The Importance of Pre-statehood Land Grants In Texas History, And How It Affects Texas Property Rights and Titling Today

By Misty Barton of Degree Jungle

Texas has a rich and diverse history that is specifically linked to the giving and taking of land within its borders. Texas is the only American state that was ever its own sovereign nation. Understanding how land grants were used to settle and populate Texas before its statehood is essential to understanding modern property ownership and land sectioning in the state.
Spanish Conquest
The Spanish court claimed Texas beginning in 1519, but did not truly show interest in settling the area of assigning land ownership until the late 1600s. The Spanish natives who were inhabiting Mexico viewed Texas as distant, wild, and unfit for habitation. During the 150-year period when Spanish citizens were actively trying to populate and settle Texas, only sixty land grants were claimed, and most of those were assigned to missionary groups attempting to convert the natives to Catholicism. Most of those land titles centered around the Nacogdoches area, with fewer than ten titles granted in the San Antonia Goliad region. Today, roughly four million acres of Texas land are still controlled by the descendants of the original owners of Spanish land grants, and the original Spanish title is still considered a legally binding document.
Mexican Texas
In 1821, Mexico established its independence. Mexican officials decided to colonize Texas in order to dampen Indian activity along the border and discourage American expansion into South and Central America. It was during this period that Stephen Austin came to Mexico and fought for the colonization of Texas. He lobbied for, and was granted, a substantial amount of land under the Colonization Act of 1823. He attracted 300 families to the area between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers and granted each family land to farm. The survey methods used first by Austin at his colony were carried over to the Republic of Texas and used to set the boundaries of many later land grants. The Colonization Act of 1823 was replaced by a new set of laws in 1825, which required settlers to repay the state government for the land grant over a period of six years. A total of 22,000,000 acres wer deeded out by the Mexican government, all of which are legally recognized titles of ownership today.
The Republic of Texas
In 1836 the Republic of Texas established itself as a sovereign state, under the reign of no foreign government. In November of that year the government of Texas awarded land grants of 640 acres to any man who was willing to sign up for two years of service in the Texas regular army. When this did not attract enough volunteers, the land agreement was increased to 800 acres. When war broke out, men were offered 640 acres to serve the full length of the war, and 320 acres were awarded to those who served at least three months. If a man died in service his full tract was awarded to any surviving family member who staked a claim. In 1837, an even more attractive deal was struck promising men 320 acres for every three months of service, for up to 1,280 acres per man. The totals which came from these, and several similar laws that promised land grants for state service, were called "bounty warrants" and "battle donation grants". A total of 5,354,250 acres were granted through bounty warrants, and 1,162,240 acres were titled through battle donation grants. Acres were also sold to settlers on a multi-year repayment system in order to generate land revenue. In all, during its 10 years as a republic, 41,570,733 acres of Texas land were titled.

This Article was written By Misty Barton, an English Major and History Buff from Missouri. She has a specific interest in the History of Texas's early Republic period and statehood, including the settlement of the Brazos and Goliad areas. She also freelances for Degree a resource for college students.