With no roads and unreliable rivers, much of Arkansas, including present-day Nevada County, was slow to fill up with settlers. Stephen Vaughan came up the Little Missouri early, perhaps as early as 1812. Meriwether Lewis Randolph purchased many tracts of land in Arkansas. Gad Bradly was a free black. Surveyors came into the region as early as 1819 to lay out the townships and ranges.
The acquisition of government lands was a process that would continue throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. All kinds of people sought land: small farmers, wealthy land speculators who were well-connected politically, the prominent and the obscure, white and black, and female as well as male. Under the Act of 1820, land sold for $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, the Homestead Act of 1862, which southern politicians had consistently opposed, benefited the small man or woman with little money but a willingness to work for his or her land.
Stephen Vaughan came up the Little Missouri early, perhaps as early as 1812, found land to his liking and settled on it. When Hempstead County was organized, he appeared in the early records serving on juries and helping lay out roads. He died of yellow fever sometime in the latter part of 1821. As proof of their marriage and of her right to serve as the administratrix of his estate, his wife Polly Nethow Vaughan presented a copy of their pre-nuptial contract to the court. She and Stephen had signed it at the Post of Ouachita, Orleans Territory (now Monroe, Louisiana), on May 18, 1804. It outlined her property and its value. Stephen also agreed to pay her $12 per month for every month she stayed with him if she so desired.
Polly outlived Stephen by many years, married again, was involved in several law suits, and conducted a ferry and inn for travelers crossing the Little Missouri on the lands President James Monroe patented to her deceased husband and his heirs. The deep pool known as Polly's Eddy just to the north of where the Highway 67 bridge crosses the Little Missouri is named for her. All documents are from the Hempstead County Courthouse, Hope, Arkansas.
Meriwether Lewis Randolph purchased many tracts of land in Arkansas. Much of it he quickly assigned to wealthy friends who gave him the money to make the purchases. He kept for himself lands in southeastern Clark County. Born on January 31, 1810, Randolph was a grandson of Thomas Jefferson. He spent his childhood and youth at Monticello, his grandfather's home near Charlottesville, Virginia, and studied law at the University of Virginia. By the early 1830s, he was in Washington where he met Elizabeth Martin of Tennessee, a pretty young niece of Andrew Jackson's wife and his future wife. Jackson liked the young man and appointed him the last Territorial Secretary of Arkansas in 1835. After statehood, he continued to serve in this capacity until mid-September 1836. Hoping to recoup the failing Jefferson/Randolph fortunes, the young planter was at his new plantation in the wilderness of Clark County by November 1836. He died there less than a year later on September 24, 1837, of bilious congestive fever--now known as malignant malaria. He was four months short of his 28th birthday. He is buried there, a largely forgotten figure from early Arkansas history. These two land patents illustrate some of the complexity of Lewis Randolph's dealings in the acquisition of lands in southern and southwestern Arkansas.
John T. Jones, another wealthy speculator with huge holdings in southern and southwestern Arkansas, assigned lands he purchased to Lewis Randolph. The Panic of 1837 brought a severe downswing in the economy and the boom time of the mid-1830s turned into a depressed period in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Lewis Randolph's dreams of wealth died with him in Clark County, Arkansas.
Another early purchaser of government land in Nevada County (then Hempstead County) was Gad Bradly. Bradly was a free black, the natural son of his master Edward Bradly and his slave woman Ann. Born about 1817, Bradly was one of several children from this union of master and slave. Edward Bradly had moved from Missouri or north Arkansas into Hempstead County by 1820. He did not appear to have any other wife or children and did his best to provide for Ann and her children after his death in 1835. By early 1839, Ann was leasing land to farm near Washington, Arkansas. In 1840, Ann's son Gad purchased lots in the heart of the town of Washington and started a business as a blacksmith. He maintained his business there until 1852 when he sold out for a $1,000 dollars. At that time, he and his wife, also named Ann, probably left the state. The 1819 original survey map to the right shows Township 12 South Range 22 West. This thirty-six square mile area contains little evidence of early settlement. Gad Bradly bought his 120 acres in Section 27 in 1839 and received his patents in 1844. These tracts are to the southwest of Laneburg. Today they are owned by Bobbie Hesterly, Tilman and Vernon Thompson and Needmore Properties. This document comes from the Office of the Circuit Clerk, Hempstead County Courthouse, Hope, Arkansas. Gad Bradly was a free black. He was born about 1817 and gave his birthplace as Tennessee. As early as 1820 he was in Hempstead County, Arkansas, with his mother Ann, his brothers Zeb, Dan and Eli and his sister Caroline.
The Last Will and Testament of Edward Bradly
IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN. I Edward Bradly of Hempstead County and Arkansas Territory, being of sound mind and perfect memory and knowing that it is appointed for all men to die. I therefore make and constitute and ordain this to be my last will and Testament revoking and disavowing every other heretofore made by me. I will that the deed of Emancipation recorded in the county of Lawrence and Missouri Territory remain in full force as on record dated 21st day of September 1815. Also another deed of Emancipation recorded in the county of Arkansas, Territory of Missouri bearing date of 9th day of October 1818 to remain in full force the names of the above Emancipated people as follows viz. a woman of the name of Ann which is to have her freedom at my death and all the issue which may proceed from her hereafter from their birth. The boys named in the above Emancipation are as follows being named there Zeb, Dan, Gad, and a girl named Caroline, likewise a male child named Eli. His Emancipation is acknowledged in the county of Hempstead and Territory of Arkansas. I will that all my lawful debts be paid out of my money or property according to contract and secondly I will that all my property whether personal or real of every kind whether money goods chattels [sic] lands or servants should remain together as they now do with and for the support of the above-Emancipated people and above named people shall not dispose of the whole nor any part of said property except for the necessary support of said people under the inspection of two of the guardians the property to remain together until the youngest child of the above Emancipated woman or which may be born from this until eleven months after my death becomes of age. I will that then the property be Eqully [sic] divided between the above named woman and her children being those named above and which she may have thereafter until the date of eleven months after my death. I do hereby make and appoint and ordain Joseph Garriott Ebon Clauson William McElroy Isaac Alden to be my lawful guardians of this my last will and testament, and I will that they shall be invested with full power to act for me in all my business tuching [sic] my property as I myself could have were I present when acting in the spirit of the above will and I will that all disputes that may arise amongst the above-mentioned people to be settled by the above-mentioned guardians or any other disputes touching my property and if the Guardians should die or move at any inconvenient distance, then a majority of the above named Emancipated people shall proceed to choose three disinterested referees to divide the property and make a final settlement between them. In testimony (?) whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this eighth day of November in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty.
James (his mark) Johnson
Charles W. Johnson