Ann Curry: Irish Immigrant Homesteaders

Ann Curry: Irish Immigrant Homesteaders

In this episode, journalist Ann Curry learns about her great-great-grandparents, Margaret and William Hill. Margaret was born in Ireland, around 1840, immigrating to the United States with her mother as a child, likely fleeing the potato famine. Margaret met William in America, and they would join 1.6 million people as Homesteaders, helping to settle the western United States. 

In 1862, with an intent to help settle the American West, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law. This law allowed for any adult citizen, immigrants or those who had applied for citizenship - regardless of race or gender - an opportunity to acquire land in the west. Those that applied and were accepted would have the chance to own 160 acres of government land. For many, especially young immigrants like Margaret and William, this was a way for them to realize their dreams of becoming property owners. For America, it was a chance to settle the west and build an agricultural nation. 

The Irish-Americans were among a steady stream of immigrants to take the opportunity to receive a land grant. In the 1870s, there was a concerted effort through advertisements to encourage Irish people to Nebraska. 

In total, the government distributed 270 million acres of land, or roughly 10% of the land in the entire United States. Claimants were required to live on the property for five years and show that improvements had been made. Approximately 60% of Homesteaders did not succeed in meeting the requirements.

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