ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
PETITION FOR ADDITIONAL COMPENSATION FOR A PREEMPTION CLAIM TO BENEFIT AN ORPHAN
September 25, 1847
Betsey Mullan's parents had settled west of the Chicago River. Pioneer families merely took up land and made improvements on it. Few bothered to seek out the proper owner, usually the federal government, and legally purchase their selected parcel. There was time enough for that when population density forced the issue. The state census of 1845 counted 11,948 persons in Chicago. The federal decennial of 1850 put the figure at 29,963. The issue was being forced in 1847. Preemption laws allowed settlers to purchase the lands they had improved at a set low price. But for town lots belonging to the canal, the trustees determined preemption allowances they judged fair.
Cook County built a poorhouse in 1841 to accommodate a growing number of destitute citizens. This institution filled beyond capacity over the winter of 1847-1848 when people had to be turned away. Private charity too was less than adequate at this time. Uncoordinated church groups provided some food, clothing, and fuel to needy residents. Betsey was fortunate to have had an extended family to rely on for her support.
Points to Consider
What was Dennis Mullan asking for?
What was a preemption?
Had Betsey A. Mullan been dealt with fairly? Why?
What was the difference between a squatter and a settler? Which term was applied with greater respect?