Headright System: Definition & History

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brian Muhammad
Imagine if you were given 50 acres of land for a person you sponsored to come to the United States! This sounds like it could turn out to be pretty profitable. Learn more about the definition and history of the headright system, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

History of the Headright System

The headright system referred to a grant of land, usually 50 acres, given to settlers in the 13 colonies. The system was used mainly in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland. It proved to be quite effective by increasing the population in the British colonies.

The headright system was originally created in 1618 in Jamestown, Virginia. It was used as a way to attract new settlers to the region and address the labor shortage. With the emergence of tobacco farming, a large supply of workers was needed. New settlers who paid their way to Virginia received 50 acres of land. However, most of the workers who arrived in Virginia were indentured servants, people who pledged to perform five to seven years of labor.

New settlers were indentured servants.
New Settlers

Details of the Headright System

Individuals who could afford it would accumulate land by paying for poor individuals to travel to Virginia. In the 1600s, the cost was roughly 6 pounds per person, or approximately $215 today. This system led to the development of indentured servitude. In this system, poor individuals would work for a certain number of years to repay those who sponsored their trip. Even if the indentured servant did not make it to Virginia alive, the sponsor still received land.

Plantation owners definitely benefited from the headright system when they transported slaves. Many families grew in power by receiving many acres of land. One landowner purchased 60 slaves and received 3,000 acres of land in 1638. The more land a family acquired, the wealthier they became overnight. This eventually led to land only being distributed for settlers from England, and no longer slaves from Africa.

Slaves were very profitable in the headright system.

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