Hey y’all. Thank you so much for being here. The topic of what makes a home a homestead is a subject that I’ve heard a lot of differing opinions on and I’d love to hear yours down in the comment section. <3
What is a homestead?
In today’s world, I feel like the word homestead brings on a whole host of emotions. I’ve heard some people say that a homestead is simply a home where someone lives whether they have acres of land or not. Then, others chime in with the opinion that a homestead can’t be called a homestead unless it is verging on being completely self-sufficient by raising cattle, collecting fresh eggs from chickens, and tending to large gardens than span as far as the eye can see, etc.
So, what makes a homestead an actual homestead?
Let’s start with the verb stead, which means to help or benefit. Then, the simple definition of the noun home is the place where you live. So, by this very simple definition, when a place where someone lives is helping or benefitting those who live within its walls, it is essentially a homestead. But let’s dive a little deeper.
Through my research, I found that the word homestead goes as far back as the Old English spelling of hamstede. In the 1600s, it was once defined as home (n.) + stead (q.v.). In the U.S., the meaning of homestead being a plot of land adequate for the maintenance of a family became the prominent definition in the 1690s. Then, through the Homestead Act, which was passed on May 20, 1862, the “homestead” was officially defined as a home on land of 160 acres. A person would be given this land in the West for free if they lived on it and farmed it for five years.
Who Was The First Homesteader?
The first homestead was claimed by Daniel Freeman and there are transcripts of the Freeman Letters where Daniel asked Agnes Suiter to be his wife and move to his new homestead in Nebraska. If the story of Daniel Freeman were made into a book or movie, I’d certainly be there to read and/or watch (Please let me know if it has been and I somehow missed it!)
First, Daniel married his first wife in 1852, they had 2 children together before his wife apparently abandoned him in January of 1860. It wasn’t clear whether she took the children or left them with their father. The couple officially divorced in 1863 and then in July of 1864, less than one year after his divorce, Daniel began corresponding with Agnes Suiter. Now, Agnes had previously been engaged to Daniel’s brother James, but James had died in the Civil War. Agnes accepted Daniel’s proposal and the two were married on February 8, 1865, in her parents’ home!
I don’t know about y’all, but I could go down the rabbit hole of history, and suddenly it’s 2 hours later. I won’t go into that much detail here, but if it interests you at all, I would love to know! I’m very much the type who thinks history and people’s stories from “way back when” are absolutely fascinating. Even the spelling throughout those love letters is just shocking in an interesting and nerve-wracking way! I suppose that’s the writer/editor in me. Plus, the letter dates start on July 4th, and I just love that.
Okay, I’m done.
I think the point of this post is a modern homestead is not what it used to be. For some, yes, it is still acres upon acres. Often complete with animals, pastures, and gardens that complement each other. But for most, it’s small scale. Doing what we can. Personally, we live in England right now where land is incredibly expensive. From what I understand, if your family didn’t buy it years and years ago, it is nearly impossible to afford. Unless you’re one of the few who can drop millions with no thought to it. Definitely not my boat. Haha.
For us, “homestead” looks like growing as big of a garden as I can and trying to keep it all alive. It looks like living in a home that we rent and will probably move from at some point. It looks like trying to cook 80% or more of our meals from scratch. And it looks like dreaming of the “homestead” I hope to have someday.
What Does “Homestead” Mean To You?
I’d love to know.
Do you think we can make our way definition of “homestead”?
Or should we stick to the traditional definition of acres and acres of workable land that one also lives on?
Thanks again for being here,
Til next time,