Beginning with the Congressional Act of 16 September 1776 and the Land Ordinance of 1785, a wide variety of Congressional acts governed the distribution of federal land in the thirty public land states. Various acts opened up new territories, established the practice of offering land as compensation for military service, and extended preemption rights to squatters. These acts each resulted in the first transfer of land from the federal government to individuals.
This Timeline of Major U.S. Public Land Acts is not exhaustive, and does not include acts that temporarily extended the provisions of earlier acts, or were passed for the benefit of individuals. However, it provides researchers with a historical overview of the various land acts that opened the United States to westward expansion and settlement, and could help you discover what may have prompted your ancestors to migrate or settle in the location where they did.