What Is a Land Grant? (Part 2): Grants to Individuals for Homesteading and Settlement

This post was originally published in 2016 and updated on January 15, 2020.

A land grant is an award of land to a recipient with the requirement that a public purpose, as defined by legislation, is served through the grant. In Part 1, we covered land grant colleges and universities, which are great examples of land grants achieving lasting benefits in the United States of America.

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Land Grants for “Homesteading”

The passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 established a land grant program that allowed individuals, both U.S. citizens and intended citizens, to apply for 160-acre plots of land. “Homesteading” was a term referring to the process of moving west onto land in unsettled territories and cultivating the land.

Recipients of the Homestead Act land grants were required to live on the land for 5 years and improve it by growing crops and building a dwelling of at least 12 by 14 (the legislation didn’t specify feet or inches, which presented some problems—current grant policies are more thorough and careful now). After five years, recipients could apply for the deed of title to own the land permanently.

It is worth noting that the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Morrill Land-Grants Acts of 1862 & 1890 were signed into law amidst the historical backdrop of one of the most important and transformational periods in U.S. history. These land grant programs were created and implemented during the American Civil War, Reconstruction Era, and industrialization of the United States.

You can learn more about this historical context from these U.S. National Archives resources: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877) and The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900).

Enough history…are there still any land grants?

Past land grants still make news from time to time, such as in New Mexico, where claims to lands covered by the property protection provisions of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo prompted the U.S. General Accounting Office to issue a report in 2004 (h/t @JKNByram).

But new land grant programs are different than the historical land grant programs we’ve covered here.

For example, the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants program, which “…provides grants of up to $1 million to coastal and Great Lakes states, as well as U.S. territories to protect, restore and enhance coastal wetland ecosystems and associated uplands.”

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) also has the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which supports a similar public cause as the Morrill Land Grant Acts—only through education rather than land.

For acquiring land, federal financial assistance has shifted from direct grants to loans. To learn more about USDA grants and loans, check here.

12 thoughts on “What Is a Land Grant? (Part 2): Grants to Individuals for Homesteading and Settlement

  1. I recently became homeless I have no idea what to do I need a place to stay and I have an RV I can live in till I can build a house at the moment I don’t have a job what can I do Is there an Grant that can help me

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  2. Hi, my name is Cheryl. We recently found out my husband has cancer. We are behind on rent, I’ve been out of work with neck surgery. I start back the 1st of next month. Doctor bills are not helping. Is there any help out there for us, please

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    1. Hi Cheryl, we’re sorry to hear that. Please go to https://www.benefits.gov/ and complete the Benefits Finder tool to see if you are eligible for federal financial assistance. You should also check your local and state government websites to see if they have any assistance available.


    2. Hi, Cheryl. I am sorry for you and your husbands health issues. It is two months since you wrote this. I hope you found some help. I am not sure what state you are in, but there are many local social service agencies that can help you with rent, utility assistance, and other basic needs, etc. Check with your local social service referral agency if you have one or a local family resource network. You can also check with local housing authorities too. God bless.

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  3. With the complete understanding (later learned) that a “Warranty Deed” is a “color of title” and not ownership, I purchased a home in cash, remodeled home and surrounding property to bring it up to date (built in 1984) and then “Homesteaded” said property which basically just entitles me to less paid taxes and lesser taxes the older I get. I have searched over and over looking for the legalities of complete ownership of a “Forever Land Grant” to said “Real Property” to secure that ownership from Government/State over-reach. Since Texas land is “Public Land” by treaty between the state of Texas and Spain and not Federal owned, why is it then when we buy “Real Property” that we still don’t have ownership of said land and only the house that sits on it. Sounds like a case of FRAUD. When opening my County Land Appraisal cad map, one sees (in large bold type) names of the original land owners surrounded by land lines marking off Pension Properties/Homesteaded granted in 1847 upon researching. In those land grants given in that era, they where “forever land Grants which means we don’t own the land the “Real Property” it sits on today. I have studied the procedure in filing for “Land Title” but still find it fraudulent because one may not necessarily be granted that “forever” title. I feel less secure, knowing that all my efforts and hard work went into a “Real Property” that I don’t own 100%. The Mortgage Company that I bought said Real Property created FRAUD by violating my Common Law rights by volunteering to registering my Property with the city preventing me from ensuring my”Private Real Property” status which they don’t have the right to do so. So how does one go about securing said land ?

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  4. My fiance and I are interested in starting a farm or ranch. We are tired of living in the suburbs. We also would like to make a difference in our community. So I see the benefits.gov address but are there any other sites you can suggest. I live in an area where it is considered a food desert in quite a large area of our town. I would like to make a contribution to these areas of our town. Please let me know any help you can offer.

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