American Revolutionary War

North Carolina Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants

Land Grants are one of the most enlightening resources available today. These documents date back to the colonial period and move forward to the twentieth century. Do you know the difference between colonial land grants, state land grants, and bounty land grants? Each one has its own characteristics and qualities. Identifying these will also guide you to their storage locations, which, by the way, vary from state to state. This article will focus on bounty land grants in North Carolina after the American Revolutionary War. But, before we get started, allow us to share a valuable tidbit in the paragraph below.

Family historians spend a massive amount of time discovering their ancestors using different methods and formats. The thorough historian wants to get the information right the first time. Eventually, no matter how we get to this point, we ultimately realize, through trial and error, that we must view the actual documents to prove our success. This format is known as the strenuous paper trail. The proper definition is the endless supply of paper documents leading us to scattered possible paths during a particular place and time. Wow, what an interpretation, right? We know it as a maze of missed turns, brick walls, and various rabbit holes that sometimes places us back at step one. But the truth is, we love every minute of it, and if straining our eyes at 3 am could prove our 6th-great-grandfather’s location, we’ll do it. Are we just a little crazy? May-be, but we’re never dull or humdrum. We’re seeking the truth by being lively, dedicated, and tireless. So, wear that smile and be proud of your family’s heritage. Most of all, be the best you can be.

Getting back to the NC Bounty Land Grants, we will explore how these records offer critical insight into our ancestor’s military duty during the American Revolutionary War. A common practice in researching the documents is to completely understand how they were taken, stored, and used. Let’s use an entry of the records and see if you can identify the details.

Gwin, Jacob, Private. 22 Apr. 1785 640 acres to heirs.

What details do you see? After the name, the first observation is the military status as a private in the North Carolina Continental Line. Gwin’s bounty land grant states completed by April 1785, and he served at least two years. We know this by the acreage given 640 acres. We also know that Gwin is dead by April 1785 because of the land title to his heirs. Who among his family would qualify as heir? The qualifications varied from state to state. In North Carolina, an heir would be the wife, son, daughter, brother, father, etc. Many cases disclose the heirs with different surnames but are not listed, and of those, many sold the warrants to willing buyers. These circumstances create difficulty in tracking the land grants. Many transactions consisted of 5 or more before finalization occurred. Let’s look at a few more entries in the Secretary of States’ Military Land Warrant Book.

Mackelway, John. Drummer. 2 Feb. 1784 1,000 acres

Harney, Silby. Lt. Colonel Commander. 22 Oct. 1783 7,200 acres

Arnold, David. Private. 2 Dec. 1785 274 acres

Whitaker, Burton. Private. 12 Dec. 1808 640 acres to heirs

To understand the distribution process in North Carolina, you must know the state’s formula. Each state’s formula varied, but North Carolina is as follows. 

  • Brigadier General-12,000 acres
  • Colonel-7,200
  • Chaplain-7,200
  • Lieutenant Colonel Commander-7,200
  • Lieutenant Colonel-5,760
  • Major-4,800
  • Surgeon-4,600
  • Captain-3,840
  • Surgeon’s Mate-2,560
  • Subaltern-2,560
  • Noncommissioned Officer-1,000
  • Private-640

Each entry found in the NC Military Land Warrants book pertained to the veterans serving in the NC Continental Line. This action eliminated all militia duty even if the militia were required to act under Continental orders. With the formula in place, let’s look closer at the entries above. 

As you can quickly see, John Mackelway was a drummer, and he received 1,000 acres in 1784. Many assume that drummers were young boys or teenagers, but that does not match the statistics. Many drummers witnessed some of the harshest battles during the war, and records indicate rank among the musicians. The rank distinction may explain the 1,000 acres allotted to Mackelway.

Silby Harney appears in Camden County, North Carolina, in the 1790 census. He died nine years later in Pasquotank County, and his burial took place at Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City. Harney enlisted in the 8th North Carolina Regiment in November of 1776. Harney became a prisoner of war after he sustained severe wounds at Hadral’s Point. Selby Harney was a sea trader who lost two of his sons to the Atlantic waters. After learning more about Harney’s life in North Carolina, we know he most likely sold his Tennessee bounty lands.

North Carolina 1790 Census, Camden County (courtesy of

David Arnold receives 274 acres, a rather odd amount compared to other entries until you research the facts. In 1783, North Carolina passed a law prorating the acreage for privates serving two years to receive 225 acres. Privates serving three years received 274 acres. The law tells us that Arnold served three years with the NC Continental Line. A David Arnold appears on the NC 1790 census living in Edgecombe County. Could this be the same Arnold who received 274 acres of bounty land in 1785?

North Carolina 1790 Census, Edgecombe County (courtesy of

Finally, we come to Burton Whitaker, who received his bounty land grant in 1808. North Carolina handed out military bounty lands until 1841. After 1799, the Tennessee officials chose the parcels and granted the petitions after North Carolina submitted the warrant. Burton Whitaker dies by 1808 and the 640 acres belong to his heirs.

The military bounty lands for North Carolina began along the Holston and Powell Rivers in Tennessee, an area filled with early settlements since the mid-18th-century. However, by 1783 when North Carolina began issuing the land grants, this area was not suitable to meet the demands of bounty land warrants due to land availability and population. Therefore, North Carolina moved the bounty lands west to the central sections, known today as Davidson and Sumner Counties, Tennessee. North Carolina contains 6,554 bounty land warrants issued between 1783 to 1841 to war veterans. Note that thousands of military warrants issued in North Carolina are not assigned or deeded to the actual veteran.

Piedmont Trails will have more about the bounty land grants soon. We will also be exploring the Glasgow Land Fraud that took place in North Carolina. The scheme allowed several North Carolina representatives to take control of approximately 2,000 bounty land warrants. You will not want to miss that one. We are applying the finishing touches on our NC list containing bounty land grants issued in the first segment 1783-1797. We hope you enjoy your journey to the past and keep digging for the records.


  • Clark, Walter “The State Records of North Carolina Volumes X thru XVII” published by MI & JC Stewart, Winston, NC 1895
  • Brockstruck, Lloyd Dewitt “Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants” published by Genealogical Publishing Co. Baltimore, Maryland 1996 pp.8-11.
  • Cooke, William D. “Revolutionary History of North Carolina” published by George Putnam Co. New York, New York 1853
  • Military Service Records at the National Archives Pension File/Bounty Land Warrant File
  • North Carolina Secretary Of State’s Military Bounty Land Warrants Book located at State of North Carolina Archives, Raleigh, NC.
  • “United States Census, 1790,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 14 May 2015), North Carolina > Halifax > Edgecombe > image 17 of 25; citing NARA microfilm publication M637, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  • “United States Census, 1790,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 14 May 2015), North Carolina > Camden > Not Stated > image 6 of 8; citing NARA microfilm publication M637, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

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