Bounty Land is one of my favorite research subjects because it is so rich in history and records. The birth and development of bounty land in America tells a piece of this nation’s migration story, military history, and how the west was settled. A rich story, indeed.
Bounty Land is land awarded to soldiers for one of two reasons. It is either given as an inducement to serve like a recruiting bonus or as part or sum of a pension package in compensation for services rendered. In America the practice began in Colonial Times and continued through the Revolutionary War and all conflicts up to but not including the Civil War.
The US Government was well motivated to use the one resource it had in abundance – land – as alternative and/or supplementary military compensation, when at a time its cash resources were thin. Further, there was another motivation probably equally as strong to use land for compensation. The government had every reason to encourage westward migration. As the country grew so did our gross prosperity and the likelihood of our success as a nation. However, there was an impediment to westward migration – the threat of violence, hostile forces on the plains and generally in lands not yet settled. To counter this threat and quell the fears of settlers, no better a solution would be found than to encourage settlement on the frontier of trained, armed, military veterans! The thought was that they would create a safety zone or inherent fortress by their mere presence to protect the settlers. Win. Win.
The full history and nuances of the many bounty land acts would be far outside the scope of this post. But suffice to say it was a bumpy road, with many legislative acts along the way.
Really Cool Bounty Land Map
There are many and varied Bounty Land Acts that serve to create the patchwork of bounty lands we see today on a history bounty land map. You see, for the better part of the history of bounty land distribution, the soliders could not pick any piece of land in the western frontier to settle. They were either assigned or could pick land from a designated reserve (kind of like an Indian Reserve) specified by the government. Hence, the creation of Miliatry Reserves and the Military Reserves Map.
I should note here that it wasn’t just the US Government dispensing land to soliders. Many of the states granted land, too. One of the biggest examples is the Virginia Military District in central Ohio. Yes, Virginia was giving away land in Ohio.
Land All Over This Country
When you look at the map it is clear that land was designated and distributed all over the country from upstate New York to far flung Missouri and deep in the heart of Arkansas. It is in part because some of the land was sooooo remote that the Bounty Land distribution programs had not an insignificant amount of problems. Imagine being sixty-plus years old and finally receiving land…in Arkansas. There’s nothing wrong with Arkansas, but it is a bit of a hike in 1820 from Pennsylvania to arrive at your new homestead.
How the Map is Helpful to Genealogists
The reason I’m excited about this map aside from its obvious coolness, is that it can really help your research. If you are looking for land records and are not finding them among the usual suspects, look at the map. If your ancestor settled in an area that was a Military Reserve, you might look for check for a bounty land records including a warrant. (A warrant in this case is a “certificate” or entitlement which enables the holder to obtain land for free in its exchange.) (Warrants can now be found on www.ancestry.com.)
Where Do You Look for Bounty Land?
The best place to start looking for Bounty Land is on the Bureau of Land Management/General Land Office’s website. Here you can search for and download land patents (first title or deed for that land) for FREE. If your ancestor owned bounty land, you will see on the patent the name of the Legislative Act under which the land was distributed. Don’t let the name of the Acts throw you. The bounty land acts are given the title “script warrant act of xxxx.” So just look for “script warrant” in the title of the Act. If you’re lucky enough to have an ancestor with a “script warrant” patent, then you can chase down the rest of his pension file through the National Archives and/or order the Land Entry Files (land application records) through the National Archives. It is a bounty records that just keeps giving.
So, check out the map. It’s a neat piece of history, which may lead you to a treasure of bounty land records to enrich your family tree.
And Happy Researching!