Land Record

Bounty Land Warrants for Military Service in the War of 1812

by Jan Bishop McFarland

After the War of 1812, Congress enacted legislation to reward military service by entitling veterans to claim land in the northwest and western territories. This so-called "bounty land" was not granted outright to the veterans, but was instead awarded to them through a multi-step process beginning with a bounty land warrant.

Bounty land warrants weren't automatically issued to every veteran who served. The veteran first had to apply for a warrant, and then, if the warrant was granted, he could use the warrant to apply for a land patent. The land patent is the document which granted him ownership of the land.

Basically, the warrant is a piece of paper which states that, based on his service, the veteran is entitled to X number of acres in one of the bounty land districts set up for veterans of the War of 1812. These land districts were located on public domain lands in Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri.

The warrants, themselves, were not delivered to the veterans; all the veteran actually received was a notification telling him that Warrant #XXX had been issued in his name and was on file in the General Land Office.

Prior to 1842, if a veteran chose to redeem his warrant for land, he was required to choose land in one of the three states listed above. (After 1842, he could redeem his warrant for public lands in other states.)

Warrants could be assigned or sold to other individuals.

Benjamin Hibbard, an American public lands historian, believed that the government chose to set the land districts up in these frontier areas because they thought it would be really nifty to have a few thousand battle-hardened war veterans & their families acting as buffers between established settlements and the Native American population. For good or for ill, the veterans were too smart to fall for that one, and most chose to sell their patents to land speculators. So keep in mind that, even if your ancestor applied for a patent, he may never have set foot on his land.

The Bounty Land Warrant File

A veteran who decided to redeem his warrant was issued a patent for the land itself, and a "Bounty Land Warrant File" was created in the General Land Office. This file contains the surrendered warrant, a letter of assignment (if he assigned his interest to another party) and any other documents pertaining to the transaction. The warrant itself should include the name of the veteran, his rank on discharge, his branch of service (including company, etc.), and the date the warrant was issued. It may also include the date the land was located and a description of the land.

If he obtained bounty land, you should be able to find your ancestor in National Archives Microfilm Series M848 (14 rolls), War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants, 1815-1858. This series includes an index to patentees in Missouri & Arkansas, a partial index for Illinois, and an index for patentees under the 1842 act (the one that allowed them to choose lands in areas other than MO, AR & IL). If you find that he patented his land, and you want more information than is contained on the microfilm, you may be able to obtain it by writing the National Archives and having them search the General Land Office abstracts of military bounty land warrant locations.

Further Reading

Throughout the 1800's, the US Congress continually tinkered with the laws affecting bounty land; in order to fully understand these laws and how they may have affected your ancestor, further study will be required. If you're interested in learning more about bounty lands, I'd recommend you read James W. Oberly's book, Sixty Million Acres: American Veterans and the Public Lands before the Civil War, ISBN 0-87338-421-0. It's full of valuable information for genealogists. And if you're up for some really dry reading (downright parched, some might say!), try Benjamin Hibbard's History of the Public Land Policies.

Another helpful source is Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives, ISBN 0-911333-01-0. It explains, in detail, the records available through the National Archives, including bounty land records.

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