A premier collection of Revolutionary War records, the Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files contain an estimated 80,000 application files from officers and enlisted men who served in the Revolutionary War in all branches of the American military: army, navy, and marines.
The files that make up these records consist of 10" x 14" cards or 10" x 14" envelopes that can contain up to 200 or more pages of documents relating to an application for a pension or bounty-land warrant by a Revolutionary War veteran, his widow, or his heirs. (Typically, files contain around 30 pages, and some relate to post-Revolutionary War service.) While the files may contain names of several applicants—in the case of multiple heirs, for instance—they will relate to the service of one soldier, so far as this could be determined by the evaluators who assembled the files.
In the years of and following the Revolutionary War, the federal government provided three main types of pensions for servicemen:
- Disability or invalid pensions for soldiers physically disabled in the line of duty
- Service pensions awarded on the basis of time served
- Widows’ pensions for women who lost husbands during the war or whose husbands met specific service requirements
The first pension legislation for the Colonies provided for disability benefits and was enacted on 26 August 1776. Service pensions were approved in 1778, and 1780 saw the first pensions for widows and dependents. Subsequent legislation altered terms of eligibility and benefits up until 1878, when widows of soldiers who had served in the Revolutionary War for at least 14 days or in any engagement became eligible for lifetime pensions.
While application procedures varied depending on the law’s requirements, they usually involved the applicant appearing before a court of record and describing his service. A widow would need information about the date and place of marriage. These “declarations” could include supporting documents related to property or marriage and affidavits from witnesses.
The Colonial and U.S. governments also awarded bounty-land warrants to soldiers as an inducement to or reward for service. Bounty-land warrants assigned rights to land in the public domain to soldiers who met eligibility requirements related to their service. For example, a September 1776 resolution provided the following land grants to men who served until the end of the war: noncommissioned officers and soldiers, 100 acres; ensigns, 150; lieutenants, 200; other officers, amounts up to 500 acres for a colonel. (Generals were added in 1780.) Again, later acts of Congress increased the scope of benefits, and applications can include supporting documents and affidavits from witnesses.
A November 1800 fire apparently destroyed Revolutionary War pensions and bounty-land-warrant applications and papers related to them submitted before that date. Some files thus contain cards noting that further papers are not available.
Using the Records
The files can contain multiple applicants. You can search the following categories for each applicant:
- Applicant’s name
- Pension year
- Application year
The files can contain a wide variety of records submitted to support an application. Information of genealogical interest includes the application itself, which can provide the soldier’s name, rank, unit, time of service, age, date of birth, residence, and sometimes birthplace. A widow’s application may also include her maiden name and date and place of her husband’s death. Applications by heirs will typically indicate ages and residences. Additionally, files might contain affidavits, service records, records of commissions and discharges, wills, receipts, diaries or pages from family Bible records, military orders or muster rolls, newspaper clippings, letters, marriage certificates, account books, and even one book of contemporary lyrics.
Some files contain both pension and bounty-land-warrant applications.
The files are also given one of several designations:S = survivor’s pension application file
W = widow’s pension application file
R = rejected pension application file
Dis. No Papers = pre-1800 disability-pension application file
B. L. Wt. = bounty-land-warrant application file
Bounty Land Warrant Record Card = pre-1800 bounty-land-warrant application file (enlisted man)
B. L. Reg. = rejected bounty-land-warrant application file
Rej. = rejected bounty-land-warrant application file
Rej. B. L. = rejected bounty-land-warrant application file
B. L. Rej. = rejected bounty-land-warrant application file
You can find a detailed pamphlet describing the files and their contents here.