In May 1812, an act of Congress
was passed which set aside
bounty lands as payment to volunteer soldiers for the War against
the British (War of 1812
). The land was set aside
in western territories that became part of the present states of
Arkansas, Michigan and Illinois.
lands in Missouri were later
substituted for those in Michigan, due to a report by the
surveyor-general of the United States, Edward Tiffin, which quite misleadingly
described the land in Michigan that had been set aside for this
purpose as undesirable.
Other later acts of Congress, until
1855, continued to address the needs of soldiers wishing to redeem
their bounty land warrants and efforts continued to try to provide
suitable land area for these soldiers.
The term bounty land is somewhat self-explanatory. Tracts of land
were given outright by the states, and later by the federal
government as partial compensation (or "bounty") for service in
times of military conflict. Such bounty was also occasionally used
by the government to incite men to serve in war or conflicts.
Bounty land warrants were issued from the colonial period until
1858, when the program was discontinued, and five years later, in
1863, the rights to locate and take possession of bounty lands
Military land bounties were offered by the United States
in the early national period to attract men into the
or to reward soldiers for
their services. Warrants were issued to the men for these
bulk of early bounty land at the time of the Revolution was in Virginia, as it
existed in colonial times. Since Virginia provided the great bulk of
fighting men in the Revolution, the first bounty lands were to be
located between the Mississippi,
Ohio and Green Rivers in what is now Kentucky.
However, this area did not provide enough land, and the Virginia Military Tract
established, which was in what is now the state of Ohio. Continental Army
soldiers from Virginia
were the only group allowed to settle in the Ohio area, while state
soldiers were to use the lands in Kentucky.
Illinois Military Tract of 1812
Illinois Military Tract of 1812
One of the three districts (or "tracts") created to meet the
warrants given in the War of 1812, "The Tract" was within a
triangle of the Illinois
between the Mississippi
and Illinois Rivers
. This area eventually
became part of the state of Illinois in 1818
Northern Boundary, which extended ninety miles east from the
Mississippi River, is the southern county line of Rock Island
County. This northern boundary line is ninety miles
north of the Base Line (also known as the Beardstown Baseline) which was established with the Fourth Principal
Meridian in 1815.
The Illinois tract, surveyed in 1815-1816, contained more than
5,000,000 acres (20,000 km²), of which 3,500,000 acres (14,000 km²)
were deemed fit for cultivation and set aside for military
bounties.Comprising 207 entire townships, each six
miles (10 km) square, and 61 fractional townships, the tract
included present Illinois counties of Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Peoria, Pike, Schuyler, Stark, and Warren Counties.
includes part of Henry and Bureau Counties, and those parts of Marshall and Putnam which are on the west side of the Illinois River.
Soldiers of the War of 1812, who received each, were required to
locate their warrants by lottery. Most soldiers or their heirs
decided, however, against moving great distances to take up their
claims. Instead, they sold their warrants to speculators. One
company alone acquired 900,000 acres (3,600 km²). Such large-scale
land holdings aroused frontier hostility against absentee
speculators. Squatters settled upon the lands, ignoring titles and
rights. Many speculators were unable to realize a quick profit and,
faced with ever-increasing taxation, lost their titles or sold
their lands at a loss of money.
The tract was surveyed in 1815–1816 and opened to settlement. Then
warrants for land were issued by the government. Many of these land
grants can be found by searching Illinois Public Land Sales. For an
explanation of the way the land in these grants are surveyed, see
Public Land Survey
The General Land Office
over 17,000 patents in the Illinois Military Tract between October
1817 and January 1819. No one has determined the number of War of
1812 veterans who actually moved to their free land in the
Over 60% of these patents were issued in the Illinois Military
After the organization of the Illinois state government in 1818,
the state began to sell these lands for taxes, and for a
considerable period the principal revenue of the state was derived
from this source. The greater portion of these lands thus went into
possession of parties who held them under these tax titles. The
grantees of the soldiers, who were the original patentees, brought
suit for ejectment and much of the court business of pioneer days
was given over to tax titles. Final adjustment of the claims was
made only after years of litigation, a supreme court decision
(1859) and much legislation.
The white population of Illinois exploded after the War of 1812,
exceeding 50,000 in 1820 and 150,000 in 1830. In 1828, the U.S.
government liaison, Thomas
, informed the native Indian tribes that they should
begin vacating their settlements east of the Mississippi.
The Black Hawk War
of 1832 resulted
in the deaths of 70 settlers and soldiers, and hundreds of Black Hawk
's band. The war not only
affected the lives of the Indians, settlers, and militiamen
involved, but also the settlements of Illinois, Iowa, and
The Black Hawk War was responsible for the
end of conflict between settlers and Indians in these states. After
the Black Hawk War settlement was further retarded by conflicting
land claims.The newspaper Illinois Bounty Land Register
first published in 1835, to advertise lands granted to veterans, is
one of the ancestors of the current Quincy Herald-Whig
The Archives and Special Collections Unit at Western Illinois
is the primary public archive for
information relating to the history and development of the Illinois
- The History of McDonough County, Illinois compiled by R.
Chenoweth and S.W. Semonis, sponsored by the McDonough Co.
Genealogical Society, 1992, Curtis Media Corporation, Dallas,
- MAXWELL v. MOORE,
63 U.S. Supreme Court 185 (1859)
- Black Hawk War
- Western Illinois University Archives and Special
- An Act to provide for designating, surveying and
granting the Military Bounty Lands, Act of the 12th United States Congress,
Session I, Chapter 77, May 6, 1812
- An Act to authorize the survey of two million acres
(8,000 km²) of the public lands, in lieu of that quantity
heretofore authorized to be surveyed, in the territory of Michigan,
as military bounty lands, Act of the 14th United States Congress,
Session I, Chapter 164, April 19, 1816
- Description of the military land in Michigan,
report by surveyor-general Edward
Tiffin, November 30, 1815, in Michigan As a Province, Territory and
State, the Twenty-Sixth Member of the Federal Union Vol. 2, by
Henry M. Utley and Clarence M. Cutcheon. pg. 254-255.