So, you’ve found your ancestor in an early Missouri census, or maybe you’ve been lucky enough to find a land record on the Bureau of Land Management website. Maybe you found a bounty land record that leads you to believe they settled in Missouri. Fantastic!
Your next question is probably, Where did you come from, Missouri Settlers? I’ve talked about how some settlers in Missouri’s Little Dixie came from the Upper South (Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and the Carolinas) in a previous post. And I’ve discussed how most settlers came West to or through Missouri via the vast waterway network emanating from the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers. But that still leaves open the question of where did ALL of the settlers come from post-territorial opening (1821).
If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s certainly a couple hundred tucked inside two wonderful maps.
Milton D. Rafferty in Historical Atlas of Missouri virtually plots the migration trail of emigrants to Missouri in his two maps – pre-1860 and 1860-1890. The separate of time periods falls generally along the line of statehood (1861), the Civil War (1861-1865), and the break in the major migrations. Frontier expansion being from 1820 to 1860, and post-Civil War migration after 1865.
Pre-1860 Migration Map
In 1821 Missouri was opened for settlement as a territory. The land was ready for surveys and the frontier was officially declared “open.” Settlers came south using the Ohio River system from Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. They were looking for farm land that was cheaper and more available than the lands they currently settled. Additionally, bounty land grants from the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War were becoming more available as Congress slowly eased the restrictions on who could obtain the land. Settlers from the Upper South (Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee) moved West to settle Little Dixie – prime land for tobacco and livestock and settled on the Missouri River for ease of crop transport.
Europeans came to Missouri, too. Most notably the huge wave of Germans that landed in New Orleans, traveled up the Mississippi and settled in and around St. Louis, Hannibal, and St. Charles to create the well-known German communities.
1860 to 1890 Settlement Map
After 1860 and the end of the Civil War settlement in Missouri resumed. Two major factors contributed to the increase in settlements. First, the Homestead Act of 1861 gave any settler, who would remain on the property for a minimum of five years and develop the land (build a home, plant crops) 160 acres for free. The second factor that literally moved people West was the expansion of the railroads. This helped settlers move beyond the navigable waterways and access the more inland areas. The first railroad in Missouri was completed in 1851 in St. Louis. The first railroad to reach Kansas City was completed in 1865. If you were wondering how your ancestor moved west, look to the waterways, then the railways.
I love the story of how ancestors got where they were going and from whence they came. These maps open the window to those answers.