An important freedom associated with emancipation was the ability to acquire private property – land. One opportunity that allowed those with limited resources to own land was provided by t he Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act was passed by Congress in 1862 and granted up to 160 acres of federal land to any U.S. citizen. The land was free if the person lived on the land for at least five years and improved it by building a home, and growing crops. The legislation was intended to provide incentive to settle in western territories, thus expanding of the United States. However, the Act was applicable in any public land state, including several southern states, such as Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida, where my paternal great grandfather, Randel Farnell, lived.
The following essay is taken from the story I submitted on my great grandfather, Randel Farnell, to the National Park Service for their digital exhibit devoted to African American Homesteaders, on the Black Homesteaders Project site.
Randel Farnell was born in Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, Georgia on March 15, 1840. In 1877, after his mother died, Farnell moved from Columbia County, Florida to neighboring Suwannee County where his wife’s family lived. There, he filed Homestead Application #5637 on September 13, 1877 at the county clerk’s office in Live Oak. Farnell applied for 39.78 acres. He then filed his claim at the land office in Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida. Farnell paid seven dollars for the application filing fee.
Seven years later, on 18 August 1884, he appeared at the Land Office in Gainesville, again. He was given notice of his intention to present final proof to establish his claim to the land defined in his application. He stated that he expected to prove his residence and cultivation of the land before the Honorable M. M. Blackburn, back in Live Oak, Suwannee County, on 4 October 1884. He stated that two of four people named, Elijah Carruthers, Henry McGee, Edward Perry, and Puck Ferguson, would provide witness testimony. In addition, it was recorded that public notice of the Homestead application would appear in the Florida Bulletin, published at Live Oak. That notice appeared for thirty days, beginning 23 August until 27 September 1884. There was also a posting attested to by L. A. Barnes, Land Office register. He certified that a printed copy of the notice was posted in his office for thirty days, beginning on 18 August 1884.
In his final affidavit, for which he appeared one month before the 4 October date, on 4 September before Judge Blackburn, Randel stated that he settled the land on 12 September 1877. However, final testimony of witnesses and Randel Farnell, himself, was given on 4 October 1884. Witness testimony was given by two men. One had been named in the initial application, Henry McGee, while the other, William Evans, was not. Henry McGee’s family and Randel’s family would have long- lasting personal ties, as Henry’s daughter, Addie, eventually married Randel’s brother-in-law, Joseph Jacobs.
William Evans testified that Randel Farnell was a citizen of the United States, over 21 years of age, the head of a family and had never made a claim for Homestead property before. He went on to say that Randel had settled the homestead in 1877. He stated there was a “nice log house (dwelling) crib smoke house and stable, about 35 acres in cultivation value $200.” He went on to state that Randel and his family had resided on the homestead continuously since their first settlement. He said that they had not been absent from the property except to “labor” at other places daily, but the family had “self-cultivated” the property. He further attested that there was no oil or other minerals, the land was more valuable as agricultural land than for its mineral potential. He also affirmed that the property had not been mortgaged. Finally, he agreed he had no interest in the property. Henry McGee’s responses were similar. However, he called the log dwelling, “splendid.”
Randel also had to testify. He stated all the things that Evans and McGee stated. In addition, he was asked about his family. He responded that in addition to himself, there was his wife Sallie (Jacobs) Farnell, a dressmaker, and six children. The word “four” had been crossed out. This was because he had four biological children (Maryland, William, Jackson, and Lela) with his wife, and she had two additional children of her own (Anna and Richard). Randel also noted that about 35 acres had been cultivated, on which he had raised crops for seven seasons.
The final certificate #4776 was issued on 29 October 1884, for 39.79 acres (one acre more than identified in the original application). The family continued to live on the property until about 1900, when they moved into the city of Live Oak, where Randel had a hauling business (“drayman”). He was also a founding member of Ebenezer A. M. E. Church. The Homestead property remained in the family until his second wife, Priscilla (Vickers) Farnell, died in 1967. Randel died in 1928.