Land grant

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A land grant is a gift of real estate – land or its use privileges – made by a government or other authority as an incentive, means of enabling works, or as a reward for services to an individual, especially in return for military service. Grants of land are also awarded to individuals and companies as incentives to develop unused land in relatively unpopulated countries; the process of awarding land grants are not limited to the countries named below. The United States historically gave out numerous land grants as Homesteads to individuals desiring to prove a farm. The American Industrial Revolution was guided by many supportive acts of legislatures (for example, the Main Line of Public Works legislation of 1826) promoting commerce or transportation infrastructure development by private companies, such as the Cumberland Road turnpike, the Lehigh Canal, the Schuylkill Canal, and the many railroads that tied the young United States together.

Ancient Rome[edit]

Roman soldiers were given pensions (praemia) at the end of their service including cash or land. Augustus fixed the amount in AD 5 at 3,000 denarii and by the time of Caracalla it had risen to 5,000 denarii.[1] One denarius was roughly equivalent to a day's wages for an unskilled laborer.


Australia was first settled by the British in 1788 to form the colony of New South Wales, with them claiming all land as crown land. Over time, it granted land to released convicts.[2] Males were allowed 30 acres (12 ha), plus 20 acres (8.1 ha) if they were married, and 10 acres (4.0 ha) additional per child. Instructions were issued on 20 August 1789 that non-commissioned Marine Officers were to be entitled to 100 acres (40 ha) additional and privates to 50 acres (20 ha) additional.

Governor Macquarie canceled land grants issued during the Rum Rebellion 1808-09, although some were later renewed.

Land grants started to be phased out when private tendering was introduced, and stricter limits were placed on grants without purchase. The instructions to Governor Brisbane were issued on 17 July 1825. From 9 January 1831, all land was to be sold at public auction.

There were also significant land grants in the Swan River Colony, and in Van Diemen's Land from 1803.

Land grant railways[edit]

  • In 1886, the Midland Railway of Western Australia was granted land concessions to build and operate a railway from Midland, near Perth, to Walkaway, near Geraldton. This was built, but taken over by the government railway in the 1950s. It was and is 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge.
  • In 1889, a land grant railway was from Roebuck Bay in Western Australia to Angle Pole in South Australia was proposed. This would have been 1000 miles (1600 km) long. Angle Pole was a locality where the Telegraph line had bend in it. It was stillborn. The gauge would have been 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in).[3]
  • In 1897, a transcontinental North-South land grant railway was proposed to complete the missing link between Oodnadatta and Darwin, the latter then called Palmerston or Port Darwin. The plan was abandoned, though the government railway was extended in the 1920s from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, with similar extensions at the Darwin end. It was originally 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge, but was replaced by a new 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge line on a different route.
  • In 1909, a land grant railway was proposed in Queensland from Charleville to Point Parker on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, but the plan was abandoned.[4]


The Hudson's Bay Company was incorporated in 1670 with the grant of Rupert's Land by King Charles II of England; this vast territory was greater than one third the area of Canada today. Following the Rupert's Land Act in the British Parliament, Rupert's Land was sold in 1869 to the newly formed Canadian Government for the nominal sum of £300,000.

Land grants were an incentive for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.


The Plantations of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries involved the confiscation of some or all the land of Irish lords and its grant to settlers ("planters") from England or Scotland. The English Parliament's Adventurers Act 1642 and Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 specifically entitled "Adventurers" who funded the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland to lands seized from the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the ensuing Confederacy.

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand two private railway companies were offered land grants to build a railway, though both were eventually taken over by the government and incorporated into the government-owned New Zealand Railways Department.

The Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company built and operated the 134 km Wellington-Manawatu Line north of Wellington to the Manawatu from 1881. The company was New Zealand owned. It was taken over by the government in 1908, and the line became part of the North Island Main Trunk.
The New Zealand Midland Railway Company started the Midland Line between Canterbury and the West Coast in 1886 but the British-owned company was taken over by the government in 1895, having constructed only 131 km of the 376 km route.

United States[edit]

Virginia Land Office warrant issued in 1779 to Joseph Cabell, assignee of Sgt. Gabriel Penn, to receive 200 acres of land in return for Penn's service in the French and Indian War

In America, starting in the 16th century, land grants were given for the purpose of establishing settlements, missions, and farms.[citation needed] Countries granting land included Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Britain.

Under colonial law, a patentee had to improve the land. Under this doctrine of planting and seeding, the patentee was required to cultivate 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land and build a small house on the property, otherwise the patent would revert to the government.[5]

Starting with the American Revolutionary War, United States veterans often received land grants in lieu of other remuneration.[6]

Between 1783 and 1821, Spain offered land grants to anyone who settled in their colony of Florida. When that colony was transferred to the United States, the resulting treaty agreed to honor all valid land grants. As a result, years of litigation ensued over the validity of many of the Spanish Land Grants.

At the same time, Spain and Mexico were offering land grants along the Rio Grande River near the Texas/Mexico border. These grants were given to help colonization of the area by Mexican and Spanish nationals, and strengthen frontier towns along the Texas border.

During the Mexican period of California (and other portions of Mexican territories inherited from New Spain), hundreds of ranchos and large tracts of land were granted to individuals by the Mexican government. The ranchos established land-use patterns that are recognizable in the California of today.[7]

Controversy over community land grant claims in New Mexico persist to this day.[8]

During the 19th century, extensive land grants were made to railroads, since their development was seen as a new form of transportation internal improvements. The Land Grant Act of 1850 provided for 3.75 million acres of land to the states to support railroad projects; by 1857 21 million acres of public lands were used for railroads in the Mississippi River valley, and the stage was set for more substantial Congressional subsidies to future railroads.[9] Four out of the five transcontinental railroads in the United States were built using land grant incentives.[citation needed]

The Morrill Land-Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890 provided for the establishment of land-grant colleges.

Bounty-land warrants[edit]

Bounty-land warrants were issued to military veterans in the United States from 1775 to 1855. The land grants were used extensively for the settlement of Ohio Territory and the Northwest Territory as well as the Platte Purchase in Missouri.[10][11]

Initially the warrants which were grants for land of often 160 acres were aimed in particular at veterans of the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War as well as various Indian wars. Eligibility for the warrants expanded over the years through new Congressional acts of 1842, 1850, 1852, and 1855 to the point where they could be sold or could be handed out to descendants. The warrant program was discontinued prior to the American Civil War.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Roman Army". 2012-04-08. Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  2. ^ State Records NSW, citing Historical Records of Australia 1.1.14, 1.1.124-8, 1.7.268, 1.12.107-125, 1.16.22.
  3. ^ "The Angle Pole Memorial SA @ ExplorOz Places". Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  4. ^ "TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILWAY". Cairns Morning Post (Qld. : 1907-1909). Qld.: National Library of Australia. 22 February 1909. p. 5. Retrieved 19 January 2011. 
  5. ^ "Roots web". Roots web. Retrieved 2013-02-12. 
  6. ^ William D. Houghton "Houghton Ancestors". p. 86. 
  7. ^ David Hornbeck,Land tenure and rancho expansion in Alta California, 1784–1846, Journal of Historical Geography, Volume 4, Issue 4, October 1978, Pages 371–390
  8. ^ "Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: Findings and Possible Options Regarding Longstanding Community Land Grant Claims in New Mexico" (PDF). General Accounting Office. Retrieved 5 June 2008. 
  9. ^ Julian E. Zelizer, The American Congress: the building of democracy, p.288
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ a b "U.S. War Bounty Land Warrants, 1789-1858". Retrieved 3 April 2018. 

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