Gardiner, Map of the Bounty Lands, Illinois (1818)

The Fourth Principal Meridian is one of many such meridians established by the General Land Office (now the Bureau of Land Management) to facilitate the surveying and identification of land parcels in every state except for the territory of the original thirteen states (including Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia), Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas. The meridian originates at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers at the bottom of the map. It was established for the survey of lands west of the Illinois River, even though it passes for many miles east of the river and outside of the Military Tract. Its corresponding baseline was established at the point where the meridian re-crosses the river. The Fourth Principal Meridian was later extended into Wisconsin. Virtually all land in Wisconsin, northeastern Minnesota, and northwestern Illinois was surveyed in reference to this meridian. The rest of Illinois was measured from the Third Principal Meridian, which nearly bisects the state, and the Second Principal Meridian, which covers most of Indiana.

Only 3,500,000 acres of the Illinois Military Tract were actually allocated for War of 1812 veterans, who were issued receipts at the time of their enlistment entitling them to claim their plots after the completion of the survey. In these early years, the Military Tract was truly on the frontier of Euro-American settlement. French colonization during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had left scattered settlements and fortifications in western Great Lakes, the upper Mississippi, and its tributaries during the eighteenth century, and after the fall of the French North American empire, the British occupation was primarily a military one. The Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812 brought the United States firmly in control of the Upper Mississippi Valley, but when Illinois became a state in 1818 (the same year this map was published), most of its 36,000 people were concentrated in the extreme southern part of the state, between St. Louis and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In his guidebook published for potential emigrants to the bounty lands, A Full Description of the Soil, Water, Timber, and Prairies of Each Lot, or Quarter Section of the Military Lands between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers (Washington: P. Force, 1818), Nicholas Biddle Van Zandt acknowledges the uncertainties of this frontier territory:

The following brief sketch has been prepared, as well with a view to gratify public curiosity respecting a part of the country so various, contradictory, and uncertain reports are in circulation, east of the mountains, as to afford a correct and safe guide both to the emigrant and to the enterprising capitalist. It cannot be denied that a great proportion of the persons who have settled  themselves in these… territories have expended large sums on the road, and have labored under very serious difficulties arising from their ignorance of the geography of a country, (which had been previously only partially explored,)…. Nor will the benefit of this sketch be confined to the emigrant—it is intended, and most earnestly desired, to relieve, as far as practicable, the anxious solicitude, of the relatives and friends of the emigrant to understand whether the climate is or is not favourable to health; whether the soil is better or worse than that of the country which they have left behind; and if these be satisfactory, whether the markets, and the facilities of reaching them, afford a reasonable remuneration for their suffering and their toil.

Van Zandt published his own map of the Illinois Bounty Lands (“A General Plat of the Military Lands, between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers”) to accompany his booklet. Both map and book were clearly based on knowledge he gleaned as a former clerk of the General Land Office, the federal agency responsible for surveying the lands west of the Appalachians. The 127-page booklet primarily consists of brief appraisals of the agricultural potential of the land, township-by-township, and section-by-section: a portion of one township is “broken rough, partly bluffs”; several sections elsewhere are “inundated by the Illinois river”; still another township is “good farming land, second rate [that is, of the second best class].”

By early 1819, 17,000 bounty claims had been filed in the Illinois reserve, but relatively few of the veterans actually settled on their claims. Most sold their land to speculators, who hoped that settlement of the reserve would be rapid, resulting in a profitable increase in land values. Settlement of much of the tract was initially slow, however. Only 13,000 settlers had arrived by 1830. But land sales once again boomed in the Midwest in the early 1830s. The General Land Office established a district office in Quincy to handle renewed demand in the military tract, and sales of the former bounty lands reached a peak of more than a half-million acres in 1836.

The rhetoric in publications for emigrants in this later era was more enthusiastic, if often distorted, in its praise of Midwestern agricultural regions, reflecting the interests of land agents and speculators, whose profits or bankruptcy depended on their ability to capture the attention of the migratory tide to the Midwest and Great Plains. A Sketch of the Military Bounty Tract of Illinois; descriptive of its unequalled fertility of soil--superior inducements for an emigrant’s location--agricultural productions--climate--facilities of education--travelling route and expenses--and suggestions to emigrants (Philadelphia, 1839), written by F. Taylor, secretary of the Quincy-based Illinois Land Company, enthusiastically declares:

All things considered, there is no region in the West more eligibly situated for all the purposes of agriculture and commerce, than the Bounty Tract. The very Throne of vegetable kingdom of the United States seems to be here. The finest opportunities of advancement are here held out to the industrious and skilful [sic] cultivator of the soil…. The Prairies of Illinois are rich mines of agricultural wealth. This is the secret of the growing West, this is the wand, the enchanter, which calls so many from the old States of the Union, and sends increasing throngs of emigrants from every country in Europe, who find their way to this. The prairies are the “bodies” and the great rivers the “sinews” of the republican giants which rearing themselves in such majesty in the lap of the western valley. [pp. 5-6]



Carlson, Theodore Leonard. “The Illinois Military Tract: A Study of Land Occupation, Utilization, and Tenure.” Illinois Studies in the Social Sciences,  32, no. 2. (1951).

Johnson, Hildegard Binder. Order upon the Land: The U.S. Rectangular Land Survey and the Upper Mississippi Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976

Taylor, F. A Sketch of the Military Bounty Tract of Illinois. Philadelphia: Printed by I. Ashmead & C., 1839.

Van Zandt, Nicholas Biddle. A Full Description of the Soil, Water, Timber, and Prairies of Each Lot, or Quarter Section of the Military Lands Between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Washington: P. Force, 1818.



The Newberry Library. “Border Troubles in the War of 1812.”

Gardiner, John Ralph. “Map of the Bounty Lands in Illinois Territory.” (1818). “University of Illinois.”,2224

John Gardiner, Map of the Bounty Lands, Illinois ([Washington: General Land Office, 1818]). The Newberry Library, VAULT broadside Graff 1505