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Following the clues in the land records

The land, the federal land records show, was originally earned by the soldiers.

George Gordon, Private, Captain Hotchkiss’ Company, Massachusetts Militia, War of 1812.

He was the warrant holder on 160 acres of land — the north east quarter of section 25, township 142 north, range 48 west, in Clay County, Minnesota.1

Asa White, Private, Captain Hotchkiss’ Company, Massachusetts Militia, War of 1812.

He was the warrant holder on another 160 acres of land — the north west quarter of section 25, township 142 north, range 48 west, in Clay County, Minnesota.2

tax.saleBut neither of those soldiers ever went to Minnesota. George Gordon was in Hancock County, Maine, in the 1870s.3 Asa White’s bounty land records aren’t online yet4 but there’s no record of him in Minnesota.5

So the warrants for the land were in the soldiers’ names, but, the records show, they assigned the land to an intermediary.

But that man, Alpheus B. Stickney, didn’t take up the land either. Census records show that he was just the middleman: a St. Paul lawyer in 18706 and a railroader by 1880.7

And, the records show, Stickney assigned both tracts of land — 320 acres total — to Benjamin H. Mace.8

But he doesn’t seem to have bothered to show up in Minnesota either.

Because, we find out, on the 29th of September 1881, both parcels — all 320 acres — of land were sold for unpaid taxes to the one man in the whole set of transactions who did show up and live in Clay County.9

John Jestin, or Jeston depending on the record, was a Norwegian-born farmer who was living with his family in Clay County by 1875.10 He was still there in 1880,11 and in 1885.12 His widow was recorded in 1895.13

So… what’s with the tax sale bit?

You know what the answer is already, don’t you?

Of course you do.

And you’re right: it was the law.

You see, our ancestors often got missed by the census enumerators. They may have outrun the sheriff. They may never have left a will.

But the tax boys… they found ’em. Or if they didn’t find ’em, they’d at least find some bit of property somewhere to seize and sell for back taxes.

And when it came to land, there were all kinds of procedures and rules that had to be followed. They’re all set out, carefully, in the statute books.14

And when the rules are followed, what you get is what you see here: a tax deed from the county auditor to the local resident.

But it’s so much more than that, if we think about it.

It’s a clue. A hint. An indicator that there’s a story here to be followed back.

All the way from John Jestin and his purchase of 320 acres at a tax sale in 1881 to two men half a continent away who served in a war more than a half-century earlier.

Neat, huh?


SOURCES

  1. George Gordon, warrantee (Clay County, Minnesota), warrant no. 108,587; digital images, “Land Patent Search,” General Land Office Records (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  2. Asa White, warrantee (Clay County, Minnesota), warrant no. 108,544; digital images, “Land Patent Search,” General Land Office Records, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  3. Affidavit of George Gordon, 10 March 1871, George Gordon (Pvt., Capt. John O. Hotchkiss’s Co., Mass. Militia, War of 1812), pension no. S.C. 17,457 (Rejected); Case Files of Pension and Bounty-Land Applications Based on Service in the War of 1812, 1871-1900; Pension and Bounty Land Applications Based on Service between 1812 and 1855; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  4. A good reason to support the Preserve the Pensions effort!
  5. A search for any White in the Clay County area in the 1870 and 1880 federal census records and 1875 Minnesota census records failed to disclose any man who might have been a War of 1812 soldier by that surname.
  6. 1870 U.S. census, Ramsey County, Minnesota, St. Paul, population schedule, p. 73 (penned), dwelling 502, family 509, A B Stikney; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T132, roll 10.
  7. 1880 U.S. census, Ramsey County, Minnesota, St. Paul, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 9, p. 190(D) (stamped), dwelling 41, family 48, Alpheus B. Stickney; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 630.
  8. Benjamin H. Mace (Clay Co., Minn.), Military bounty warrant nos. MW-0520-107 (1 Sep 1871) and MW-0520-384 (20 Oct 1871), MBW Act of 1855, Alexandria, Minn., Land Office; digital images, “Land Patent Search,” General Land Office Records, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  9. Clay County, Minnesota, Tax Deed Book 1:2, Tax Deed No. 3, Auditor to John Jestin, 29 Sep 1881; digital images, “databasename,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  10. 1875 Minnesota State Census, Clay County, Moorhead, p. 342, line 10, John Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, microfilm MNSC-5, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  11. 1880 U.S. census, Clay County, Minnesota, Moorhead, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 186, p. 486(A) (stamped), dwelling 2, family 3, John Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 617.
  12. 1885 Minnesota State Census, Clay County, Moorhead, pp. 5-6 (penned), family 32, John Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, microfilm MNSC-23, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  13. 1895 Minnesota State Census, Clay County, Moorhead, p.9 (penned), family 230, Klara Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, microfilm V290_54, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  14. See Title V, §§106 et seq., “Advertisement and Sale of Delinquent Land,” in A.H. Bissell, editor, The Statutes at Large of the State of Minnesota, 2 vols. (Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1873), I: 330; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
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