Editor’s note: This genealogy column ran in the July 10, 2011, issue of the Tribune-Star.
If you have an ancestor who fought in the War of 1812, it is very possible that he applied for and received bounty lands for his services during the war. It is less likely, however, that he ever moved to those lands or actually lived on them.
During the War of 1812, Congress passed three acts establishing that bounty land warrants would be awarded to noncommissioned officers and soldiers, or their heirs, who had served for five years. At this time (1811-1812), the soldiers were entitled to 160 acres of land. Land was initially set aside in the territories of Arkansas (which was then a part of Louisiana), Illinois and Michigan. As the Michigan land was being surveyed, however, false reports came back that it was unsuitable for farming; so in 1816 Michigan was removed from the list and land in Missouri was substituted.
The process for obtaining ownership of the land took several steps. First, the veteran had to apply for a bounty land warrant based on his service. Once a warrant was approved, he then received a notice from the General Land Office stating, for example, that Warrant #7563 for 160 acres of land had been issued in his name and was on file in the Land Office. The warrant itself was not actually sent to the veteran. (It should be noted that these land warrants could not be assigned or transferred to another person – unlike warrants for Revolutionary War bounty lands. They could be inherited, however.) The veteran would then use this warrant information to apply for the land patent. Once obtained, the patent (deed of original ownership) would entitle him to the land. At this point, the veteran could take ownership of the land himself, assign it to another person, or sell it to a land speculator. The majority of 1812 veterans chose to sell their land to speculators for cash.
Following the original bounty land acts of 1811 and 1812, Congress passed several more statutes making more land available to more of the veterans and eventually including their widows. In 1814, “double bounty land warrants” were given to those who enlisted after December 1814. This entitled the soldiers to 320 acres of land. In 1842, a bill expanded the choice of land to include any public domain land, not just land in the three original states. In 1855, land could be claimed if the veteran had seen just 14 days of service or participated in battle action. In 1871, a pension or bounty land could be claimed by the widow if the veteran was in service 60 days and they had married before 1815. In 1878, the final statute allowed for pension or bounty land to be issued to any widow if her husband had been in service for 14 days or seen battle action.
Veterans or widows who redeemed their bounty land warrants and were issued land patents had a “bounty land warrant file” deposited in the federal government’s General Land Office. This file contains some information of interest to genealogists, including the redeemed warrant with the date it was issued, the veteran’s name, rank at discharge, branch of service, location and description of the land, and page number where recorded in the Abstracts of Military Bounty Land Warrant Locations.
National Archives Microfilm Series M848 consists of 14 rolls of “War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants, 1815-1858.” This series contains four indexes: Index of Missouri Patentees, Index of Arkansas Patentees, Partial Index of Illinois Patentees (only the entries for surnames beginning with a C or a D have survived), and Index of Patentees Under the Act of 1842.
These indexes as well as the actual warrant books are now available online through the FamilySearch catalog at https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/290307?availability=Family%20History%20Library. They are locked databases and cannot be accessed at home, but they can be viewed at an authorized FamilySearch Library, such as the Vigo County Public Library.