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Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 1

The largest proliferation of bounty land grants began following the American Revolution.


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The practice of providing land as a bounty for service began in the North American colonies as early as King Philip's War in 1675. These lands were usually part of a colony's authorized land base or even land that was purchased from local Indians for that purpose. The colony of Virginia passed legislation in 1701 promising 200 acres of land, free of taxes for 20 years, to people who would make armed settlements on the Indian frontier. In 1763, the British Crown ordered the colonies to provide land grants to indigent officers who had fought in the French and Indian War, and who did not intend to return to Britain. However, the largest proliferation of bounty land grants began following the American Revolution.

The fledging congress of what would be the United States of America passed legislation in August of 1776 authorizing pension payments for military service. (The first payments, however, did not actually begin until 28 July 1789.) But the newly formed alliance was short on cash and turned to a source of pension funding that didn't cost them a cent in actual cash outlay—land. The congress authorized the issuance of military bounty lands in return for military services.

The size of the bounty land grants varied, usually based on rank, but also varied by colony/state. For example, a private who served on the Continental Line could get 100 acres from the newly formed U. S. Government. That same private, however, could get 640 acres from the State of North Carolina. A captain could get 3,840 acres in North Carolina, compared to just 50 acres from the State of Maryland. I suspect that many men who fought in the American Revolution and lived near the Maryland-North Carolina border opted for bounty land in North Carolina. If you have traced your family to North Carolina and hit a brick wall, I suggest you look slightly north for the prior generation.

Multiple caveats and problems accompanied the land grants. A person who obtained a land grant from the U.S. Government was not eligible for land issued by the state of Massachusetts. Interestingly enough, the land that Massachusetts did give was actually located in the state of Maine.

The land initially provided by the U.S. Government was located in Ohio. But it wasn't until 1796 that the first grant was actually issued, and until 1830, this was the only area where bounty lands were provided via the national government.

If you are working on establishing the source of your ancestor's land, or his connection to possible military service during the Revolutionary War, I recommend you first start by checking out a book from your local library: "Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments" by Lloyd D. Bockstruck; published in Baltimore by the Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996. This is a master index to approximately 35,000 people named in land grants for the following states: Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts (and Maine), New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Other Articles in the Series

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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