Virginia created two military districts, one on each side of the Ohio River
Source: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Military Reserves, 1778-1816, With Dates of Creation (Plate 45b, digitized by University of Richmond)
In the Virginia Land Law of May 3, 1779, the General Assembly reserved lands near the Green River in what later became the state of Kentucky. Land grants were a standard incentive to recruit soldiers to serve beyond routine militia duties. Land grants were also promised to people in the American Revolution willing to serve at least three years continuously in the State or Continental Line, or in the Virginia Navy.
The Governor and his staff reviewed requests from soldiers, sailors, heirs, and those who purchased their rights for land based on military service. Applicants whose claims were judged to be qualified were given a military certificate. That document was taken to the Land Office created in 1779, which would issue a warrant. Land warrants were presented by the claimant to the county surveyor, who would provide the boundary survey for the amount of acreage listed on the warrant. Claimants then filed the survey with the county court, and it issued a patent. Land patents start the chain of title which documents land transfers over time to modern owners.
In the Virginia Military District, the process started when:1
The 1779 reservation was defined using the "Carolina line," since Tennessee had not been established as a separate state at the time:2
the military district in Kentucky was south of the Green River
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke (John Filson, 1784)
As the Revolutionary War continued and more soldiers were promised land grants, Virginia officials became concerned that the military district on the Green River might be too small. The General Assembly identified additional land, north of the Ohio River, to be reserved for military veterans to claim land.
In 1781, Virginia offered to relinquish its claims to lands northwest of the Ohio River to the Continental Congress - but retained a military district. The proposed cession of the Northwest Territory acknowledged the impossibility of governing territory located so far away from Richmond, reduced concerns of other states that an oversized Virginia could dominate the coalition that had united to fight the British, blocked efforts of various land companies to establish private claims in the area, and eliminated Maryland's last excuse for not ratifying the Articles of Confederation.
It took three years to complete the cession. The offer was contingent upon the Continental Congress guaranteeing Virginia's borders, including the state's right to Lincoln, Jefferson, and Fayette counties. That land south of the Ohio River had been created by subdividing Kentucky County in 1780. Congress finally accepted a revised offer from Virginia in 1784, tacitly confirming Virginia's western boundary along the Ohio River and including Kentucky.
In the original 1781 offer and the final 1784 deal with the Continental Congress, Virginia retained rights to 4.2 million acres of land in what became the Northwest Territory. The state had promised land grants to soldiers willing to enlist in the Continental Army. The terms of the 1784 cession of the Northwest Territory ensured that Virginia would have enough land between the Scioto and Little Miami rivers, north of the Ohio River, to satisfy all soldiers making claims.
The 4.2 million acres in the Northwest Territory (now Ohio) were organized as the Virginia Military District. The land transfer process started with a soldier, or a person claiming the soldier's rights, obtaining a warrant in Virginia that certified their claim. That warrant was delivered to the principal surveyor of the Virginia Military District in Ohio, who sent it to a deputy surveyor to actally defines the boundary of a parcel matching the acreage in the warrant. Deputy surveyors had to be paid for their service; many were compensated with a percentage of the land they surveyed, since cash was scarce. The Federal government, not the sate of Virginia, reviewed the surveys and issued the land patent in the Virginia Military District in Ohio.
Over 16,000 metes and bounds surveys were used to create parcels for land grants, unlike the rectangular survey system used in the rest of Ohio. The first survey was completed in 1787, and the first patent was issued in 1796.
Land speculators aquired rights to military warrants, since many soldiers were more interested in immediate cash payment more than acquisition of land far to the west of their homes. At one point, just 25 people controlled over 1,000,000 acres in the Virginia Military District in Ohio.
George Washington was entitled to 23,333 acres for service in the French and Indian War and in the Revolutionary War, but never claimed them. He did purchase two warrants issued to others for a total of 3,100 acres. He failed to reassert his rights to land when the US Congress nullified the surveys. After a new survey in 1806, others acquired rights to the property.
the Virginia Military District in Ohio was located between the Scioto and Little Miami rivers
Source: Ohio Lands and Their Subdivision, General Subdivisions of Land in Ohio (p.78)
Virginia created a military district in 1779, before Kentucky became an independent state in 1792
Source: Kentucky Secretary of State, Virginia's Western Counties 1780
When Kentucky became a separate state in 1792, it agreed to honor the Virginia warrants, but also opened the lands south of the Green River to settlers who met the state's age and residency requirements but had no military warrant. Those with military warrants were warned that they needed to file for specific parcels by January 1796, or other settlers would be given priority.
Some people holding warrants for military land claims, including heirs of veterans and speculators who had purchased the warrants at a discount, filed required paperwork in the Kentucky land office but did not survey specific parcels and obtain final patents. Other claims could not be processed because they conflicted with lands reserved for a settlement with the Transylvania Company. Those who had filed warrants were entitled to land, but finding available parcels was not feasible. Other settlers had already established rights to almost all the land in the district between the Green River and the Tennessee border, with the eastern border of the Virginia Military District at the "Cherokee or Tennessee river."
In 1818, Kentucky purchased claims to land west of the Tennessee River, where some Revolutionary War veterans had already settled. The Jackson Purchase was acquired from the Chickasaw. The Kentucky General Assembly passed a law in 1820 requiring all holding military warrants to complete surveys and file for patents in the Jackson Purchase by the start of 1823. That led to the grant of 242 more patents.3
Heirs and others holding rights to Revolutionary War military land claims obtained the first Bounty Warrants in 1783. A total of 4,748 bounty land warrants were processed. The last grant was awarded in 1876.4
descendants of soldiers and officers, or of land speculators who purchased rights to file claims, obtained bounty lands until 1876
Source: Kentucky Secretary of State, Detailed Information About Grymes, William (deceased) (Land Warrant 3990.0)
The military districts established in Kentucky and Ohio are separate from a special 150,000 acre grant created for George Rogers Clark and his Illinois Regiment soldiers. Clark's Grant is now in Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.
Captain Charles Ewell of Prince William County obtained a warrant in 1783 for a surveyor to define his 4,000-acre parcel of bounty land in Kentucky
Source: Kentucky Secretary of State, Revolutionary War Warrant 0583.0
the number of acres of bounty land awarded for Revolutionary War service was determined by the soldier's rank and time of service
Source: Kentucky Secretary of State, Grymes, George (Revolutionary War Warrant 1589.0)
the Virginia Land Law of 1779 created a military district in Kentucky
Source: Kentucky Secretary of State, Virginia's Military District in Kentucky
Virginia retained land for fulfilling grants to its military veterans, when ceding the Northwest Territory to the Continental Congress
Source: Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection, The United States, 1783-1803 ("Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, 1923)