LAND GRANTS (Extract from the Handbook of Texas Online article Land Grants.)

The history of land grants in Texas is a long and complex one. The earliest grant was made by the Spanish crown to establish a mission and presidio in East Texas in 1716. In 1731 town lots in San Antonio de Béxar were granted to Canary Islanders,qv and by the mid-1700s larger livestock grants were being made along the San Antonio River valley. In later years, the titles were issued by the governor of the province, who received a small fee, as did the local officials who participated in the process. Ranching lands further away from the town were generally held informally in the early years of Spanish Texas,qv and only regularized in later years. Private land grants in what is now South Texas did not begin until the mid-eighteenth century.

In an effort to populate the area, Spanish officials experimented with a policy to entice settlers from the American frontier with promises of land, religious tolerance, and special privileges. In 1820 the Spanish government passed a measure to open Texas to foreigners who would respect the laws and constitution of the country. In January 1821, Moses Austinqv was promised a contract to land on the Brazos River in exchange for bringing 300 Catholic families from Louisiana. After his death in June of that year his son, Stephen F. Austin,qv assumed the contract. Though the grant was declared void after the Mexican War of Independence,qv Austin succeeded in negotiating a new contract under President Agustín de Iturbide'sqv colonization law of 1823 (see MEXICAN COLONIZATION LAWS).

After Iturbide's downfall in March 1823, the new Mexican government passed the state colonization law of March 24, 1825, which opened the way for Americans to settle in the northern province of Coahuila and Texas.qv In exchange for a small fee, heads of families could obtain as much as a league or sitioqv (4428.4) acres of grazing land and a laborqv (177.1 acres) of cropland. Under the provisions of the decree foreigners had to take an oath promising to obey the federal and state constitutions, practice Christianity, and prove their morality and good habits. Upon agreeing to these conditions and establishing residence, foreigners became Mexican citizens. The wording of the decree as it pertained to slaveryqv was vague and did not immediately prohibit the importation of slaves.

The Republic of Texasqv made many headright grants, that is, grants given on the condition that specified requirements be met by the grantees. Under the Constitution of 1836 all heads of families living in Texas on March 4, 1836, except Africans and Indians, were granted "first class" headrights of one league and one labor (4,605.5 acres), and single men aged seventeen years or older, one-third of a league (1,476.1 acres). By later laws "second class" headrights of 1,280 acres to heads of families and 640 acres to single men were granted to those who immigrated to Texas after the Texas Declaration of Independenceqv and before October 1, 1837, and who remained in the republic for three years and performed the duties of citizenship. "Third class" headrights of 640 acres for heads of families and 320 acres for single men went to recipients who immigrated to Texas after October 1, 1837, and before January 1, 1840. In 1841 "fourth class" headright certificates of 640 acres for family heads and 320 acres for single men were granted conditionally to residents who immigrated to Texas between January 1, 1840, and January 1, 1842. A total of 36,876,492 acres was granted by the republic in headright certificates. In order to attract settlers, the Republic of Texas also made colonization contracts with various individuals to establish colonies in the republic and receive payment in land. In addition to large grants made directly to the contractors, settlers in such colonies were granted 640 acres each, if heads of families, or 320 acres, if single. Land grants made under colonization contracts amounted to 4,494,806 acres.

Both the republic and state granted lands for military service in the form of bounty and donation grants. An act of December 21, 1837, provided for donation certificates of 640 acres each to all persons who had engaged in the battle of San Jacinto,qv to all who were wounded the day before, and to all who were detailed to guard the baggage at Harrisburg; by the same act bounty warrants were granted to those who had participated in the siege of Bexar, the Goliad campaigns of 1835 and 1836, and the battle of the Alamo,qqv or to their survivors. By an act of 1879 certificates for an additional 640 acres were granted under stringent restrictions to indigent veterans of the Texas Revolution.qv An act of 1868 granted warrants to Texans who had fought in the Union Army, but no land was ever claimed under this law. In 1881 the state voted to issue bounty warrants for 1,280 acres to Confederate veterans who had been permanently disabled in service. Bounty and donation grants for military service amounted to a total of 3,149,234 acres.

Vast areas of Texas lands were also granted in return for making internal improvements: building railroads,qv canals, and irrigationqv ditches, constructing shipbuildingqv facilities, clearing river channels, and, during the Civil War,qv manufacturing firearms and munitions and constructing highways. Lands granted to railroads amounted to 32,153,878 acres, or nearly one-fifth of the total area of the state. For other internal improvements a total of 138,640 acres was granted (see LAND GRANTS FOR INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS).

Finally, special education land grants totaling 172,319 acres were made by the Republic of Texas to private colleges and seminaries. Other lands were subsequently set aside for state educational and eleemosynary institutions, but they are more appropriately classified as land appropriations for educationqv rather than grants.

Aldon S. Lang and Christopher Long

 Citation: "Land Grants," extract from The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2001, <> [Access Date].

For bibliography and complete article go to Land Grants.
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