I have an ancestor who left Northern Ireland (probably County Down) sometime around 1745-1750 and settled in York County, Pennsylvania. I think he may have come to America as an indentured servant for a few years, and then set out on his own. I am trying to confirm whether he was, in fact, an indentured servant.

James Leyburn's book "The Scotch-Irish" said that thousands of immigrants who came from Northern Ireland in the 1700s were too poor to pay for their passage. Instead, they would agree to work as indentured servants for a few years in exchange for paid passage to America. Leyburn's book also said that the legislature in Pennsylvania set certain rules for these contracts of indenture. One rule was that the indentured servant was entitled to fifty acres of land at the end of the contract (usually four to seven years).

My question is this: When the indentured servant received his warrant for fifty acres, was his warrant any different from the warrants issued to other types (non-indentured) of immigrants? In other words- is there a way to tell, by looking at the warrant, or by the type of warrant, whether someone was an indentured servant or not?

My ancestor received a warrant for fifty acres in Hallam Township, York County, PA on September 10, 1750. I have a scanned copy of the warrant. I'd like to try to figure out whether he was in America for a few years before 1750, serving out a contract of indentured servitude.

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    Welcome to G&FH.SE! Can you tell us the provenance of your digital image? Knowing which record group it can be found in might help someone answer the question.
    – Jan Murphy
    May 12, 2015 at 20:44

1 Answer 1


You're probably aware already that Pennsylvania's land records are defined and issued by the Commonwealth and not by the Federal Government. This is kind of obvious, since the Federal Government didn't exist in the time period your warrant comes from, but I want to mention it for the benefit of others who might be familiar with the later warrants issued by the Bureau of Land Management in the Federal Land States. Set all your knowledge of those warrants aside for the moment.

In this case, it helps to have a research guide that is specific to your state, and for Pennsylvania, try looking in WorldCat for Pennsylvania land records : a history and guide for research by Donna B Munger, to find a copy in a library near you. You can also preview it or buy an eBook on [Google Books][20].

On page 13 and following, she discusses the different categories of purchasers. A section entitled Servants starts on page 16. Page 17 says:

When they were ready to claim their land, they submitted a formal request and received a warrant to survey. Servants can be identified by the phrasing of the warrants, which state that they were formerly servants.

The records themselves are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives. Their website has a Land Records Overview which explains the different classes of documents created in the process of getting land. Clicking through the link about Warrants brings you to a page that describes the archives' holdings and their arrangement. Another page describing the Records of the Land Office is here: RG 17 Records of the Land Office.

You may also want to look at the main list of Research Guides for related records such as the guide about Indentured Servants

The FamilySearch Research Wiki's article Pennsylvania Land and Property also gives an overview and lists of resources such as indexes and maps.

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