Bounty Land

Conflict: Revolutionary War, War of 1812

A declaration for a bounty land warrant for John Adams, veteran of the War of 1812

A declaration for a bounty land warrant for John Adams, veteran of the War of 1812

In March 1851, a southerner named John Adams—formerly a private in the North Carolina militia during the War of 1812—applied for (and was later granted) a warrant for 160 acres of bounty land. Like thousands of other veterans from the Revolutionary War up through the 1850s, Adams was granted the bounty land in return for his military service.

Since colonial times, the government (first the British, then the United States) had been offering land in the public domain as an incentive and reward for serving in the military. The amount of land offered changed over time, with a private or noncommissioned officer eligible for 100 acres for Revolutionary War service but 160 acres for fighting in the War of 1812. The land the federal government offered Revolutionary War veterans was mainly in the U.S. Military District of Ohio; for the War of 1812, the federal government set aside land in Louisiana, Michigan, and Illinois.

Excerpt from a letter discussing John Adams’s war service and bounty land warrant

Excerpt from a letter discussing John Adams’s war service and bounty land warrant: “…that he served in the capacity of private and that his station was principally at Fort Jackson and was engaged principally in scouting after Indians, and for his services he received land warrants for 160 acres of land…”

Many state governments also offered land in return for service with state militias and armies, usually within or near their own borders on their western frontiers. Not only was this land to the west more open for settlement, but it was also hoped that settling it with experienced veterans would serve as an easy first defense against Native Americans. However, this plan didn’t pan out quite as intended, because many veterans sold or transferred their bounty land warrants to others.

But before a veteran could sell a bounty land warrant, he first had to apply for it, as soldiers weren’t automatically given land upon completion of service. In the application, the veteran had to prove his military service and that it met certain requirements. If the application was approved, a land warrant in his name was held at the General Land Office. The warrant could then be sold or used to apply for a land patent, which is what actually gave ownership of specific land. Depending on the situation, the location of the bounty land could be selected by either the government agency or by the veteran. If an eligible soldier or veteran died before applying for a bounty land warrant, his widow or heir could apply in his place; likewise, widows and heirs were also allowed to use a veteran’s warrant to apply for a land patent.

John Adams’s bounty land warrant application (click to enlarge)

John Adams’s bounty land warrant application (click to enlarge)

Learn much more about bounty land here, here, here, or here. Or search Fold3’s collection War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files.