A headright is a legal grant of land given to settlers during the period of European colonization. Headrights played an important role in the expansion of the Thirteen Colonies; the Virginia Company granted them to settlers and the Plymouth Company did the same.

Several colonies used the headright system, including Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In most cases, the headrights were for 1 to 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of land and were granted to those who were willing to cross the Atlantic and help populate the colonies.

Headrights were granted to anyone willing to pay the transportation costs of an indentured laborer. Land grants consisted of 50 acres (0.20 km2) for new settlers and 100 acres (0.40 km2) for those who had lived in the area for a long time.

Due to the fact that the landowning masters owned the land acquired, indentured laborers had little opportunity to procure their own land after their indenture period ended. The result of this was that a large portion of the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies remained poor and tensions developed between the laborers and landowners.

A Quick Overview Of The Headright System

A headright system began in Jamestown in 1618 as a way to deal with labor shortages due to the advent of the tobacco economy, which required large plots of land and many workers.

The disproportion between the amount of land available and the population resulted in a situation with a low supply of labor, resulting in the growth of indentured servitude and slavery.

Headright System
Headright System

New settlers were also attracted by the headright system. The settlers who had already been living in Virginia were each given [when?] two headrights of 50 acres (200,000 m2); immigrant colonists who paid for their passage were given one headright, and individuals would subsequently receive one headright when they paid for the passage of another individual.

Due to this last mechanism, the working poor and wealthy landowners became increasingly separated. Headrights were granted to heads of households, and because 50 acres were accumulated for each member of the household, families were encouraged to make the passage together.

What Is The Headright System?

The early inhabitants of Jamestown were employees of the Virginia Company and were expected to produce profits for the investors. Gold and silver were in short supply in eastern North America, leaving the colony without a cash crop and facing bankruptcy.

The tobacco economy changed the course of Virginia’s development in the 1610s. Tobacco production required large areas of land as well as a large workforce. Despite holding enormous amounts of land, the company only had a few workers at its disposal. A labor shortage led to the introduction of the headright system in 1618. It provided:

  • The colonists already living in Virginia were granted two headrights, totaling 100 acres, or two tracts of 50 acres each.
  • One headright was granted to new settlers who paid their own passage to Virginia. Everyone who entered the colony received a headright, so families were encouraged to migrate together.
  • The wealthy could accumulate headrights by paying for the passage of the poor. Most of the workers who entered Virginia under this arrangement did so as indentured servants – people who paid for their transportation by agreeing to work five to seven years for a landowner.

In Virginia, the ability to acquire large plots of land by importing workers provided the basis for an emerging aristocracy. The plantation owners further benefited from headrights for newly imported slaves. Virginia’s success was largely due to the implementation of the headright system. Having land ownership gave many people a reason to work hard, with the assurance that they were providing for their own futures, not those of the company.

The Headright System: APUSH Topics

In the settlement of the American colonies, the headright system played a significant role. Questions on the Headright system APUSH will focus on the purpose and effects of the land incentive program.

What Is The Actual Headright System?

A land grant program called the headright system was designed to attract settlers. Settlers who came to work the land were offered tracts of land called “headrights.” Most headrights were 50 acres in size. Although this system was used throughout the colonies, it was most popular in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

Virginia was the first state to use the headright system. New settlements at Jamestown were desperate for tobacco farmers. The Virginia Company offered free land to settlers in 1618. The majority of settlers at the time were indentured servants-individuals who were required to work for another for a period of time, typically 5-7 years, in order to repay a debt.

Most often, a wealthy individual would purchase a headright and pay for an indentured servant to travel to the colony and work the land on his behalf. Thus, the Englishman would acquire wealth and land in the New World without having to make the risky voyage across the ocean or perform any labor himself.

Sponsors sent many indentured servants, thus acquiring many tracts of land. Indentured servants were among the earliest settlers in the colonies.

A Year To Remember For The Headright System:

The Virginia Company began offering headrights to settlers in 1618.

Why Is The Headright System So Important?

Poorer people were able to come to the New World thanks to the headright system who otherwise would not have been able to afford it. Especially in the South, this system played a key role in colonial growth. Large tracts of land and many workers were needed for tobacco farming, in particular. The headright system made it possible for this to happen relatively quickly.

What Is A Historical Group Related To The Headright System?

A joint-stock company that founded Virginia Colony and developed the headright system

What Is An Example Headright System Apush Question?

Headright System APUSH-Magoosh

Jamestown, circa 1615, tobacco cultivation (Source)

The Growth Of The Tobacco Industry In Colonial Virginia Was Most Directly Impacted By

Tobacco farming requires large tracts of land and many workers in this example headright system APUSH question. As a result of the headright system, the Virginia Company was able to attract additional settlers. Many of these settlers were indentured servants who worked the land for wealthy sponsors in return for passage across the Atlantic.

Headright System Significance

Thriving Colonies

As a result of the headright system, there were a large number of immigrants, who were attracted by the prospect of having their own land at the end of their contracts. The workers realized that they were not working for the company, but for their own futures. By occupying land that had been covered by forest, this influx of workers enabled the expansion of the British colonies. Tobacco cultivation reached new heights during this time period. Later, many of these indentured servants established their own farms and became the forerunners of the future colonists.


The system allowed wealthy landowners in the colonies to become even richer, by paying the travel expenses for every laborer and slave they imported, in exchange for large grants of land. In addition, they could now exploit the immigrants’ labor for several years for free. It was a common occurrence for sponsored laborers not to make it to the colony alive, as the laws allowed them land grants.


Lack of headright auditing made the system easy to misuse. Often, the patentee, as well as the captain of the ship that brought the immigrant, would each claim a land grant for the same individual. As the grant of land required the petition detailing the immigrants to be presented before a county court, some sponsors presented multiple petitions for the same immigrant to different counties. 

Some fraud cases involved sponsors claiming grants for people who had never immigrated. In the end, despite the Virginia Company’s hopes that the land grants would attract more immigrants, these corrupt practices resulted in a few wealthy landholders owning most of the land.


The laborers were promised wages, freedom, clothes, weapons, provisions, and land at the end of their contract period, but this was easier said than done. Laborers often succumbed to diseases and starvation, sometimes even during their voyage. Furthermore, the land they were granted at the end of their labor was, more often than not, located on the frontiers of the colony, where they faced fierce attacks from Native Americans. 

In other cases, they received unproductive lands. As the availability of good land decreased, these land grants to indentured servants were revoked by the British Crown. Furthermore, the plantation owners received newer grants of land for every single worker they brought to the colony, which greatly increased the gap between the patentees and the laborers. As a result, there were frequent conflicts between employees and workers, such as the Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, in which the Governor of Virginia himself was driven away by rioters.

Rise of Slavery

As tensions between indentured laborers and their employers increased, many landowners turned to imported African-American slaves for labor. Until 1699, the headright system gave equal weight to both laborers and slaves when distributing land grants, which was an additional incentive for sponsors to make use of slave labor. Therefore, the headright system contributed to the scourge of slavery in the future.

The importance of the headright system in securing British colonies in America cannot be overstated. Aside from populating the new colony, it bolstered its economy and created a protective “buffer” between the colony and marauding tribes like the Creoles and Cherokees.

Headright System Facts & Rules

  • The headright system offered grants of land to those who sponsored an immigrant’s voyage to the British colonies in America.
  • Sponsors from outside a colony were given 50 acres for each immigrant they sponsored, while sponsors living in a colony received 100 acres.
  • Those who paid for their own journey across the Atlantic were also offered land grants of 50 acres per person.
  • A person sponsoring an immigrant’s voyage was known as a ‘patentee’ (since he would obtain a land patent), while both, the claim of land and the immigrant, was known as a ‘headright’.
  • Women and children were not eligible for land grants, but they could receive grants for sponsoring their voyage. In this way, entire families were encouraged to emigrate together, as the head of the family would receive grants for each member.
  • All thirteen British colonies implemented the headright system, though it was more common in Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, North and South Carolina.
  • Most of the immigrants sponsored by patentees were white British men from the lower economic strata, although women, teenagers, and children were also included. Indentured servants work for their sponsors for five to seven years to repay the six pounds paid by their employers for each immigrant’s sea voyage.
  • Following the completion of their contract, these laborers were given some wages, clothes, a gun, and land at the frontiers of the colony.
  • A lesser number of headrights were held by immigrants from Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and even other North American colonies.

Procedure to Obtain Headrights

  • In order to qualify for a grant of land, a sponsor had to present a petition to a county court detailing the number and identity of immigrants whose journey he was paying for.
  • The court then issued a ‘certificate of importation’, which was to be taken to the Secretary of the Colony to obtain a headright.
  • The sponsor now had to approach a surveyor with the headright so he could inspect the land and create a map.
  • If the sponsor submitted these documents to the Secretary, he would receive a land patent.

Headright System Quizlet

  1. Ashley Cooper had a constitution framed for the colony. What what did the Constitution include.
    • A number of religious tolerance.
    • The establishment of a social class system number.
    • His intention was to make the Carolinas of society based on the number of elites.
    • The South Carolina colony was different from New England and the middle colonies.
  2. What was the headright system: It was a system of granting large tracts of land to new settlers in colonies to encourage immigration.
  3. What led to the establishment of large plantations based on cash crops: The headright system led to the establishment of large cash crop plantations.
  4. Many of the Englishman who emigrated 2 South Carolina were from what British colony: Many of the English immigrants to South Carolina were from Barbados.
  5. What did the Englishmen from Barbados bring with them: Englishmen from Barbados brought with them a well-developed slave system.
  6. Besides Barbados where did other settlers come from: from France to Switzerland, from Germany to Scotland, from Ireland.
  7. Did the settlers enjoy religious freedom: Yes the Constitution allowed for diverse religious backgrounds including French Huguenots and Jewish settlers.

Adiabatic Vs Isothermal: Process, Differences, Equations & Diagram


What did the headright system do?

A headright system was created to reward those who paid to import laborers to the colony. Both the grant of the land itself and the person (“head”) through whom the land is claimed constitutes a headright.

What was the headright system Apush?

A land grant program designed to attract settlers was the headright system. “Headrights” were offered to settlers who would come and work the land. An average headright was 50 acres.

What did the headright system encourage?

Indentured servitude was encouraged by the headright system because once landholders staked their claim to the land, they were in desperate need of labor.

What was the purpose of the headright system Quizlet?

Headrights were granted to anyone who paid for the transportation costs of a laborer or indentured servant. The land grants consisted of 50 acres for people moving into the area and 100 acres for those who previously lived there.

How did the headright system lead to slavery?

Owners of plantations benefited from the headright system when they paid for the transportation of imported slaves from Africa. In addition, the increase in the cost of bringing indentured servants to the colonies led to a shift towards slavery in the colonies.

How did the headright system impact Georgia?

The headright system grants between 200 and 1,000 acres of land to the heads of families. By giving men land, they were able to obtain power. Farmers soon came looking for fertile farmland. Ranchers also flocked to Georgia in search of grazing areas for their livestock.

What is mercantilism Apush?

Mercantilism is the economic idea that a country’s wealth is measured by the amount of gold it owns. The goal of mercantilist economic policy is to export more goods than you import so that you bring more money into the country than you send out to other nations.

How did the headright system encourage settlement in the English colonies?

People were given 50 acres of land if they paid their own transport to the colony, and 50 acres for each family member over 15 as well as for each servant they brought.

What was the headright system in Virginia?

Among these laws was a provision that any person who settled in Virginia or paid for the transportation expenses of another person who settled in Virginia should be entitled to receive fifty acres of land for each immigrant. The right to receive fifty acres per person, or per head, was called a headright.

What was the cause of the starving time?

“The starving time” was the winter of 1609-1610, when food shortages, fractured leadership, and a siege by Powhatan Indian warriors killed two of every three colonists at James Fort. From its beginning, the colony struggled to maintain a food supply.