine: the climate information problem and homestead failure in the Upper Great Plains, 1880–1925. J Econ Hist. 2002;62:86–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Libecap GD, Johnson RN. Property rights, Nineteenth-Century federal timber policy, and the conservation movement. J Econ Hist. 1979;39:129–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lockett SH. In: Post LC, editor. Louisiana as it is, a geographical and topographical description of the state. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press; 1970.Google Scholar
  12. Millet DJ. The lumber industry of ‘imperial’ Calcasieu: 1865–1900. La Hist. 1966;7:51–69.Google Scholar
  13. Oubre CF. Forty acres and a mule: Louisiana and the Southern Homestead Act. La Hist. 1976;17:143–57.Google Scholar
  14. Oubre CF. Forty acres and a mule: the Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Land ownership. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press; 1978.Google Scholar
  15. Pope CF. Homesteads for negroes. Agric Hist. 1970;44:201–12.Google Scholar
  16. Robbins RM. The public domain in the era of exploitation, 1862–1901. Agric Hist. 1939;2:97–108.Google Scholar
  17. Robbins RM. Our landed heritage: the public domain 1776–1970. 2nd ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 1976.Google Scholar
  18. Ruggles S, Alexander JT, Genadek K, Goeken R, Schroeder MB, Sobek M. Integrated public use microdata series: version 5.0 [machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota; 2010.Google Scholar
  19. Shanks TW. In: Sherraden M, editor. Inclusion in the American dream: assets, poverty, and public policy. Oxford: Oxford UP; 2005.Google Scholar
  20. State of Louisiana. State Land Office. Homestead Entry Records. Manuscripts. Various years. 1866–1886.Google Scholar
  21. United States. Bureau of the Census. Census of Population. Manuscripts. Various years. 1870–1880Google Scholar
  22. United States. General Land Office. Patented Homesteading Records. Manuscripts. Various years. 1796–1907Google Scholar
  23. United States. Bureau of the Census. Map of Louisiana showing the distribution of pine forest with special reference to the lumber industry, compiled for the Tenth Census of the United States; 1881.Google Scholar
  24. United States. Congress. Statutes at Large 14 (1865–1867).Google Scholar
  25. Vandal G. ‘Bloody Caddo’: White violence against Blacks in a Louisiana Parish, 1865–1876. J Soc Hist. 1991;25:373–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Vandal G. Black violence in Post-Civil War Louisiana. J Interdiscip Hist. 1994;25:45–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Advance AmericaSpartanburgUSA
  2. 2.University of South Carolina UpstateSpartanburgUSA
  3. 3.Wingate UniversityWingateUSA

Personalised recommendations