Heritage, Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 1985 Page: 9
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THE GENERAL LAND OFFICE:
Preserving Texas History Through Land
by Michael Q. Hooks, Ph.D.
In March 1984, Texas Land Commissioner
Garry Mauro made a significant
contribution to the preservation of Texas
history with the appointment of the first
Archivist for the General Land Office.
This appointment came as the result of
Commissioner Mauro's concern that historians
and the general public are unaware
of the important land records which are
preserved by his agency. The Archivist is
responsible for establishing archival standards
and providing access for all Texans
to an invaluable collection which documents
the land settlement and development
of this state. The Archives are now
part of the newly reorganized Archives
and Records Division.
The General Land Office is a state agency
with a history as long as that of independent
Texas itself. Established in December
1836 by the First Congress of the
Republic, the General Land Office was
initially assigned the responsibilities
of collecting all records pertaining to
the lands of the Republic and verifying
claims for land titles issued by Spain and
Prior to winning its independence, Texas
first had been a northern province of
Spain, and then a part of the state of
Coahuila and Texas under Mexico. Therefore,
the earliest records gathered by the
Land Office document the colonial activities
of those two governments, with the
bulk pertaining to Mexico's endeavors.
As important as the Spanish Collection
is, there are other records which should
also interest historians and the general
public. When the Republic was organized
in March 1836, it possessed over 216 million
acres. With this vast amount of land,
the new government needed settlers to
provide for its defense and to supply revenue
for its operation. With these needs,
government officials adopted a colonization
program similar to that used by Mexico.
By reviving the empresario, or contract,
system, they developed a policy to
seek new settlers by granting headrights
to free whites who were either heads of
families or who were single men of at
least 17 years of age, who arrived in
Texas during particular dates, and who
met other requirements as set out by Congress.
If the requirements were met, then
the grantees could apply for a patent or
title to the land. But soon afterward Texans
could acquire land in another way, either
as veterans of prescribed battles of
the revolution, or as heirs of those who
gave their lives in those same battles.
The granting of land as reward for service
in the revolution opened the door to free
blacks who, for the first time, could apply
for land grants from the Republic. Although
some free blacks had received
titles to land under Mexican law, this right
was not carried over into Texas law for
headright grants. But the restriction was
lifte in December 1837 with the passage
of "An Act Granting lands to those who
were in the battle of San Jacinto and other
battles." According to this new legislation,
"all persons" who participated in
the battle of San Jacinto, or who were
wounded the day before and therefore
could not fight, or who were assigned to
special guard duty at Harrisburg, were entitled
to a bounty grant of 640 acres.
Others who could receive donation land
of 640 acres were those who took part in
the action at Bexar, Goliad, or at the Alamo.
The heirs of those who died in those
battles were also eligible to apply for the
grants. But the applicant, in order to receive
the bounty or donation, had to verify
his service in the Army and his participation
in one of the battles.
Although studies show that several blacks,
both free and slave, served the Republic
during the revolution, only a few were
able to satisfy the requirements established
by Congress and therefore receive
their land. Greenbury Logan, a free black
who actually arrived in Texas in 1831 and
who received a land title under Stephen F.
Austin, served in Captain James W. Fannin's
Company and, as a private, helped to
lay siege of Bexar in December 1835. In
that battle, he received such a severe
wound to his right arm that he was permanently
disabled. As compensation for
his action, Logan was granted bounty
land for "having served faithfully and
honorably" in the Army and donation
land for "having fought at Bexar." Another
participant at the siege of Bexar was
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 1985, periodical, August 1, 1985; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45444/m1/9/: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.