“We have a copy of our great-great-grandfather’s [bounty land] warrant from the War of 1812. This has never been redeemed. I expect that the time for redeeming has long since expired but can’t find confirmation of this anywhere. Do you know for sure?”
What a great question from Robert in Covington, Louisiana! Here’s a little back story:
What is military bounty land?
From colonial times through 1855, cash-poor governments in the US (or future US) often paid soldiers in land for their service. It was a win-win proposition: many colonists and settlers wanted to own land. The Governments claimed more land than they could survey. It was in the best interest of both parties (though not any native residents) to fill up that land.
The lands that were awarded are called military bounty lands. They were awarded by colonial, state and federal governments. Virginia handed out land as far back as the 1600s. Service in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War often generated bounty land awards. (Click here to read a more detailed article I wrote about US military bounty land awards.)
Veterans (or their heirs) had to apply for bounty lands. If they qualified, they were issued warrants (like coupons) that were redeemable for a certain amount of property. Many veterans sold their warrants. Others redeemed them for specific parcels of land (for which they received patents, like deeds). Applications may contain a bounty of genealogical data: the names of applicants (veterans and/or heirs), their residence and age at the time of the application and the veteran’s military service details.
Can I Claim My Ancestor’s Military Bounty Land Award?
With this question, Robert sent us “a copy of a re-issue by the Commissioner of Pensions dated 1917. From the wording on the note the Commissioner scribbled on the copy he sent, it appears he hand copied the information on file onto a blank certificate and certified the copy.” He’s blanked out some identifying information but here it is:
This question is fascinating and complicated. For answers and a little more context, Lisa called on Judy Russell, AKA The Legal Genealogist, who gives her response in the most recent episode of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. Judy says the key is to research the law forward in time: When did the law take effect? What changes were made during its lifetime? When did it expire? Was it ever revived? If so, when did any extensions expire?
One of her favorite websites for researching the history of US laws is the Library of Congress’ A Century of Law Making for a New Nation. Click here to listen to Judy’s interview (it’s FREE!) for more tips on researching old laws, more information on military bounty lands–and her answer to Robert’s question.