Dr. Patrick J. Jung
French Canadians began to settle in the state of Wisconsin during the early 1700s. The two
principal settlements in the state were at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, and the settlers at both
locations laid out their farms in long-lot fashion, just as French Canadians did in Quebec along
the St. Lawrence River. The lots were usually several hundred yards in width and often
extended miles in length. At Green Bay the lots fronted the Fox River, while in Prairie du Chien
they fronted the Mississippi River. Most of the lots at both locations exceeded two hundred
acres, and few were even as large as six hundred acres. Most settlers used only a small portion
of their lots for growing food. The rest was used to harvest hay and forest products such as
When the United States took control of the trans-Appalachian West after the American
Revolution in 1783, the region was dotted with many small French-Canadian settlements at
places such as Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, Mackinac Island, Detroit, Vincennes, and St. Louis.
The federal government decided to recognize the settlers' ownership of these lands, and
government commissioners went out and investigated individual land claims. Federal
commissioners investigated the land claims at Prairie du Chien and Green Bay beginning in
1820 and submitted their final report five years later. In 1828, the United States Congress
confirmed the commissioners' findings and ordered the General Land Office to issue patents to
those residents who met the proper residency requirements.
The patents issued by the government gave the settlers clear and undisputed ownership of their
lands. Some residents had not lived at either location long enough to meet the residency
requirements, and they were not given patents. However, many of these residents presented
individual petitions to Congress and were later given patents to their lands.
Shortly after receiving their patents, many of the residents began to sell their lands to newly-arrived Americans from New England and New York who wanted to lay out town sites. At Green Bay, an American trader from New Hampshire named Daniel
Whitney bought up much of this land and created the town of Navarino. Many of the French
Canadian residents had fallen into debt with the American Fur Company, which was owned by
John Jacob Astor. In lieu of payment, Astor took land from the residents, and he also began a
town site that he named Astor. John Lawe, a Canadian of English descent, began yet a third
town site at Green Bay called Munnomunee. Later, all three of these towns were incorporated
into the city of Green Bay.
The purchase of land was less frenzied at Prairie du Chien, but a few persons still dabbled in
land speculation, particularly an American named James Lockwood. However, the largest of
owner of land was a French Canadian named Joseph Rollette, who already had a large amount of
land that was confirmed to him by the federal commissioners and the United States Congress.
He bought up even more land from his neighbors during the 1820s, and by 1830 he owned more
land at Prairie du Chien than any other person.
The maps that accompany this text were made by the federal commissioners who investigated the land claims at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. They are important historical documents for the study of early Green Bay and Prairie du Chien.
Map of Green Bay
Closer view of Green Bay Map
Haeger, John D. "Western Town Growth: A Study of the Development of Towns on the Western Shore of Lake Michigan, 1815-1843."
Ph.D. dissertation, Loyola University, 1969.
Jung, Patrick J. "Forge, Destroy, and Preserve the Bonds of Empire:
Native Americans, Euro-Americans, and Métis on the Wisconsin
Frontier, 1634-1856." Ph.D. dissertation, Marquette University, 1997.
[Neville, Arthur C.], ed. "French Land Claims at Green Bay."Green Bay Historical Bulletin 2 (November-December 1926): 1-8.
Pelzer, Louis. "The Private Land Claims in the Old Northwest
Territory." Iowa Journal of History and Politics 12 (July 1914):
Trowbridge, Frederick N. "Confirming Land Titles in Early Wisconsin." Wisconsin Magazine of History 26 (March 1943): 314-22.
FRENCH LAND CLAIMS AT GREEN BAY, 1821
From American State Papers: Public Lands. Vol. 5. Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1860. Pages 284-85.
FRENCH LAND CLAIMS AT PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, 1820
From American State Papers: Public Lands. Vol. 5. Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1860. Pages 308-9.