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The alternative measures

So The Legal Genealogist is getting ready to head off to Missouri at the end of this week to join an enthusiastic crowd at the Missouri State Genealogical Association (MoSGA) conference in Columbia.

The conference, titled “Liars, Laws and Brick Walls,” is going to be a blast — we’ll talk about rogues and rascals, chase immgrants down into their new-country rabbit holes, and review the ways in which court records add to our family histories. And that’s just the start of what the conference offers. In addition:

• Sharlene Miller is offering a workshop on the Missouri First Families program.

• Patti Hobbs will explain the benefits of DNA testing and how to understand test results.

• Erika Woehlk will review the online databases of the Missouri State Archives (and they are terrific resources).

• Cheryl Land will help guide newcomers with her overview of beginning genealogy.

• Preston Washington helps us understand the significant records of Indian Territory.

• Rob Taylor will offer “Confessions of an Obituary Seeker,” with examples drawn from newspapers at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Getting ready for a conference like this always send me to the resources of the local area, and I always come across something I didn’t know — or hadn’t readily focused on — before.

Boone.landAnd every time I look at Missouri research, I have to remind myself… it started out as French territory, and then became Spanish territory.1

Then it was returned to France, and all of that was before it was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.2

Which explains why the United States Congress, on the 10th of February 1814, confirmed title to land in Missouri to one Daniel Boone — yes, that Daniel Boone — described as “one thousand arpens of land.”3


We all know what arpens are, right?

Sure we do.

Okay, so maybe you do. Me? I had to look it up.

An arpen, or arpent, was a “French measure of land, containing one hundred square perches, of eighteen feet each, or about an acre. But the quantity raried in different provinces.”4

Except that a perch is defined, not as 18 feet, but as a “measure of land containing five yards and a half, or sixteen feet and a half in length.”5

So what is it?

The answer lies in the last part of the definition of arpen in Black’s Law Dictionary: “But the quantity raried in different provinces.”

The arpen, a term used only in Missouri, or arpent, the term used elsewhere, in France and Canada was 100 square perches, and the the perche was 18 French feet.6 That’s not the same thing as a foot in the English measure — or the Spanish measure.

Using the French measure, an arpent was .84 acres. But using the Spanish measure, it was 1.26 acres.7 Or, as the Missouri Supreme Court noted, “An arpent is a land measure varying in dimension from eighty-four hundredths of an acre to one acre and four hundredths and to one acre and twenty-eight hundredths.”8

This inconsistency had to be resolved: “After the Louisiana Purchase, United States surveyors measured existing land grants, settling on an exact measurement of 191.994 feet per arpent.”9

Or thereabouts.

More or less…


Image: “An act for the relief of Daniel Boone” (10 February 1814); Record Group 233; NARA, Archives I, Washington D.C.

  1. See “Timeline of Missouri History: 1673-1799,” Missouri Digital Heritage ( : accessed 3 Aug 2015).
  2. Ibid., “Timeline of Missouri History: 1800-1820.”
  3. “An Act for the relief of Daniel Boone,” 6 Stat. 127 (10 Feb. 1814).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 89, “arpen.”
  5. Ibid., 887, “perch.”
  6. Jack D. L. Holmes, “The Value of the Arpent in Spanish Louisiana and West Florida,” 24 Louisiana History (Summer 1983) 314.
  7. Ibid., 315.
  8. Troll v. St. Louis, 257 Mo. 626, 648 (1914).
  9. Breadbasket of the Colony,” St. Charles Museum and Historical Association ( : accessed 3 Aug 2015).
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