Headright System – Introduction and History

Headright System – Introduction and History

The headright system was a land grant plan which was created to bring settlers. Tracts of land called “headrights” were awarded to settlers who would arrive and operate the land. A typical headright was 50 acres. This system was adopted everywhere in the colonies but was very famous in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

Most of the time, a wealthy person would guard a headright and give the passage for an indentured servant to travel to the colony and work the land on his behalf. That way, the Englishman would obtain property and lands in the New World without really having to make a hazardous journey over the ocean, or perform any labor himself. These supporters sent several indentured servants, thus acquiring many tracts of land. Several of the first settlers in the colonies were enslaved servants.

Headright System Definition
Headright System Definition

History of the Headright System

The headright system was assigned to a bequest of land, usually, 50 acres, leased to settlers in the 13 colonies. The system was applied largely in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland. It confirmed to be quite useful by expanding the population in the British territories. The maximum of the settlers to reach were indentured servants – individuals who were expected to labor for another for a period of time, typically 5-7 years, to repay a debt.

In 1618, the headright system was originally founded in Jamestown, Virginia. It was accepted as a method to bring new settlers to the area and address the labor deficit. With the evolution of tobacco cultivation, a huge supply of workers was demanded. New immigrants who spent their way to Virginia got 50 acres of land. Nevertheless, maximum workers who landed in Virginia were indentured servants, people who promised to perform 5to 7 years of labor.

What Was The Headright System
What Was The Headright System

Headright bring people into the colonies

The settled nobility who gave to import indentured servants to the New World accepted 4 to 7 years of the servant’s labor in return for paying the transport costs (which were of £6, or equal to higher than £600 by today’s standards). As much as this seems like a bargain for the plantation owner, there was yet another incentive to encourage bringing people into the colonies – the promise of free land. Several colonies, notably Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas, having seemingly limitless territory but a dire shortage of workers, devised the headright system. This policy paid anyone who carried himself, his family, or any others to the colonies with 50 acres of land per head.

The headright policy was initially adopted in Virginia. The Virginia Company had endowed Jamestown and obtained a license from the English Crown in 1609 investing the company vast stretches of land. Settlers and stockholders of the firm at first held the area in common. After some years, the company started giving property secretly. The headright system was built to compensate those who would sweeten to import sufficient-needed workers into the colony.

A headright relates to both the privilege of property itself as well as the actual person (“head”) through whom the property is claimed. The character who has the “right” to allege the property is the one who paid to carry any person to the colony.

Moneyed nobility and plantation keepers (only about 5 % of the community) were repaid with land for importing white or black indentured servants, and next African slaves. The results this policy had on society were certain. While it assisted to populate the colonies, it also attached to a society where the wealthy got richer, in the form of accumulating more and more property. The unfortunate once freed from their bondage, we’re demanded to move further west and populate the frontier. This began some fierce uprisings on the part of the needy.

The method for insisting title to the property under the headright system held various steps. The self-arranging the claim had to present facts to the county court that he had paid to carry others into the colony. The court then arose a certificate of acceptance, which was brought to the secretary, who announced a “right.” This right was presented to the county surveyor, who parceled the land. In the end, a license (deed) to the studied property was declared and acknowledged by the governor. Only after this last round was performed was the land really assigned to the new owner. The headright system in Virginia worked for about 100 years when it was displaced by the deal of property.

The records from the Virginia Land Office, online at the Library of Virginia website, www.lva.virginia.gov/, record the names of all persons under which the grantee was deserving property. For instance, the 1638 property patent of John Fludd for 2,100 acres holds the names of 41 people including himself for whom he paid to transport to Virginia. Unluckily, this site’s search engine doesn’t seem to be able to identify the names of those through which the land is claimed (the indentured servants), but just the name of the person claiming the land.


Q: Who profited from the Headright system?
A: Plantation landlords profited from the headright system when they gave for the shipment of carried slaves. This, along with the improvement in the value of funds needed to bring indentured servants to the colonies, contributed to the shift towards slavery in the colonies.
Q: When did the Headright system end?
A: In 1676, after Bacon’s Rebellion, planters started to favor permanent African slavery to the headright system that had earlier enabled them to prosper. It’s difficult to accept, but the tradition of indentured servitude in American did not stop in the United States till the beginning 1900s.
Q: What was the impact of the Headright system?
A: The headright system provided for poorer people to get to the New World who otherwise would not have been capable to yield it. The system was amazingly essential to the growth of the colonies, particularly in the South. Tobacco agriculture, remarkably, needed large tracts of land and several workers.
Q: What is a Headright certificate?
A; A headright document relates to a record that is distributed to a person giving possession of the property. The headright certificate is governed under the authority of a Republic of Texas law of 1839.


The headright system was adopted in many colonies, including Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The summit of the headrights was for one to thousand acres of property and was presented to those who were inclined to divide the Atlantic and stay populate the colonies. Headrights were given to anyone who would compensate for the shipping costs of an indentured laborer.

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