The accepted answer is entirely untrue. The headright system, where you got land for just showing up and paying your way across the ocean, was abolished long before the 1760s. Even in the 1600s, you had to get land legally from SOMEONE. You could get a large grant directly from a king or a company and then bring people in to settle the land. Those people would, 99% of the time, be purchasing land. Even under headright, you only got your 50 acres for free. The rest you had to buy, either by purchasing it outright or paying someone else's way across. Even when squatters came in to large areas of land, chances were they had to pay for it eventually, even if at a reduced price. There was very little land that was simply free to anyone who would improve it, ever, in the history of the country. Land speculation by absentee landlords drove up prices so badly in the 1700s that there was already a large mass of landless tenant farmers before the Revolutionary War. Part of the reason the Appalachians filled up quickly, including areas with pretty bad land, was because it was the only land that people could still buy affordably by the early 1800s. That's why there was a huge rush of settlers to the cheap railroad lands, as well as the famous '49ers going West. Land hunger on the East coast was extreme by that point. It wasn't until the West was completely opened that there was a major price correction.