When the local land office at Opelousas, Louisiana, reviewed Polly Lemon’s request for a land patent in 1833, officials discovered that her property was located within an area recently reserved for the use of nearby Fort Jesup in modern-day western Louisiana. They denied her request, leaving her to petition Congress for relief. The House used Lemon’s petition and its supporting documents as it considered her claim.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Spanish and Americans disputed the border between their territories on land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. They temporarily resolved to remove themselves—the Spanish westward and the Americans eastward—leaving an area in what is now western Louisiana devoid of law enforcement. Rogues, squatters, and criminals took advantage of this no-man’s-land. After the United States acquired the territory in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, which formalized the Louisianan borders, the United States military constructed Fort Jesup in 1822 to establish order nearby. When the fort’s commander requested that the surrounding area be cleared of the unsavory locals 10 years later, the settlers lost their land.
Lemon had settled a homestead in what is now western Louisiana sometime before 1828. Five years later, having met habitation and cultivation requirements, she was eligible to receive full ownership of the land. Although the land office blocked her request for a land patent in 1833, she was determined to continue her life in the region. Lemon petitioned the House and Senate “to be allowed to locate her claim to as much as 640 acres elsewhere upon other vacant lands in the state of Louisiana.” The House Committee on Private Land Claims, created in 1816 to handle these types of settlement issues, reviewed her petition and favorably reported a bill for her “prompt and ample relief” in 1836 and again in 1838.
Unfortunately for Lemon, who had been displaced from her land since 1833, relief was anything but prompt. It took six years before Congress passed H.R. 294, “a bill for the relief of Polly Lemon,” in March 1839. This legislation entitled her to 640 acres of land in northwestern Louisiana. Determined to settle far beyond the reaches of Fort Jesup, Lemon claimed her new land in Caddo Parish—the northwesternmost corner of Louisiana—within a few months.