Military Bound Land
| Land Records
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|Overview of Land Records|
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|Homestead Act of 1862|
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|List of Useful Resources About Land Records|
The granting of military bounty land in the United States to encourage enlistments or reward previous service began in colonial times, but its legislative heyday was from 1788 to 1855, though claims were still being received by the federal government in the 1960s. Genealogists find bounty-land records especially attractive because they serve the dual role of locating persons in time and place and of proving military service. Applications sometimes contain a wealth of information, especially when heirs claimed lands.
Colonial legislatures gave land for military service, such as for the Narragansett campaign of King Philip’s War, 1675 to 1676, but these were mostly private acts passed to reward meritorious service to the colony. In 1701, Virginia passed an act promising two hundred acres free of quitrents for twenty years to those who would make armed settlements on the Indian frontier. The Crown’s proclamation of 1763 ordered the colonies to give bounty land for service in the French and Indian War to “reduced” (indigent) officers and to British Army privates mustered out in the colonies who intended to remain there. This did not include militia units. In 1776, Congress promised so-called “Hessian deserters” fifty acres but had few takers. Also in 1776, Congress promised bounty land to soldiers of the Continental line, with privates and noncommissioned officers to get one hundred acres, captains three hundred acres, and other ranks various amounts. States that likewise promised or afterward gave bounty lands were Massachusetts (with Maine), New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.51 Lloyd D. Bockstruck’s Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments is a master index to approximately 35,000 persons named in the grants from these nine states.52 The states that did not give Revolutionary War bounty lands were New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware.
North Carolina was the most generous, giving 640 acres (a square mile) to a private in the Continental line. The tract was in Tennessee; no bounty land warrants were located within the present-day boundaries of North Carolina. Maryland gave the smallest amount, fifty acres to a private, but that state had very little western land to give. The attached image and the attached chart shows the locations of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 military reserves. Massachusetts grants were in what became Maine but were in no specific reserve. Privates who got a one hundred-acre warrant from the federal government for revolutionary service were not eligible for a Massachusetts state grant. Soldiers of the Continental line from other states could take both the federal and their state land bounties. (See the “Summary of Land Records by State” at the end of this chapter for brief references to bounty-land records. For Massachusetts, see Maine.) Paul Gates’s History of Public Land Law Development, discusses aspects of various state grants. Gates states, without elaborating, that Connecticut gave bounty land; but this seems to refer to the “Fire Lands” in Ohio granted to Connecticut residents burned out in the revolution rather than to grants to soldiers.53 Virginia is discussed below because its bounty-land records are widely scattered.
Congress was slow to redeem its promise of land for its soldiers. In 1788, it directed that bounty-land warrants be issued to those applying. But the U.S. Military District in Ohio, the only federal lands where federal revolutionary warrants could be used until 1830, did not open until 1796—a full fifteen years after victory at Yorktown. By then, the Ohio Company and John Cleves Symmes in 1787 and 1788 had purchased millions of Ohio acres on credit from Congress and were permitted to pay one-seventh of the price in federal bounty-land warrants. Therefore, land offices of the two speculations accepted some federal warrants, the earliest locales where they could be used. The Ohio Company Purchase records are at Marietta College. The private Symmes papers were mostly destroyed in a fire. Congress also created three military reserves for veterans of the War of 1812, but there were no federal reserves after these three, which were in Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri. Warrants usable in the Virginia and U.S. military districts in Ohio were made redeemable by scrip acts in 1830 and 1832, respectively, in any GLO land offices in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In 1842, all federal bounty-land warrants were made good for purchases at any GLO land office.
The 1788 act also stipulated that the warrants were assignable, meaning the soldier could sell his warrant and not wait to take the land. This created an instant market in bounty warrants and allowed land speculators to accumulate large quantities of warrants and land. Paul Gates shows that fewer than one soldier (or his heirs) in ten got land by using his warrant under any federal bounty-land act. Instead, most soldiers sold their rights, using the back of the warrant to assign it to the buyer, who might in turn assign the warrant to another buyer. Sometimes the assignment left the buyer’s name blank, to be filled in by the last purchaser. The warrant certificates issued to Mexican War veterans were folios, with the insides and back unprinted so they could be used for assignments.
The warrant market was big business, especially when warrants were no longer restricted to military reserve lands (this happened under an act in 1842). Major brokerage firms dealt extensively in warrants, buying in the eastern states and selling to western land brokers and settlers. Financial newspapers in the boom years of the 1850s frequently carried price quotations. The government set a price ceiling from 1820 by charging a flat $1.25 per acre for most of its lands. The average market price peaked at about $1.20 an acre in 1854–55 for 160-acre warrants, just before the market was flooded by the act of 1855.57 More warrants were used in Iowa than in any other state, and it is estimated that half of Iowa was purchased with bounty-land warrants.
The federal government gave no bounty land for service after 1855, but Union veterans of the Civil War received special homestead rights in 1870, when an amendment to the 1862 Homestead Act gave them the right to claim 160 acres within railroad grant areas (other homesteaders got only 80). Another amendment in 1872 gave Union veterans the right to deduct the length of their war service from the five-year residency needed to prove a homestead.
To get a federal bounty-land warrant it was necessary, under any act from 1788 to 1855, for the soldier or heirs to apply. The warrant applications may be ordered from the National Archives, either online, or by mail using NATF form 85. The details necessary to order an application will be found in various indexes, cited in the following section under the appropriate war. This information is necessary because the applications are arranged by the year of the act of Congress that authorized them, the certificate or warrant number, and the number of acres granted for warrants under the acts of 1847 to 1855. If the name of a warrantee does not appear in one of the indexes cited, the National Archives will, for a fee, search for the land warrant. Instructions are available at the website cited in this paragraph.
To obtain land, the federal warrant had to be surrendered, usually to a federal land office, in exchange for a patent. The patents, like any other GLO patents, are indexed in the GLO-ARS by name of patentee. (If the warrant was assigned, the name of the patentee will be different than the name of the veteran to whom the warrant was originally issued. A search of warrantees for whom federal land was patented is also available at the GLO-ARS.) The surrendered warrants are in land-entry case files of the patentees. They may be ordered from the National Archives, either online at or by mail to National Archives and Records Administration, Attn: NWCTB, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408, using NATF form 84. The case file categories are briefly described in Harry P. Yoshpe’s and Philip P. Brower’s Preliminary Inventory of the Land-Entry Papers of the General Land Office.55
The following summary, with added explanatory remarks, of the various warrant acts is from Inventory No. 22, and Kenneth Hawkins, “Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office (Record Group 49), General Leaflet Number 67, 1995, revised and updated at http://www.archives.gov/publications/general_information_leaflets. The number of warrants issued gives the researcher an idea of how many soldiers, or heirs of soldiers, applied under each act. Reference citations are to the respective acts of Congress. (Citation 2 Stat. 236 means volume 2 of U.S. Statutes at Large, p. 236. M804 means National Archives microfilm publication M804.) References for a search of each war’s bounty-land applications is added.
`=1. Revolutionary War Warrants in the U.S. Military District in Ohio=
Initially, these assignable warrants were redeemable only for land in the U.S. Military District in Ohio, other than as previously mentioned in the private tracts of Judge Symmes and the Ohio Company. Privates and non-commissioned officers of the Continental line from any state received 100 acres, ensigns 150, lieutenants 200, captains 300, majors 400, lieutenant colonels 450, colonels 500, brigadier generals 850, and major colonels 1,100. The initial minimum grants in the district were for quarter townships of the five-mile dimensions—i.e., five miles to a side or 16,000 acres, thereby requiring warrantees to band together through an agent to reach 4,000 acres or sell out to get some value from their warrants. By 1800, lots as small as one hundred acres were available. In 1832, entries in the district were ended, and those still holding warrants were allowed to trade them for scrip negotiable at GLO land offices in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. From 1842, such scrip was accepted at any GLO land office.
Many warrant application files for the 1788 act were destroyed by fires in 1800 and 1814. Where the warrantee’s name is known, a substitute card was made with the note “no papers.” These cards and the surviving application files are interfiled with the surviving Revolutionary War pension files, all microfilmed on M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, in 2,670 rolls. This series is indexed for pensions and warrantees in National Genealogical Society, Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives and in Virgil D. White’s Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, and online.56 Both indexes and M804 cover “selected records” only. One note: White’s last volume indexes names appearing in other individual’s pensions. This could be next-of-kin or a person providing an affidavit supporting the applicant’s statements.
To aid soldiers who had not met the deadline of the 1788 act, Congress passed a time extension in 1803 that was amended in 1806. The warrants of these acts are numbered in one sequence. Nearly all surrendered warrants, from numbers 1–6912 of the 1788 act, were destroyed. Surviving surrendered warrants of the 1788, 1803, and 1806 acts are filed in land-entry case files and are on U.S. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Warrants Used in the U.S. Military District of Ohio and Related Papers (Acts of 1788, 1803, 1806), in sixteen rolls.57 Since patents were rarely placed in the case files, the U.S. Military District land-entry case files usually contain only the surrendered warrant. The files were microfilmed sequentially, and missing warrants were either lost, misplaced, or never surrendered for land. The few surrendered for scrip under the 1832 and later acts are in that series, but they are cross-referenced on M829. On roll 1 of M829 are two ledgers indexed in Smith’s Federal Land Series, vol. 2, once used to record the issuance of warrants. Roll 1 of M829 also has indexes to the ledgers done and/or microfilmed by the National Archives. The pamphlet accompanying M829 describes these records and is available upon request from the National Archives.
War of 1812 Warrants in U.S. Military Districts in Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri
The acts of 1811 and 1812 promised 160 acres to privates and non-commissioned officers who enlisted in regiments raised by Congress and who served for five years, unless discharged sooner or killed. To encourage longer enlistments, the 1814 act doubled the acreage for those who enlisted after 10 December 1814. Officers were given no bounty lands until the acts of 1850 to 1855. The warrants were not legally assignable except by inheritance, and the GLO retained the warrant certificates, issuing the veteran a certificate of notification. These warrants were redeemable only in military reserves in Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri until the act of 1842 made them redeemable at any GLO land office. The warrants became legally assignable in 1852.
The earliest bounty land warrants for service in the War of 1812, issued at the time of the war, are partially reproduced and indexed on M845, War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants 1815–1858, in fourteen rolls. This microfilm also contains warrants for War of 1812 service qualified for under the Act of 1842. Patentees in the Arkansas and Missouri reserves are indexed on roll 1, as are Illinois patentees with surnames beginning with C and D. A CD-ROM index to the film is War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants 1815–1858 by April Leigh Helm and Matthew L. Helm, et al.58 A published index to these records is Virgil D. White’s Index to War of 1812 Pension (and Bounty-Land Warrant) Files.59 Because War of 1812 warrants were not legally assignable until 1852, the patent indexes in the GLO-ARS should serve as indexes to original warrantees, though Gates shows that the land speculators got large parts of the reserves, presumably by having the patents processed in the names of the warrantees. This means many veterans patented land they probably never saw. The pamphlet accompanying M848 describes these records and is available upon request from the National Archives. Aside from these microfilmed warrants, there may also be unmicrofilmed warrant application files and land-entry case files in Record Group 15, and scrip files from 1830 are in Record Group 49.
Applications for Bounty-Land Scrip
A shortage of land available for patenting in the U.S. military districts prompted Congress to issue scrip that could be exchanged for unused warrants. At first good only in GLO land offices in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the scrip, printed in acreage denominations, was eventually unrestricted by acts of 1833 and 1842. A good discussion of military bounty-land scrip and warrants, including those for the Canadian Refugees (1798–1801) and Canadian Volunteers (1815), is in Hone’s Land and Property Research in the United States.
Mexican War Bounty-Land Warrants
Congress, in the Mexican War, authorized ten regiments and offered privates and non-commissioned officers (but not officers) 160 acres for serving one year or more and 40 acres for serving less than a year. Alternately, the veteran could apply for $100 or $25 in scrip at six percent interest, acceptable for any payment due to the U.S. government. (This dollar scrip was different from the acreage scrip mentioned in entry number 3 above.) There were no military districts created for Mexican War bounty land, the warrants being redeemable at any GLO land office. They were assignable. As usual, few warrantees, or heirs of warrantees, actually patented land using their warrants. The surrendered warrants are in the land-entry case files of the patentees. The best finding aid to Mexican War warrantees is Index to Mexican War Pension Files, 1887–1926 (T-317), which gives filing information for bounty land warrants granted under the act of 1847.
The Acts of 1850–55
The acts of 1850 to 1855 were not to encourage enlistments but to reward former service. The act of 1850 extended bounty land to officers and enlisted men who had not previously received land and who had served in any war since 1790, including the Indian wars. Nine months’ service brought 160 acres, four months’ service 80 acres, and one month’s service 40 acres. Since there was initial confusion over whether the act made warrants assignable, the GLO commissioner later ruled that it did not. The act of 1852 explicitly made them assignable and extended the 1850 act to militiamen who served after 1812.
The 1855 act extended bounty-land privileges even further by making 160 acres the minimum entitlement and reducing service to fourteen days or even less. Those who traveled 1,200 miles in service were eligible even if they served less time. A veteran or his heirs who had previously received fewer than 160 acres could apply for the balance. Eligibility was extended to chaplains, wagon masters, militia rangers, and volunteers of certain campaigns such as Kings Mountain, the Nickojack Campaign in Tennessee, and the Cook County volunteers in the Black Hawk War. An act of 14 May 1856 extended the 1855 benefits to naval veterans and any Revolutionary War service.
Figures from Inventory No. 22 (omitting scrip because it redeemed already-issued warrants) show that the warrant totals issued by these categories of acts are:
|War of 1812||29,186|
|Acts of 1850 to 1855||464,419|
Considering that 77.6 percent of these bounty-land warrants are in the miscellaneous categories of the 1850 to 1855 acts and that each warrant should have an application file with the veteran’s documentation of service or affidavits from next of kin documenting their relationship to him, locating the 1850–1855 warrant applications is important to genealogists. The first search is of the GLO-ARS, to determine if a patent was granted to the veteran or his heirs and if that patent is indexed. If the veteran’s name or name of next of kin does not appear, consult the microfilmed and published indexes shown above for each war. At the GLO-ARS website, are search paths for ordering warrant applications using the information provided by a successful search. If the name does appear in an index, and the researcher is fairly certain of bounty-land eligibility, engage the services of the National Archives for a fee-based search. Provide as much definite information as is possible.
A special problem is fraudulent warrant applications, especially where heirs claimed a soldier’s rights. Mrs. Ellen Reed and her two children received bounty-land warrant no. 61,656 in 1849 for the Mexican War service of Richard Reed, private, Company D, First U.S. Artillery Regiment. Two months later, Richard’s mother applied as his next of kin and showed that, on his supposed marriage day in Mississippi, he was fishing on the Kennebec in Maine. Ellen’s warrant was canceled and a new one issued to the mother.60 This problem of potential fraud is large enough to be a major contaminant. Gates notes 59,190 warrants for which caveats against delivery had been filed by 1856, thus suspecting further action on patenting.61 Why waste research time worrying about such obscure points? Experienced researchers know that solutions often come from unpredictable quarters.
For example, bounty-land eligibility for service in the War of 1812 was first limited to able-bodied enlisted men age eighteen to forty-five. Mrs. Abigail O’Flyng’s husband and three sons had served. Two sons had been killed, yet none of the four was eligible for bounty land. Her husband had been over forty-five, one son was under eighteen, and the two dead sons had been promoted to officers just before they died. The 1816 Act for the Relief of Patrick and Abigail O’Flyng and of Edmund O’Flyng, ended the age restrictions and allowed enlisted men promoted to officers to receive land. Also, by private act of Congress, her husband received 480 acres, the youngest son 160 acres, and the heirs of the dead sons their half pay for five years.62 (See figure 10-8). Such a case tests a genealogist’s expertise. Does he or she understand the scope and intent of the record group searched? Nearly all government records—federal, state, and local—are created as a result of statutes that should be read. Have unlikely records, such as private acts of Congress, been searched? Has the researcher screened other records many years later in which some legal actions resurface?
This last question is not rhetorical. Col. Robert Porterfield was killed in the revolution. His son Robert received from Congress a warrant for “about 6,000 acres.” But the land was in Kentucky, where title disputes dominated land sales. The Porterfield land was lost in a court battle due to superior conflicting claims. In 1860, Congress authorized scrip for Robert’s heirs, to whom 153 warrants for forty acres each were issued. In 1900, twenty-one of these warrants were still outstanding and unlocated for land given on Revolutionary War service.63
For background on bounty lands, see the National Archives’s Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives; Paul Gates’s “Military Bounty Land Policies,” in History of the Public Land Law Development; Hone’s Land and Property Research in the United States; and James W. Oberly’s Sixty Million Acres: American Veterans and the Public Lands Before the Civil War.64
Virginia Military District
An extraordinary flood of Revolutionary War bounty-land warrants poured from Richmond, partly because Virginia had the largest state population and partly because it granted warrants not only to its Continental line but to its state line as well. The distinction rests on who paid the soldiers—Congress or Virginia.
The first military reserve was created south of Green River in Kentucky and subsequently expanded west of the Tennessee. There were no bounty lands within present-day Virginia or West Virginia. In 1784, Virginia ceded its claim to the area north of the Ohio River, reserving the 4 million acres between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers for redemption of its bounty-land warrants. This Virginia Military District in Ohio was federal land for which first-title land grants were reserved solely for the Virginia warrants of veterans of the Continental line. A series of ever more liberal acts broadened where warrants could be used and by whom until, in 1852, Congress agreed that all Virginia Revolutionary War warrants could be exchanged for scrip accepted at any GLO land office. Large numbers of these assignable warrants were sold; an estimated one-quarter of the Virginia Military District was acquired by twenty-five men.65
The paperwork flow was: (1) warrant application to Richmond; (2) warrant issued to warrantee; (3) selection of desired land in Kentucky or Ohio reserves and survey by official surveyor; (4) paperwork for Kentucky lands to the Virginia Land Office or, from 1792, the Kentucky Land Office, or the federal capital for Ohio lands; and (5) patent for Kentucky land sent to patentee or federal patent sent to Richmond for relay to Ohio patentee.66
Thus, there should be four major repositories today for Virginia bounty-land records. There are, however, seven. The land offices of Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio are described in the state summaries at the end of this chapter. The microfilmed federal patents are in the BLM Eastern States Office in Springfield, Virginia. The surrendered warrants are in Record Group 49 at the Textural Reference Branch in Washington, D.C. The sixth major collection is the Illinois Historical Survey Collection in the University of Illinois Library, Urbana-Champaign, which has the papers of Richard Clough Anderson, surveyor of the Virginia Military District in Ohio. Clifford Neal Smith has brought this collection to the attention of a wide audience by his indexes in the Federal Land Series, especially vol. 4, which is devoted to the district. He estimated that “about 64 percent of Virginia’s obligations to its veterans were satisfied by the land grants in the Virginia Military District of Ohio.”67 The seventh major collection is the Anderson-Latham Collection at the Library of Virginia. Allen Latham, son-in-law of Richard C. Anderson, in business with B. G. Leonard, handled claims of the soldiers and their heirs. This collection contains papers of Anderson and Latham and is described online.68
The confiscation of Loyalist lands in the revolution—what might be called “negative bounty land”—is a subject that deserves both extended research and a bibliographical source essay. Below is a brief discussion.
The British government made a commendable effort to compensate Loyalist losses, and Loyalists had to list their lost property to claim that compensation. One of the best sources is Alexander Fraser, ed., United Empire Loyalists Enquiry into the Losses and Services in Consequence of Their Loyalty. Evidence in Canadian Claims.69 From this excellent source book comes the example of John Fowler. The claim (p. 293) of Fowler, formerly of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, indicates he was a native of Guilford, Connecticut, lived in Stockbridge, fled to New York during the war and hired a farm on Long Island, was carried a prisoner to Stamford, Connecticut, and ultimately settled in Kingston, Ontario. “Produces deed dated 19th July, 1770, whereby Mark Hopkins in considn. of £30 lawful Conveys to Claimt. forty acres in Stockbridge. Says he purchased 35 acres adjoining, from his Br., in 1770 for about £25,” and so on. “Produces a letter from his Father in Law saying that his Personal Property had been sold to the amount of £100 Lawful.” Aside from separating the various John Fowlers, this record helps fill a page in the Fowler family genealogy.
Such claims name only a small percentage of Loyalists. Two New Jersey studies revealed that of 275 known Loyalists of Bergen County, only twenty-nine claims could be found, while for the approximately 1,200 estates confiscated in New Jersey, there exist only 239 Loyalist claims.70
The official files of Loyalist claims are in the Public Record Office in London, partly summarized in Peter Wilson Coldham’s American Loyalist Claims: Abstracted from the Public Record Office, Audit Series 13, Bundles 1–35 and 37.71 The manuscript sources are identified in Gregory Palmer’s A Bibliography of Loyalist Source Material in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, a helpful book but one intended for experts.72 A useful reference is “American Revolution: Overseas Records Information 52” at the British National Archives website. Section 6 of this leaflet is titled “American Loyalist Claims.” There is no comprehensive bibliography to literature on the confiscation of Loyalist estates. (One land record of potential help in identifying children is the land given in Canada and Nova Scotia to Loyalists under royal instructions of 1783, which promised one hundred acres to heads of Loyalist families and fifty acres each to their children and to single men. See Marion Gilroy’s Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova Scotia.)73