Starting in 1776, the Continental Congress offered tracts of land (or “bounty land“) to encourage and reward veterans of the Revolutionary War. The granted land was principally in military districts that are now in the State of Ohio and some western states and territories.
The Federal government continued the practice until 1855, by which time the land grants could be made for any public lands in the country. Some individual states also offered bounty land to their veteran residents.
But bounty land was not the only type of Federal land grants. The government offered land through more than 40 legislative initiatives, including the Cash Act (1820), Preemption acts (1830s–1840s), Donation Act (1850), Homestead Act (1862), Mineral acts (1860s–1870s), Timber Culture Act (1873), Desert Land Act (1877), among others.
Pro Tip: Veterans of the Civil War were not offered Bounty Land. However, many Civil War veterans had fought in earlier war(s) and were eligible for bounty land based on that earlier service.
It was also common for Union veterans to apply for land grants through the Homestead Act of 1862, for instance. (Confederate veterans did not qualify). So if your Union veteran ancestor mysteriously moved to one of the western territories after the war, there’s a good chance that he did so under the terms of the Homestead Act or other Federal land grant.
The paperwork required to document eligibility and completion of one of these land grants was substantial – sometimes rivaling those of pension files for biographical and genealogical content – and most of those applications and case files still exist at the National Archives.
Bounty Land Applications
In order to obtain bounty land, the veteran or his heir would have to make a claim of eligibility. The application file could contain numerous details about the veteran’s age, life, family, and military service. That is true even if the application was denied.
Bounty Land Applications for the War of 1812, Mexican War and Early Indian Wars are indexed on Fold3.com (free). If you find a record of your soldier there, please include that URL or upload a screenshot of that page when you place your order for a Bounty Land Application File.
If the application for a land grant was approved, the applicant was issued a certificate or Land Warrant for a specific number of acres. While Bounty Land Warrants were awarded outright to qualifying applicants for their military service, recipients of other types of Land Warrants typically were bound by certain conditions. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, for instance, the recipient was required to reside upon or cultivate the Federal land in question for a period of five years after the issuance of a warrant.
Pro Tip: Upon issuance of a warrant, the recipient or his heirs could sell or transfer it to another party – and many did so. So while your ancestor may not have relocated or taken legal possession of bounty land, he or she may have applied for it and received a warrant – so you may still find both a Bounty Land Application and a Bounty Land Warrant for him.
If and when the requirements of the warrant were met, the recipient was issued a “patent” or deed of title for the land.
Land Entry Case File
Documentation related to more than 10 million transfers of any public lands to private ownership (including Bounty Land Records) are stored in Land Entry Case Files at the National Archives.
Bounty Land Patents (and other land transactions) are indexed on the Bureau of Land Management (free) site. The actual patent may be digitized and downloadable from that site but, in that case, there will likely be much more information in the Land Entry Case File.
If you find your soldier in either of these databases, then there is a Land Entry Case File at the National Archives which will contain more information about that land transaction. Please include that URL or upload a screenshot of that page when you place your order for a Land Entry Case File.