Chapter 10 – Francis Scott Key and the Half-Breed Tract

In May 1841 Francis Scott Key, the author of the national anthem, then an attorney living in Baltimore, arrived in Iowa on behalf of his client, the New York Land Company.  He was hired to settle a lawsuit between the heirs of Thomas Reddick against the New York Land Company for lands in Montrose Iowa, directly across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo.  Key was unsuccessful in that endeavor but he proposed a plan to Judge Charles Mason to resolve the challenges involving partitioning lands for the half breed Indian claims in the half breed tract.  While staying in the area Key visited Nauvoo.  From his visit, Key was overwhelmed at the investment potential he saw for lands in the Iowa Territory.  Before he left he warned Hugh Reid, the local attorney for the New York Land Company to post notice on the Iowa lands that they belonged to them.  However, David Kilbourne, the local agent for the New York Land Company was fearful this would give warning to the Mormons, so it was not posted.  Key returned home but became seriously ill and died a couple of years later.

In October 1841 the Iowa District Court pursued the plan proposed by Key.  The entire 140,000 acres of land in the Half Breed tract were reallocated to 101 half breed claimants or their assignees including the New York Land Company who held 41% and the St. Louis Land Company that held at least 15% of the half breed tract claims.