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A land grant is a gift of real estate – land or its privileges – made by a government or other authority 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 is not limited to the countries named below.
Roman soldiers were given rewards at the end of their service including cash or land (praemia). Augustus fixed the amount in AD 5 at 3,000 denarii and by the time of Caracalla it had risen to 5,000 denarii. One denarii was roughly equivalent to a day's wages for an unskilled laborer.
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.
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. Eventually, on 9 January 1831, Viscount Goderich commanded that all land was to be sold at public auction.
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.
In America, starting in the 16th century, land grants were given for the purpose of establishing settlements, missions, and farms. 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.
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.
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.
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. Four out of the five transcontinental railroads in the United States were built using land grant incentives.