Virginia, as a colony and later a state, had the largest population during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War. That, combined with the fact that Virginia granted military bounty land warrants not only to its Continental line, but also to its state line, means a large percentage of military land warrants were issued through Virginia.
State laws in Virginia were generous to its military veterans, particularly Revolutionary War veterans. More than 6 million acres were distributed to veterans of the Revolution or their heirs. The size of the tracts varied from 100 acres to 15,000 acres depending on rank and length of service.
Most researchers would presume that bounty land records on an ancestor who lived in Virginia, and served in one of those wars would be fairly easy to track down. In theory, there are just two sources, the U.S. Congress or Virginia state records. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. The matter is complicated because what we consider Virginia was once a much larger colony, and the bounty land warrants issued were not in what are now the states of Virginia and West Virginia. They were lands that were ceded to the federal government in 1784; but with a large military reserve held back for just such a purpose.
The lands that were distributed are in what was then Ohio and Kentucky -- and the records themselves are held in four states, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. Bear in mind these are the state records only, not the land records issued by Congress. The issuance of the warrants was also rather complicated and required a step-by-step progression:
- Warrant application to Richmond, Virginia
- Warrant issued to warrantee
- Selection of land (Kentucky or Ohio)
- Survey of the land in question
- Completed survey and paperwork to the Virginia Land Office, except, after 1792, the paperwork went to the Kentucky Land Office; or, to the federal capital if it were Ohio lands;
- and finally a patent for Kentucky land was sent to the patentee, or if a federal record, it was sent to Richmond for relay to an Ohio patentee.
As a result of all this forwarding and various military reserve land bases, the repositories for Virginia military land records are as follows:
- Virginia Land Office
- Kentucky Land Office
- Ohio Land Office
- Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Office, Springfield, Virginia
- Surrendered warrants in Record Group 49,Textural Reference Branch, Washington, D.C.
- Illinois Historical Survey Collection, University of Illinois Library
If, after reading this, you think you've narrowed down the areas to search for military bounty land provided due to your Virginia ancestor's military service, think again. By Acts of Congress in 1830 and 1852, Virginia Military Warrants could be exchanged for land scrip. This land scrip could be used to purchase any U.S. public lands that were available for sale. The federal government issued 1,041,976 acres in exchange for those warrants --- and that was only the Virginia warrants. Land scrip was available for almost all other state warrants, too.
A superior reference for the Virginia Military District is a series of indexes by Clifford Neal Smith entitled "Federal Land Series." Volume 4 of the series deals entirely with this district. Tracking down this book at the local library will probably save researchers hours of time.
Not everyone's ancestors fought on the side of the Revolutionaries. Those people who fought on the side of the Crown of England were termed Loyalists. Part IV of the military records series will address Loyalists' lands.
Other Articles in the Series:
- Military Records: American Revolution
- Military Records: Post-Revolutionary Wars, 1812-1858
- Military Records: The Civil War, 1861-1865
- Military Records: Focus on Confederate Forces in the Civil War
- Military Records: Focus on Union Forces in the Civil War
- Military Records: Spanish American War 1898-1901
- Military Records: 1900s including WWI and WWII
- Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 1
- Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 2
- Military Records: Loyalist Lands