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Carver Grant | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Carver Grant

Carver Grant | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


A hypothetical tract of land that would have included much of northwestern Wisconsin.

British soldier Jonathan Carver (q.v.) in 1766 was assigned to map the main rivers of Wisconsin and Minnesota in preparation for an expedition to search for an overland Northwest passage. Carver traveled the Fox-Wisconsin route, then up the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers to a point west of the Falls of St. Anthony, where he wintered with the Sioux Indians. In 1767 he started with the party sent by Robert Rogers to find a route to the Pacific but they went as far as Grand Portage on Lake Superior, where they were forced to turn back for lack of supplies. In 1769 he went to London, collected his pay and expenses, and published his popular memoir of his adventures, Travels through the Interior Parts of North America (1778). After Carver's death, the editor of the third edition of his travels claimed that he had in his possession a deed, signed by two chiefs of the Sioux, giving Carver title to about 10,000 square miles in the upper Mississippi Valley. The deed could not be located after the death of Carver's widow.

About 1804, a group of descendants of Carver petitioned the U.S. Congress for ownership rights to a large tract of land in Wisconsin and Minnesota, claiming that the deed supposedly dated at the "Great Cave, May the 1st, 1767" entitled Carver and his family to "the whole of a certain tract or territory of land, bounded as follows, viz.: from the Falls of St. Anthony, running on the east bank of the Mississippi, nearly southeast, as far as Lake Pepin, where the Chippewa joins the Mississippi, and from thence eastward, five days travel, accounting twenty English miles per day, and from thence again to the Falls of St. Anthony, on a direct straight line." This triangular tract in northwestern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota would have been bounded by lines running from modern Minneapolis southeast to Pepin, then due east to near Stevens Point, and from there northwest roughly through Eau Claire to Minneapolis.

Congress investigated their claim and ultimately concluded that English law at the time prohibited any land grants to individuals, that Carver himself never made any mention of such a grant in his book or afterwards, and that no Indians in the region had any knowledge of such a transaction having been made by their grandparents' generation; in 1817, Sioux elders in St. Paul had even told Carver's heirs that no chiefs with the names on the deed had ever existed. Congress concluded, therefore, on Jan. 29, 1823, not to permit Carver's heirs the rights to this land in Wisconsin. Speculators nevertheless continued to promote the sale of portions of "Carver's Grant" for another half century.

Modern scholars who have reviewed all the evidence cannot confirm the existence of any such grant to Carver, who never mentioned it in surviving records. They have, however, documented a great deal of deceit, manipulation, and self-delusion by his heirs and their agents as they attempted to sell portions of the land in the decades following his death.

View a related article at Wisconsin Historical Collections.

Journals of Jonathan Carver (St. Paul, 1976): 47-51; Middlebrook, Samuel. "Samuel Peters." New England Quarterly, 20/1 (1947): 75-87; Quaife, Milo. "Jonathan Carver and the Carver Grant." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 7/1 (1920): 3-25.

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