During the Revolutionary War, a land-rich and cash-poor Continental Congress promised bounty land as an inducement to military service. For this war and other wars in which the United States engaged during the years 1812-1855, the issuance of bounty land warrants to veterans or their heirs as a form of reward for service was continued.
The first series of warrants for War of 1812 service were issued under acts of December 24, 1811, January 11, 1812, and May 6, 1812, in which Congress provided that non-commissioned officers and soldiers serving for five years (unless discharged sooner), or their heirs, would be entitled to 160 acres of land from the public domain in partial compensation for their military service. Six million acres of land in the Territories of Michigan, Illinois, and Louisiana were set aside for this purpose.
The second series resulted from an act of December 10, 1814, by which Congress doubled the acreage offered to soldiers enlisting after that date. Warrants issued under the act were called Double Bounty Warrants.
War of 1812 Veteran Benefits
In 1811 when war with Britain seemed imminent, Congress Authorized bounty land to be given to veterans of Federal Service as one of the provisions to stimulate enlistments. Every man who would enlist for five years, or later, for the duration of the war was offered a $16 cash bounty and 160 acres of land. The Act of December 10, 1814, offered each non-commissioned officer and soldier who enlisted and was later honorably discharged a bounty of 320 acres.
The Acts passed between 1811 and 1816 contained the following bounty land provisions:
1) Commissioned officers could not receive bounty land. At first those promoted to commissioned officers had to give up their rights to bounty land, but this restriction was eliminated in 1816. It was not until 1850 that Congress awarded officers 160 acres of bounty land.
2) Only troops in the federal service were eligible. In 1852 soldiers of state militia and volunteers were given bounty land.
3) Children under 16 years of age, heirs of veterans eligible for warrants, could instead collect five years’ half pay.
4) Land could be located only in the military tracts. After selecting the tract the veteran drew a quarter-section by lot.
5) Warrants could not be assigned and land could not be transferred until the title was issued. Lawyers were able to circumvent this by having the veteran sign a power of attorney and then recording the title in the lawyer’s name.
Congress designated three areas to be used for bounty lands in Michigan, Illinois and a portion of the Louisiana Territory which later became part of Arkansas. After the surveyor reported that the Michigan Military Tract was not suitable for settlement, so the size of the Illinois Military Tract was increased from 2,000,000 to 3,500,000 acres, and a new tract in northern Missouri was created.
It was necessary to survey the public domain before the land could be allocated. While Military Tract lands were set aside by the Act of 1812, Congress failed to provide funds for the survey of these lands until 1815. These surveyors divided the land into townships, sections and quarter-sections. Only those lands fit for cultivation were to be designated for bounty lands. Salt springs, lead mines and Section 16 of each township were to be reserved for government use.
Laying the Lines
Surveyors immediately ran into problems with the Potawatomi Indians. They claimed part of the tract as their hunting grounds, charging that the U. S. Treaty of 1804 with the Sac and Fox tribes was invalid. It was necessary to send soldiers from St. Louis to protect the few surveyors who would venture in the Military Tract. A treaty was finally agreed to with the Potawatomi Indians on August 24, 1816, in which they transferred to the United States the land lying south of a line running from the southern tip of Lake Michigan due west to the Mississippi River.
In 1816 at St. Louis, Governor Edwards, William Clark, and Auguste Chouteau talked the Indians into conceding white ownership. It was surveyed from the Fourth Principal Meridian running north from the mouth of the Illinois River and by a base line west from Beardstown. Surveyors worked rapidly and land distribution began in October, 1817. In less than four months some eighteen thousand warrants, each entitling a veteran or his heirs to 160 acres, were exchanged at the general land office at Washington for patents which covered much of the region. The warrants were nontransferable, but the veteran was not required to settle on the land and the patent could be sold the day it was received. Eastern speculators took advantage of elderly or impoverished veterans and purchased most of the bounty lands quickly, sometimes for ten cents an acre.
The Military Tract Today
Ultimately, the land known as the Military Tract in western Illinois gave rise to the present counties of Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Peoria, Pike, Schuyler, Stark, and Warren Counties. It also includes part of Henry and Bureau Counties, and those parts of Marshall and Putnam which are on the west side of the Illinois River. The area comprises about 5.4 Million acres. Approximately 3.5 Million was deemed fit for cultivation and was set aside for military bounties.
The Settlement of McDonough County
On June 30, 1821, the Legislature approved the boundaries of McDonough County. The first known settlement in the area occurred in the spring of 1826, when Charles Carter and Joshua Pennington used their veteran bounties to purchase land near what would become the town of Industry. While not all the land in the county was claimed directly by veterans, the earliest settlers in the area established the farms and towns of McDonough County on land distributed through military pension land warrants, earned by those who fought for their country in the Revolution and the War of 1812.
For More Information:
The Western Illinois University Libraries Archives and Special Collections is the primary public archive for information relating to the history and development of the Illinois Military Tract.
Boyd, G. A. (2008). Family maps of McDonough County, Illinois. Norman, OK: Arphax Publishing Co.
Clarke, S. J. (1878). History of McDonough County, Illinois: Its cities, towns and villages, with early reminiscences, personal incidents and anecdotes. Springfield, IL: D. W. Lusk, State Printer and Binder.
Cook, W. L. (1998). Index to land coordinates (township and range). Illinois Regional Archives Depository, Western Illinois University.
Database of Illinois War of 1812 Veterans
Howard, R. P. (1972). Illinois: A History of the Prairie State. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
List of names of War of 1812 veterans granted bounty lands in Illinois
“U.S. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Warrants Used in the U.S. Military District of Ohio and Relating Papers (Acts of 1788, 1803, and 1806), 1788-1806” (National Archives Microfilm Publication M829, 16 rolls). Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
. Volkel, L. M. (1977). War of 1812—Bounty lands in Illinois. [originally published as House Document 262, 26tg Congress, 1st Session, 1840]. Thomson, IL: Heritage House.