If you’ve looked closely at Fold3’s Revolutionary War Pensions and War of 1812 Pension Files, you may have noticed that some pension files include correspondence or claims regarding bounty land. And, of course, Fold3 also has the Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Index. But just what is bounty land?
Bounty land served as both an incentive and reward for military service. It was issued to eligible veterans or their heirs by the Continental Congress and federal government through congressional acts passed between 1776 and 1856. Most early federal bounty land was in military districts like Ohio and other parts of the former Northwest Territory. Later, land was set aside in the territories of Michigan, Illinois, and Louisiana. Post-1847, land anywhere in the public domain qualified.
Unlike military pensions, qualifying veterans didn’t have to demonstrate financial need to apply for federal bounty land, but they (or their heirs) did need to file a claim. Some states also offered bounty land, but the collections on Fold3 contain information about federal bounty-land claims.
Early on, federal bounty land applications were handled by the War Department, but later they became the purview of the Pension Office and Department of the Interior. If a veteran’s application for bounty land was approved, they would receive a bounty land warrant (sometimes abbreviated in the files as B.L.Wt.) for a certain number of acres. They could then either transfer or sell the warrant (which is what many did), or file it with a land office for a selected portion of land. They then received a land patent, which is what gave them ownership of the land.
The amount of bounty land granted changed over time through a series of acts of Congress. Most Revolutionary War veterans were originally offered 100 acres (with larger amounts offered to those of higher rank), but many veterans of the War of 1812 were eligible to receive at least 160 acres, which in some cases was later doubled. In 1855, the minimum acreage for surviving Revolutionary War veterans or their heirs was also raised to 160 acres; those who had already been granted a warrant for a lesser acreage could apply for the difference. Eventually, qualifying veterans of the Mexican-American War and Indian Wars also became eligible to apply for bounty land. Civil War veterans were not offered bounty land.
Did any of your ancestors apply for or settle on bounty land? Tell us about it! For more information about bounty land, read the National Archives’ descriptive pamphlets for the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pension files.