USGenWeb Archives

Union Parish Louisiana

Union Parish Louisiana Land

Early European Control of Louisiana
Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1519, giving Spain the first European claim to what is now Louisiana. Spainish explorer Hernando de Soto made an extensive expedition into the Gulf coast region in the early 1540s, in particular of the lower Mississippi Valley. De Soto died on the bank of the Mississippi River in 1542. However, France essentially took possession of western North American, including present-day Louisiana, in 1682 when French explorer Sieur de La Salle became the first European to descend the Mississippi to its mouth. La Salle took possession of the "the country known as Louisiana", naming it for the reigning French monarch, Louis XIV. The French established Fort St. Jean Baptiste (present-day Natchitoches) in 1714, the first permanent European settlment in Louisiana. A few years later, in 1718, Sieur de Bienville established New Orleans for the Company of the West. By 1721, New Orleans had a population of 370 inhabitants, including 38 children, 65 female, and 147 male white colonists, 28 servants, 73 slaves, and 21 American Indians.

The conflict known as the Seven Years War (1754 – 1761) was essentially the first world war, fought in Europe, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean. It pitted Great Britain, Prussia, and Hanover against France, Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Russian, and Spain. The goal: possession of the region in North America between the Appalachian mountains and the Mississippi River. Although the conflict began in North America, it soon spread to Europe.

After initial French victories early in the war, on 13 September 1759 General Wolfe's British army surprised the French forces under General Montcalm outside Quebec City in Canada. Wolfe's men defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham, sealed the fate of French colonization efforts in the New World. After a failed attempt to retake Quebec City from the British in 1760, the French lost Montreal later that year and realized they would soon loose the war. In the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau made in 1762, France ceded its territories west of the Mississippi as well as the Isle of Orleans to Spain. The Treat of Paris signed on 10 February 1763 ended the war. France ceded Canada and all claims to territory east of the Mississippi to Britain. In order to reclaim Cuba that the British had conquered during the war, Spain ceded Florida (including the Florida parishes of present-day Louisiana) to Britain. New Orleans went with Louisiana to Spain. Britain soon fortified Baton Rouge, renaming it "New Richmond".

Spain established firm control of present-day Louisiana beginning in 1769. The governor established a strong governmental system of twelve administrative districts and twenty-two ecclesiastical parishes. However, in the latter 1700s French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had a vision of a renewed New World empire for France, one that included recapturing Louisiana from Spain. In the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800, Napoleon traded a kingdom for the Spanish king's son-in-law in exchange for Louisiana. Napoleon's success was short-lived, however. The twelve-year revolt of the slaves in France's colony of Saint Domingue succeeded, causing France to loose Haiti. This made holding on to Louisiana far less financially profitable to France.

To guarantee its right to sail vessels down the Mississippi River through Spanish territory and use the port of New Orleans, the United States wished to acquire the area surrounding New Orleans. The Americans did not discover the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France until 1801, and soon sent Robert Livingston to attempt to purchase New Orleans from the French. Napoleon's initial refusal prompted President Thomas Jefferson to send James Monroe to help secure the deal. In April 1803, Napoleon relented, offering to sell not only New Orleans but all of Louisiana. Livingston and Monroe agreed to the purchase for the sum of $15 million. Spain's representatives transferred Louisiana to France on 30 November 1803 at the Cabildo in New Orleans. Twenty days later, France transferred it to the United States.

Earliest White Settlers of Union Parish
Louisiana is a public land state, meaning that citizens primarily obtain Louisiana land by sale from the United States government. Spain made land grants to attract American settlers during the period 1780 – 1801, and many of these Spanish land claims ended up in American courts. Although Spain made grants in the modern parishes of Morehouse and Ouachita, researchers have found only one record of a Spanish grants made for the region now encompassing Union Parish – to John Honeycutt, Sr. However, my friend Arelia Breed did discover a single Spanish document in the courthouse records in the 1980s.

The reports of Don Juan Filhiol, the Commandant of the Spanish Poste de Ouachita, to the Spanish governor of Louisiana indicate that Augustin Roy had a claim to land at Noyer's Bluff, near the mouth of Bayou d'Loutre in present-day Union Parish by the early 1790s. However, we have no indication of whether Roy (who served as Filhiol's corporal) actually lived on this land or how long he owned it.

The earliest permanent European settler on record, John Honeycutt, Sr. arrived in the Ouachita Valley region between 1790 and 1795 and obtained the first known Spanish land grant for property that later fell into Union Parish. Honeycutt's land lay along Bayou d'Arbonne, and on 14 October 1797 he sold "ten arpents frontage by the usual forty arpents depth with its stock of hogs with his mark" to Zadoc Harman, a man of African descent who had formerly lived in North Carolina (Ouachita Parish Louisiana Convenance Book Z, folio 46, Deed 68). Although the specific location of the land Honeycutt obtained from Spain is uncertain, it appears to have been near the 625-acre plantation his son John Honeycutt, Jr. owned in 1814. We believe this property was on the west side of Bayou d'Arbonne, near the land that John Honeycutt, Jr. purchased from the United States government in September 1826, when it finally opened the first land office in Monroe. John Honeycutt was among the very first purchasers to appear at the Ouachita Land Office in Monroe that year; he bought eighty acres near Bayou d'Arbonne in present-day Union Parish, located just a mile below the present-day Lake d'Arbonne dam. Another early Union Parish settler was Mills Farmer, who settled in the Ouachita Valley between 1810 and 1812. Although we know Farmer lived in the region north of Monroe from the time he arrived in the region, we do not know the precise location of his home prior to 1820. However, tradition claims he joined Honeycutt in what is now Union Parish shortly after his arrival and later events substantiate this tradition.

The United States apparently honored the Spanish land grants for the Ouachita Valley region; tax records for 1808 indicate Honeycutt owned a substantial farm, and in 1814, John Honeycutt, Jr. paid taxes on 625 acres of land. On the other hand, Farmer only paid taxes on 20 acres that year. He and the few other settlers who moved up Bayou d'Arbonne into the Pine Hills region of northern Ouachita and southern Union Parishes in the 1810s and early 1820s, built cabins and cleared fields on vacant government land could not obtain title to their lands at first. Despite their hard work, unless they bought land from an existing settler like Honeycutt who had received a Spanish grant, these people legally remained squatters on what was now United States government land. Before these early pioneers could obtain a legal title to the land on which they settled, the government had to survey the land, set up and open government land offices, etc., a process with which the eager settlers had little patience. In fact, the bureaucracy of distributing lands to settlers became one of the most vexing political problems for the United States government during the early 1800s. Congress spent much time on the issue, and it helped to divide the wealthy urban citizens living along the east coast from the agrarian middle class who constantly sought better farmland by gradually pushing the frontier westward. Some argue the issue helped elect Andrew Jackson to the presidency, as the western farmers considered Jackson one of them.

Probably due to the lack of demand by settlers to purchase land in northern Louisiana, the United States did not complete the surveying of most of northeastern Louisiana until the 1820s. The government opened the first land office in Monroe in 1823 to sell land to the local settlers. Only forty or fifty men bought land at the Ouachita Parish land office over the next few years, and of those, only five bought tracts in present-day Union Parish. As mentioned above, John Honeycutt bought land just below the site of the dam on Lake d'Arbonne. The other original Union Parish landowners were Mills Farmer, his brother-in-law Shepherd Wood, William Lyles, and John Stow, all of whom purchased property located a few miles east of the present-day Town of Downsville. In addition, Daniel Colvin purchased eighty acres near Vienna, a region that was the southwestern corner of Union Parish between 1839 and 1845.

Dispursing Union Parish's Land to Settlers
After 1820, when a man went to buy land at a government land office (and purchasers were indeed primarily male), the legal record created was called a Cash Entry (“entry” coming from the fact that the land office official had to enter by hand the settler’s name in the land tract book). Settlers wishing to purchase land in Union Parish had to travel down Bayou d'Arbonne, Bayou d'Loutre, or the Ouachita River to Monroe. The land office there was called the Ouachita Land Office between the early 1820s and about 1850, when its name was changed to the Monroe Land Office. Of course the United States land offices closed down during the War Between the States, and afterward, the only land office in Louisiana was in New Orleans. To read more about United States governmental land policy, consult Paul W. Gates’ History of Public Land Law Development (United States Government Printing Office, 1968), found in any large library.

So the process for purchasing government land was thus:
  • A settler first decided upon the location of the vacant government land he wished to purchase.
  • He then went to the land office in Monroe, paid cash for his land, and then the land officer entered the purchaser's name on the official cash entry forms and in the various tract books.
  • After paying for his land, the settler immediately held legal title to the land, although it took several years for the government to complete the red tape necessary for the president's representative to sign the official land patent issued to the settler. In many cases, the settler had sold the land and moved away (or even died) before he received an official patent for the land for which he had already paid.

Thereafter, all records relating to the transfer of title to this property would be held in the parish records.

Researching the Records Today
The four primary sources for Union Parish land records are:
  1. Records of the United States Land Offices (cash entries, military land warrents, and homestead applications) held in the National Archives. These records are invaluable, as they show the date on which the person appeared at the government land office, his residence, the land he purchased, and the price he paid. In the 1850s, these records often give his original signature, location of his adjoining property, and the number of acres he has cleared and in cultivation on the property he is purchasing. These records are expensive, as the National Archives currently charges $17.50 for photocopies of each file. To order these records, first go to National Archives Inquire Form Page. To complete the form, you must obtain the necessary legal description of the property from one of the other sources below.
  2. Tract books held in both the Union Parish courthouse and in the National Archives. Indexed by the legal land description, these books contain the name of the purchaser, the date on which he bought the land, the legal description of the land, and the type of purchase. The tract books can be viewed at the Farmerville courthouse or ordered on microfilm through the Latter Day Saints' Family History Centers located worldwide.
  3. United States Land Patents held by the Bureau of Land Management. These records hold no genealogical value whatsoever compared with the records of the land offices. The date of the land patent is totally meaningless, as it merely represented the date on which the government finally completed the red tape surrounding the official transfer of the land to the purchaser. He had already paid for the land, had frequently sold it by the time the patent was signed, and had sometimes died by time the government got around to issuing him an official patent for his land. However, the office that houses these land patents, the Bureau of Land Management, has an incredibly useful online tool. They have put their index to land patents from cash entries online. Although the careful researcher should beware of mis-interpreting the dates given in their records (which are the official patent dates, not the date on which the settler actually bought the land), this index is an invaluable tool:

    Bureau of Land Management Land Patent Search
  4. Union Parish Land Deeds & Conveyances held in the courthouse in Farmerville and available on microfilm through the Latter Day Saints' Family History Libraries. Go here for the details on which microfilm you should order:

    Union Parish Deeds from LDS Family History Centers

Understanding Legal Land Descriptions
Like most states except the original thirteen colonies, Louisiana land is legally described according to sections, townships, ranges, meridians, etc. Townships measure land north/south and ranges measure it from east to west. An imaginary line running north/south, Louisiana's principal meridian runs through the middle of Union Parish and Farmerville. Land in eastern Union Parish lies in Range 1, 2, or 3 East of the Principal Meridian, whereas land in western Union Parish lies in Range 1, 2, or 3 West of the Principal Meridian. North/south measurement is made in terms of how far north or south of the imaginary east/west Base Line of Louisiana, which runs across the middle of the state. Union Parish lies entirely north of the Base Line, and its land varies from Township 19 North (its the southern border with Ouachita Parish) through Township 23 North (its northern border with Union County Arkansas).

Inside township/range intersection is a thirty-six square mile block, divided into thirty-six one-square mile sections. Each section is 640 acres, sub-divided into halves or quarters, as need arises. For more explanation, click here.

Go back to:
Union Parish Louisiana USGenWeb Main Page

This page was last updated on 6 March 2010.

Copyright 1998 – 2010, by T. D. Hudson

for the