Donation Land Claim Act
The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, sometimes known as the Donation Land Act, Ch 76–9 Stat. 496 was a statute enacted in late 1850 by the United States Congress. It was intended to promote homestead settlements in the Oregon Territory in the Pacific Northwest (comprising the present-day states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and part of Wyoming). The law, a forerunner of the later Homestead Act, brought thousands of settlers into the new territory, swelling the ranks of settlers traveling along the Oregon Trail. 7,437 land patents were issued under the law, which expired in late 1855.
The passage of the law was largely due to the efforts of Samuel R. Thurston, the Oregon territorial delegate to Congress. The act, which became law on September 27, 1850, granted 320 acres (1.3 km2) of designated areas free of charge to every unmarried white male citizen eighteen or older–and 640 acres (2.6 km2) to every married couple–arriving in the Oregon Territory before December 1, 1850. In the case of a married couple, the husband and wife each owned half of the total grant in their own name. The law was one of the first that allowed married women in the United States to hold property under their own name. Half-blood Native Americans were also eligible for the grant. A provision in the law granted half the amount to those who arrived after the 1850 deadline but before 1854. Claimants were required to live on the land and cultivate it for four years to own it outright.
The provisional government formed at Champoeg had limited the land claims offered in the hope of preventing land speculation. The Organic Act of the Oregon Territory had granted 640 acres (2.6 km²) to each married couple. The new law voided the previous statutes but essentially continued the same policy and was worded in such a way as to legitimize existing claims. One such claim legitimized by the act was that of George Abernethy, who had been elected to the governorship in the days of the provisional government. His claim became famous for Abernethy Green, where new emigrants camped at the end of the Oregon Trail while seeking a piece of land for themselves.
Claims under the law were granted at the federal land office in Oregon City. The most famous patent granted at the Oregon City Land Office was the plat for the city of San Francisco, which had to be sent up the coast from California by ship. The claims of the land were surveyed by the Surveyor General of Oregon, an office created out of the law. As part of the general survey, the Willamette Stone was placed just west of Portland, defining the Willamette Meridian.
Last year and aftermath
After the 1854 cut-off date, the designated land in Oregon was no longer free but was still available, selling at $1.25 an acre ($3.09/hectare), with a limit of 320 acres (1.3 km²) in any one claim. The law expired on December 1, 1855. In the following years, the price was raised and the maximum size of claims was progressively lowered.