Headrights and Bounty Lands in Kentucky

On a used book table I picked up a reprint of  A Century of Wayne County Kentucky, 1800-1900 by Augusta Phillips Johnson.  It was originally published in Louisville KY, 1939 and reprinted by Whipporwill Publications (Unigraphic, Inc.) of Evansville IN, 1988.

And I read it, cover to cover.  Wayne was carved from Lincoln County, then Green County (located South of the Green River), then Cumberland County, and finally created in 1800 from Cumberland and Pulaski.  Parts of Wayne were adjusted when Adair County added some territory, Wayne and Pulaski exchanged lands, Clinton and McCreary counties were created.

None of these facts–which many genealogists stop with–describe why Wayne County is significant.  And this neat little unhistory, with its carefully selected accounts, provides a glimpse of that significance.

The author began to write a family history of her Phillips kin and switched to a county history because so many of the families were interrelated.  The first important consideration in studying a rural county in Kentucky:  Are the families who settled there related? Does the history demonstrate those relationships?

The second element: identifying the origins of the settlers, including who traveled with whom and how were they connected?

Third where did the land titles come from?  How did the settlers apply?  What records were generated?  These questions will usually get you started.

All grants to the year 1797, in this area of Kentucky were military awards.  The surveyors had varying skills and the surveys often overlapped–this led to numerous lawsuits later on as the veterans and their families tried to clear property titles.  These circumstances helped to document and preserve the information for genealogical study–


__surveys and resurveys

__land grants

__court minutes

__reports of commissioners appointed to view the property lines

__testimony of the chain carriers

__newspaper accounts

__ads placed in papers by local attorneys

__ads announcing sales of bounty warrants

These are just a few of the records you can expect to find to detail the experiences of your ancestors who settled in Wayne County territory before the county was formed.  And the parent counties, today, are many miles away from this area–you might not consider searching Lincoln County for your ancestors who were physically located in present-day Wayne.

Actually you can anticipate the records to look for, when you give some attention to the reasons your ancestors were out there to begin with.

Bounty land records identify:

  1. earliest date of residence/arrival and frequently supply other places of residence.
  2. names of sponsoring groups or individuals–kinship networks for new immigrants and a variety of clues to places of origin.
  3. boundaries of military reserves were set by law.  Virginia awarded bounty lands for French and Indian War service which crossed major rivers and mountain ranges.
  4. if heirs claim the lands, they had to submit proof of service as well as document their exact relationship to the veteran.
  5. proof of military service includes names of officers, with dates and ranks.  This proof can be used to qualify for lineage society membership.  Caution:  once military warrants could be assigned to others, and used as currency for purchase and exchange–military service may not be proven.
  6. experienced fighters were needed to hold the frontier against the Indians.  Remember that foreign governments–France, Spain, Netherlands, and even England–enforced their territorial claims with Indian warriors.
  7. these records are the original recordings for land holdings.  ORIGINALS!

After 1797, lands left over or escheated lands not claimed were opened to settlement by headright.

There is some evidence that before Wayne County was formed, Virginia awarded bounty lands for settlement with lists of imports filed in local county courts and submitted as proof for land claims. Watch for these.

Because of record loss when a courthouse burned, bounty records are especially important–claims, supporting documents, testimony taken in special land courts, surveys and resurveys were filed with the state and will be found among the records in the State Land Office–now preserved at the Kentucky State Archives in Frankfort.

Stay tuned for references to printed and online resources to document headrights and bounty lands in Kentucky.  Your favorite Kentucky genealogist, Arlene Eakle   http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Watch my bookstore for the posting of an updated book list and new descriptions of books and other items already offered in my store.


About Arlene Eakle

I trace your family tree; or, teach you how.
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