Give Me Land, Lots of Land...

It had been an intense, brutal war fought in many locales on land and sea.  Now that it was over, young servicemen who were swept up in the conflict could return home, marry their sweethearts and start families.  Thanks to an innovation in popular entertainment, some of their youngsters would not only learn about legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett but devoted idle summer afternoons to re-enacting their hero’s final battle at the Alamo.  Many of those same boys would grow up to see action on foreign soil that made war seem much less glorious.  Even veterans bedecked with medals had to agree, that one was a war that never should have been fought.

I couldn’t resist molding the previous paragraph to suggest familiar 20th century events, which with only a touch of literary license also apply to the period immediately following the War of 1812.  So, the popular entertainment mentioned in the previous paragraph is not the “Disneyland" retelling of Davy Crockett’s story, but a series of Crockett Almanacs first published at Nashville while the frontiersman was still living.  These mixtures of astronomical data, tall tales and outlandish illustrations continued to be issued for decades, keeping Davy Crockett’s fame alive for a new generation.  The controversial war fought by that next generation was the one with Mexico from 1846 to 1848, seen in hindsight even by some of its former supporters as a blatant land-grab that cost far too many lives.  Whigs had opposed the war at the outset as an act of aggression, and also suspected it of being an underhanded means of extending slavery.  As in most of the North, there was little support for the war among citizens of Ohio.  Moody Bedel Lovewell’s boys who were old enough, did not enlist.   

The one that erupted in 1812 may be the American war that most Americans know the least about, except for vague notions of Francis Scott Key scribbling verse by the glare of rockets and Dolly Madison grabbing a portrait of George Washington as she dashed out of the White House, just before the Redcoats walked in wielding torches.  Some readers will also be aware of the fact that the most famous battle of the war, probably the only one we can all name, the Battle of New Orleans, was fought just after a treaty calling for an end to hostilities had been signed.  Historical details are especially memorable when they’re ironic.

Unlike the later War with Mexico, there was widespread support for the War of 1812, which was viewed as a patriotic duel to salvage American honor, even though both England and the U.S. also tried to snatch some territory in the process.  It was also a down-and-dirty grudge match between an imperial power and its upstart former colony.  Never mind that no official victor was declared, or that the Treaty of Ghent did not address maritime issues that had gotten everyone fighting-mad in the first place.  Since America had been the underdog going into a war which essentially ended in a draw, Americans came through it feeling like winners.  We were 2 for 2.

The young nation may have had empty pockets in 1812, but it was rich in land.  As it had done during the Revolutionary War, America encouraged enlistments with Military Bounty Land Warrants.  In the War of 1812 the warrants dangled in front of recruits were from territories gained in the Louisiana Purchase:  Arkansas, Illinois or Missouri.  The first round of warrants granted 160 acres to men who served for five years.  One of these parcels went to Moody B. Lovewell for his service with the 4th U.S. Infantry, entitling him to a quarter-section of land in Livingston County, Illinois, in the northeast part of the state.  There is also a record of 160 acres in Knox County, three counties to the west, going to one Vinson Davis of Chisolm’s Company in the 8th Regiment of Infantry. 

Of course, the Vinson Davis who fought in the War of 1812 was too old to be the Vinson Perry Davis who became Thomas Lovewell’s brother-in-law in 1846 and his father-in-law twenty years later, but he could have been the younger Vinson Davis's father.  “Vinson” is a name meaning “son of Vincent,” and while not every Vinson has a son named Vinson, every Vinson logically should have a father named either Vincent or Vinson.

I’ve seen no record which establishes the residency of either of these Vinson Davises in Knox County, Illinois, or one that puts Moody Bedel Lovewell in Livingston County.*  It may be only a coincidence that Moody Lovewell eventually settled in Warren County, which happens to rub shoulders with Knox, and was buried in Fulton County, whose shifting boundaries occasionally overlapped Knox's.  What is surely not a coincidence is that land warrants issued in 1818 could be inherited, but not sold or reassigned before 1852.

The death of Moody Bedel Lovewell in 1853 may have freed up some unneeded Illinois acreage to be sold off, providing the initial financing for the land-buying spree that the Lovewell brothers engaged in a short time later in Iowa.  The fortune they piled up from selling rich Iowa farm land went on to pay for further ventures spent poking about for riches in Kansas, Nevada, California, and the Pacific Northwest.  But the initial nest egg may have come from those five years Moody Lovewell spent in uniform between 1812 and 1817.

The country received no war reparations nor any new territory out of the War of 1812, but it did get a catchy patriotic poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry” that could be belted out with gusto to an English drinking tune called “To Anacreon In Heaven” (Francis Scott Key, a renowned tippler, must have been familiar with it).  The resulting song was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.  Comedian Robert Klein, taking note of the country’s insistence on having it played or sung at the start of almost every public event, once suggested that America suffered from a "national anthem fetish.”  

That’s a silly idea.  I suspect we’re just trying to get our money’s worth out of that darned war.

*Moody’s probate file reveals that he did live there for a at least a few months, writing a promissory note to his daughter Elizabeth’s future husband John Robinson, in payment for hauling him back home to die.   

© Dale Switzer 2023