Search billions of records on

New Netherland and Beyond
New Netherland
Delaware River
Colonial New York
New York State

New York in the Revolution

The Military Tract of New York State
By Grace M. Pierce

There is no more interesting section of New York State than the region lying between the Mohawk Valley and the Genesee country, as it is frequently called. This central lake region is rich in legendary and historical lore.

Its eastern boundary was the extreme western frontier of American civilization at the beginning of the American Revolution, and further progress of the white race westward was held in check by the powerful alliance of the Indian tribes of New York known as the Iroquois Confederacy. During the War of the Revolution this Indian Confederacy was allied with Great Britain, and incited by the agents of the English government, the tribes were at enmity with the Continental government and were continually committing depredations upon the frontier settlements.

After the massacre of Wyoming, the Continental Government decided that a force should be sent into central New York to punish these Indians for their murderous sallies and British sympathy, and an army was gathered for that purpose and dispatched under General Sullivan. This expedition for the first time made known to any considerable number of white men the desirability of central New York for settlement, and many of them at the close of hostilities, returned to this region and founded new homes for their families.

The hunting grounds of the central tribes of the Confederacy, were, however, to become the homes of their former enemies in a more general way than by chance settlers, through the desire of New York State to repay her defenders for their patriotism and service in the hour of need, and central New York came to be known as "The Military Tract."

This " Military Tract " was originally bounded on the north by Oneida Lake, Oswego River, and Lake Ontario; west by a line drawn from the head of Great Sodus Bay to the head of Seneca Lake; on the south by a line drawn from the head of Seneca Lake to the west line of the present county of Chenango; on the east by the counties of Chenango and Madison, and the Oswego River; the tract comprising all of the present counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Cortland, and a part of each of Oswego, Tompkins and Wayne counties. As Onondaga was the only county known at the time the tract was surveyed, the entire tract was frequently designated at that time as "the Onondaga Military Tract."

The history of the Military Tract really begins with the resolution adopted by the Continental Congress, Sept. 16, 1776. This resolution called for eighty-eight battalions to be enlisted as soon as possible, to serve during the war, and that each state should furnish its respective quota. That twenty dollars be given as bounty to each non-commissioned officer and private who should serve during the war unless sooner discharged. The resolution also provided that the appointment of all officers and filling of vacancies, except general officers, should be left to the government of the several states; and that every state provide arms, clothing, and every necessary for its quota of troops, according to the foregoing estimates. The expense of the clothing to be deducted from the pay of the soldiers as usual. All general officers were to be commissioned by Congress. And the same resolution provided for grants of land to the soldiers who served through the war, and to the representatives of those soldiers who should be slain, in the following proportion:
to a colonel, 500 acres; to a lieutenant-colonel, 450 acres; to a major, 400 acres; to a captain, 300 acres; to a lieutenant, 200 acres; to an ensign, 150 acres; to a non-commissioned officer and to each private, 100 acres. These lands were to be provided by the United States, and whatever expense there might be to produce such lands, the said expenses should be born by the states in the same proportion as the other expenses of the war. On Aug. 12, 1780, Congress further provided land bounties for Major-Generals, 1,100 acres, and for Brigadier-Generals, 850 acres.

All these lands were situated in Ohio, but later the United States -government made an arrangement with the New York State government, that any soldier legally relinquishing his claim to the one hundred acres in Ohio, should draw a full right of six hundred acres in New York. But failing to relinquish that right by neglect or otherwise, the one hundred acres over five hundred acres (the amount given to each private by New York State, as will be explained later), should revert to New York State. The reversion of this one hundred acres gave rise to the term " State's Hundred," which was formerly so much used in the Military Tract.

On March 20, 1781, a law was passed by the Legislature, providing for the enlistment of two regiments for the defense of the frontier of New York, to be armed, accoutred, clothed, subsisted, and paid at the expense of the United States, and to continue in service three years unless sooner discharged. " The Council of appointment of the State of New York was to commission the field officers, and the Governor of the state, the captains and subalterns, who were to enlist as speedily as possible the aforesaid regiments."

The faith of the state was pledged to the officers and privates, that should they continue to serve the full time of three years, or to the time they were respectively discharged, such officers and privates, or in the case of their death, their legal representatives, should respectively receive grants of lands as follows: each non-commissioned officer and private, 500 acres, and officers to receive in proportion to their rank, after the land had been surveyed by the surveyor-general of the state. A major-general was to receive 5,500 acres; a brigadier-general, 4,250; a colonel, 2,500; a lieutenant-colonel, 2,250; a major, 2,000; a captain and regimental surgeon, each 1,500; chaplain, 2,000, and each sub-altern and surgeon's mate, 1,000 acres. And this was all the bounty or emolument to be received from New York State.

In case these lands were not actually settled within three years after the war was closed, they were to be forfeited, and were to revert to the state. The forces raised upon these conditions were to be mustered and commanded by the commander- in-chief of the armies of the United States.

On March 27, 1783, the Legislature passed the following measure: "Whereas Congress by act of the sixteenth day of September, 1776, did resolve, that certain quantities of Bounty Lands should be given to officers, non-commissioned officers and privates serving in the Continental army.

"And, Whereas, the Legislature of this state are willing not only to take upon themselves to discharge the said engagement of Congress, so far as it relates to the line of this state, but like-wise as a gratuity to the said line, and to evince the just sense this Legislature entertain of the patriotism and virtue of the troops of this state, serving in the armies of the United States:"

" Resolved therefore, that besides the bounty of land so promised as aforesaid, this Legislature will by law provide that the major-generals and the brigadier-generals now serving in the line of the army of the United States, and being citizens of this state; and the officers, non-commissioned officers and the privates of the two regiments of Infantry commanded by Colonels Van Shaick and Van Courtlandt; such officers of the regiment of artillery commanded by Colonel Lamb, and of the corps of sappers and miners, as were, when they entered the service, inhabitants of this state; such of the non-commissioned officers and privates of the last mentioned two corps as are credited to this state as part of the troops thereof; all officers deranged by any acts of Congress subsequent to the 16th day of September, 1776; all officers recommended by Congress as persons whose depreciation of pay ought to be made good by this state, and who may hold military commissions in the line of the army at the close of the war; and the Rev. John Mason and John Gano, shall severally have granted to them the following quantities of land, etc." (These grants were in the same proportion as had already been granted in the act of 1781.)

" That the lands so to be granted as bounty from the United States, and as a gratuity from this state shall be laid out in townships of six miles square; that each township shall be divided into 156 lots of 150 acres each, two lots whereof shall be reserved for the use of a minister or ministers of the gospel, and two lots for the use of a school or schools; that each of the persons above described shall be entitled to as many such lots as his bounty and gratuity land as aforesaid, will admit of; that one-half of the lot that each person shall be entitled to shall be improved at the rate of five acres for every one hundred acres, within the term of five years next after the grant, if such lots are sold by the original grantee, or within ten years of such a grant, if the grantee shall retain the possession of such lots, and that the said bounty and gratuity lands be located in the district of this state reserved for the use of the troops by an act entitled, 'An act to prevent grant or locations of the lands therein mentioned,' passed the twenty-fifth day of July, 1782.' "

From the foregoing it will readily be understood that the one hundred acres promised each private by the United States was known as his "bounty" land, and the five hundred given by New York State was distinguished as his "gratuity" land.

In May, 1784, Commissioners were appointed "to proceed to grant military bounty land, and to settle individual claims. These Commissioners were the Governor, Lt. -Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, Secretary' of State, Attorney-General, Treasurer, and Auditor, any three of whom transacted business, the Governor always being one of them.

The same act ordered the lands laid out in the form of squares or as nearly a square form as was possible, and inhibited the Surveyor-General from laying out any bounty or gratuity lands in certain tracts or any part thereof. These reserved tracts of land were, a certain tract adjoining the south end of Lake George, within two miles of the fort called Fort George; certain tracts at Ticonderoga, and at Crown Point; a peninsular adjoining Lake Champlain called Point Au Per, comprising five hundred acres; two tracts adjoining Lake Ontario where the Onondaga River falls into said lake, running from the mouth of the said river and on both sides thereof as the same river flows, one mile on either side; "a certain tract adjoining the water communication between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and to be bounded on the east by a line across a pond one mile distant from the most easterly inclination of the said water communication, on a perpendicular to the general course of the said water communication, and to extend from the said pond to Lake Ontario on one side and to Lake Erie or to the north boundary line of Pennsylvania, as the case may be, on the other;" a certain ore bed about eight miles north of Crown Point adjoining Lake Champlain, commonly called "Skene's ore bed;" "a certain piece adjoining the falls commonly called Oswego Falls on Onondaga River, beginning twenty chains above where the bateaux were heretofore taken out of the said river to be carried across the portage, and extending down the river twenty chains below where the bateaux were usually put into the said river, after having been transported over the portage, extending on each side in every part between the said two places, ten chains from said river."

The first grant of Military Bounty Lands comprised all that tract of country bounded north by Oneida Lake, Oneida River and Lake Ontario; west by a line drawn from Great Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario to the foot of Seneca Lake, up Seneca Lake to its head; south by a line drawn eastward from the head of Seneca Lake to the Oneida Reservation, and along the Chittenango Creek to its estuary, the place of beginning; except certain reserves for the Onondaga and Seneca Indians, and for the State of New York, in the vicinity of the salt springs.

The Indian titles to these lands had not as yet been extinguished and there was much doubt and uncertainty as to the time when it would be, and many claimants became clamorous for their rights. Consequently, on May 15, 1786, the Legislature passed an act authorizing the Surveyor-General to lay out several townships where Indian titles had been extinguished, to satisfy the claims of the officers and soldiers of the New York regiments.

In compliance with this act, twelve townships were laid out in the northern part of the state, numbered from south to north and back, in two tiers, each township containing ten square miles, being each ten miles square, and equal to 768,000 acres. Of these townships, numbers 1, 2, 11 and 12 are now in Essex County; numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 are in Clinton County, and numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10 are in Franklin County. These lands were subsequently known as the " Old Military Tract."

Many of the soldiers' claims had been bought up by speculators, and it was soon ascertained that these lands of northern New York were not to be compared to the central lands for fertility and prospective value, and the Legislature was induced to defer the final settlement of claims until the Indian title had been extinguished to the lands of the Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas. This was finally effected by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, on Sept. 12, 1758, and the individual rights were located as originally intended.

The Onondaga Military Tract originally contained about 1,800,000 acres, or about 3,000 rights, exclusive of reservations. Deception and fraud regarding these rights had already been practiced to a considerable extent, and progress in the settlement of claims was made very slowly, as it was with the greatest difficulty that the Commissioners could distinguish in some cases between the rightful and fraudulent claimants.

In 1789, the Commissioners of the Land Office directed the Surveyor-General to lay out as many townships as would satisfy the claims of persons entitled to bounty lands. He accordingly laid out twenty-five townships, numbering from one to twenty-five inclusive; each township contained 60,000 acres, and these townships were subdivided into lots of six hundred acres each.

In 1790, the Surveyor-General having completed the survey as ordered, it was decided that fifty acres to be located in one of the corners of each lot, was subject to the payment of forty- eight shillings to the Surveyor-General as a compensation for his services. This was the origin of the term of " Survey Fifty;" and the further sum of eight shillings was charged by the Secretary of State upon each lot in addition to his customary fees for perfecting conveyances. Simeon DeWitt, the Surveyor- General, personally laid out the whole Military Tract, by plotting and mapping the boundaries and calculating the whole area. He, however, appointed Moses De Witt and Abraham Hardenburgh as his assistants to divide the Military Tract as laid out into townships, each to contain one hundred lots, and this division into lots of the townships was made under their direction and superintendence, by a corps of surveyors working under them.

It was originally intended to have each township ten miles square, and each lot one mile square, but in reality some townships and also many lots were found to be very irregular. The terms of township and towns are frequently confounded and the one substituted for the other. A township in the Military Tract was a particular parcel of land laid out, containing certain one hundred lots. A town, in our early organization often embraced several townships.

The townships of the Military Tract were at first numbered, one, two, three, etc., but afterwards the Commissioners of the Land Office named them after distinguished men, an act which explains many of the classical names of towns throughout this section of the state. The Military townships were named as follows: 1, Lysander; 2, Hannibal; 3, Cato; 4, Brutus; 5, Camillus; 6, Cicero; 7, Manlius; 8, Aurelius; 9, Marcellus; 10, Pompey; 11, Rumulus; 12, Scipio; 13, Sempronius; 14, Tully; 15, Fabius; 16, Ovid; 17, Milton; 1 8, Locke; 19, Horace; 20, Solon; 21, Hector; 22, Ulysses; 23, Dryden; 24, Virgil; 25, Cincinnatus.

July 31, 1790, at a meeting of the Land Commissioners, the secretary having been furnished by Abraham Hardenburgh, one of the deputies of the Surveyor-General, with a map showing the interference of certain of the military lands with the townships ceded to Massachusetts, known as the "Boston Ten Towns," brought the subject to the attention of the Board, together with the fact that some of the lots thus conflicting had already been balloted. The Commissioners at once ordered these ballots destroyed and two additional townships to be laid out by the Surveyor-General from the lands set apart for the military, and lot number 26 was named Junius.

On Jan. 1, 1791, the Commissioners proceeded to determine the many claims and to ballot for each individual share, and the record of these drawings was kept in a book known as the "balloting book." Ninety-four persons drew lots in each township; one lot was drawn for the support of literature in the State of New York, one lot was assigned near the center of each township by the Surveyor-General for the support of the gospel and common schools, and the remaining four lots went to satisfy the surplus share of officers, and to compensate those who by chance might draw lots covered with water. If any lots contained too small a quantity of land the Commissioners were authorized to correct it. The former act relative to actual settlement was repealed and the time for such actual settlement was extended seven years from Jan. 1, 1792. In case of failure to settle within that time, the lands reverted to the State as before. But the equitable adjustment of these land claims proved a source of continual embarrassment and perplexity to the Commissioners and real owners alike.

The warrants under which title was given to these claims were known as "land patents," and were issued under the " Great Seal of the State of New York." This seal was devised by a committee consisting of Messrs. John Jay, Gouveneur Morris and John Sloss Hobart, appointed by the Constitution of the State in 1777. The seal was double-faced, on one side was a rising sun over three mountains; motto underneath, "Excelsior;" and the legend, "The Great Seal of the State of New York." On the reverse side was a huge rock rising out of the sea, and the legend, "Frustra, 1777." The patent was written on parchment, fourteen or fifteen inches wide, and twenty-one inches long, the lower edge of the parchment was doubled back one and three-fourths inches, and to this doubled edge the seal was attached by a braided white cord an eighth of an inch thick, leaving the seal pendant to the document.

In Aug., 1792, the Board of Commissioners, finding it necessary in order to comply with the grants of bounty lands, lately directed by law to be made to the members of the Hospital Department, caused township 27, and the lots therein, respectively to be numbered according to law, and the township to be designated by the name of Galen.

In 1795, as there still appeared a number of unsatisfied claims for military bounty lands, the twenty-seventh township being disposed of, the Commissioners resolved that the Surveyor- General should lay out one other township, number 28, which was subsequently named Sterling, and the allotment of this township eventually satisfied all remaining claims.

In Jan., 1794, on account of the many frauds committed respecting titles to these military bounty lands, by forging and ante dating conveyances, by conveying the same to different persons, and various other methods, and to prevent future frauds, the Legislature passed an act providing that all deeds and conveyances made and executed before that time, or pretending to be so, should be deposited with the clerk of Albany County for the time being, and all that were not so deposited, should be considered fraudulent. The names of the claimants were posted in alphabetical order in the clerk's office at Albany, and also at the clerk's office at Herkimer, for the inspection of all persons interested.

These claims were still contested, the courts were overwhelmed with litigation relative thereto. Scarcely a lot but became the subject of more or less legal controversy; even soldiers themselves going to take possession of the lots for which they had served, were obliged to eject lawless squatters at considerable expense, or to yield their hard earned title and rights. At length, the residents of the Military Tract became so completely wearied with these most annoying and continued contentions, that in 1797, they "unanimously and heartily" united in a petition to the State Legislature to pass a law authorizing a speedy and equitable method of settling all disputes relative to titles.

An act was therefore passed appointing Robert Yates, James Kent and Vincent Matthews, Commissioners with full powers "to hear, examine, award and determine all disputes respecting titles to any and all bounty lands." The Governor was authorized to fill all vacancies on the Board. From the records the name of James Kent does not appear in any transactions of the Board. Most of the awards of 1798-99 were signed by Vincent Matthews and James Emmott; later ones by Vincent Matthews and Robert Yates; and some of the 1801 and 1802 by Vincent Matthews, James Emmott and Sanders Livingston. These Commissioners after long and laborious investigations, finally brought these legal contentions to a satisfactory conclusion.

from NYGBR, Volume XL, No. 1, pg 15-22

Copyright ©1999-2012