Fall 1997

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The Bounty Lands


Robert V. Anderson

Service in an armed force has long had an aspect of alternative employment. Before there was public relief or unemployment insurance payments, securing food and shelter sometimes became an acute concern. An unemployed freeman might roam the roads begging and taking whatever was offered for odd jobs. Or, occasionally, if he were lucky, a yeoman might allow him to sleep in a barn, or a monastery provide him with a free meal. The serf and the slave had more security and some may have put up with their servitude partly because they would be fed, clothed, and housed.

Becoming a soldier was an alternative way of gaining support for life's necessities. There was always the hazard of injury, capture, or death with soldiering, but a chief did support his warriors, the lord his armed men, and the king his army. Governments, too, established standing armies. To get qualified men they offered inducements to join and to remain in service, sometimes with the promise of future payments. Today the U. S. armed forces offer education, reenlistment bonuses, and pensions for the completion of specified years of service.

To raise an army for the Revolution, the Continental Congress offered a cash bounty of $25 to volunteers. To sweeten this inducement they further promised that the men who stayed in the army would, with some exceptions, receive free land at the end of the war. This bounty land would be granted according to the rank achieved in the army. Colonels were to receive 500 acres, and lower levels propotionately less, privates were to get only 100 acres. The original individual states were to bear the burden of financing the army and providing the bounty land.

On September 16, 1776, the Continental Congress proposed that 88 battalions be formed. New York got off relatively easy, it was expected to provide only four battalions. Massachusetts was requested to furnish 15 battalions. The state didn't have enough land within its normal boundaries then to provide bounty land for that many men.

Massachusetts did control the territory of Maine that became a state in 1820, and it did have claims acquired with its original charter for the sovereignty of all land to the west, which it turned out, extended across New York State. These New York claims were resolved when Massachusetts relinquished its jurisdictional rights in New York State for the ownership rights to the land west of the Pre-emption Line to be drawn north from the 82nd milestone along the New York, Pennsylvania border line to Lake Ontario, excepting some area along the Niagara River. Massachusetts recognized the territorial rights of the Indian tribes in that area and stipulated that buyers of that land had to treaty with the Indians for their inherent land rights.

Before the Revolution, settlement in western New York had been resisted by the Iroquois tribes. The alliances of the different tribes during the war did affect the attitude of the new Americans toward Indian land holdings. The Mohawks, Cayugas and Onondagas had adhered to the British. The Oneidas sat out the war near the Albany area. All these tribes lost land as the result ot the Revolution.

The military bounty land was essentially taken from the old tribal territory of the Onondagas and Cayugas. The boundary of this area started at Oswego on Lake Ontario and followed the Oswego River to the south shore of Oneida Lake, up Chittenango Creek, then south along the present east boundary of Cortland County, turning west across the bottom line of the county to Seneca Lake. From there it went north to a township called Galen and jogged back up to the shore of Lake Ontario.

Today Indian land claims apply to all areas that were tribal lands. They do not always agree to the division lines between tribes. The Oneidas, for example, have claimed in one lawsuit about one half of Cortland County which is also claimed as Onondaga territory. Land in these areas was awarded by New York State as bounty land. The grants for military service given to the soldiers of the Revolution may yet be reversed and compensation made to the Indian tribes.

This land was divided into tracts called townships, 23 at first and finally 28. Each tract was subdivided into lots for veterans. Each of these, so far as possible, was surveyed as a square. Township is a surveyor's term. Town designates a political unit within a county. Some towns adopted the names that had been given to the surveyed area of a township.

Townships were laid out with provision made for schools to receive land to rent or sell for financial support. To provide for the establishment of local churches but to avoid favoring any particular religious group, land was labeled, "Reserved for Gospel," etc. The separation of church and state was evolving.

At the end of the Revolution the lands set aside for bounty payments to veterans were not worth much, and before any land was parceled out adjustments were made. New York state increased the amount of land given each rank. As a result a man who had been private and a volunteer was entitled to 600 acres of combined state and national bounty entitlements.

Other men also had bounty land claims. There were the men who were members of the militias, and the levies and the lines—the other state and national troops. The militia increased as the population grew because all boys at the age of 16 became a part of the militia in New York in accordance with the pattern established when James, Duke of York, received the colony. Levies were drawn from the Militia, and some men from the Levies went on into Line units. Members of the Militia stayed home but were called out when needed. This arrangement has continued to our army and state militias who are inactive except for occasional training sessions, and the uniformed troops of the National Guard on duty.

As usual with governments, much paper work was required to prove entitlement and identity. Finally the ballot papers were put into a box and drawn out to be matched with claimant names. In 1790 quite a number received deeds.

Bounty land was given to militia men who had been called out, and to heirs of deceased men. Even Indians were listed as entitled to bounties. Captain Hanyere Tewahangarahkan (Hanjost) had lot 97 in the township of Pompey. He appears to have sold it to Michael Connally.

The deeds required that a homestead be made or else the land would revert to the government. This provision was to encourage permanency, but many recipients of bounty land took what they could get and quickly sold their property rights. Adjustments were made and the bounty lands were quickly settled, largely by population overflow from New England.

Bounty grants inevitably resulted in many disputes over who had the right to claim and how good the land titles were. In 1825 the State published what might be called a legal brief with extracts from national and New York State laws, lists of names, actions taken, etc. It was titled The Balloting Book Lands by the State of New York. Aside from the historical interest of the book, it can be useful for genealogical research, because the names in the lists are certified as being proven to be those of men who were in the Revolution.

1997, Robert V. Anderson
The Higginson Book Company, P.O. Box 778 Salem, MA 01970, has for sale Military Bounty Lands: The Balloting Book & Other Documents Relating to Them in N. Y., 189 p. paper (1825) "Lists eligible soldiers by regiment, grants of land by townships, patent deliveries & more." $19.50 plus postage.
The W.E. Morrison & Co. , Printers, P.O. Box 302, Ovid, N.Y. 14521, produces and sells copies of The Balloting Book, Military Tract, a record of the "disposition of 1,690,000 acres of land to Revolutionary officers and soldiers from N. Y. State. 214 8 x 11 pages, reprint of 1825 edition, maps, fully indexed. [Hardbound], $30.00" $4.00 postage.
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