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The History Center blog shares research and findings about local history, excerpts from our Thaler/Howell Archives, information about upcoming exhibits and other opportunities on how to get involved with The History Center in Tompkins County. To learn more or view the archival materials mentioned, visit us in downtown Ithaca or subscribe to our monthly newsletter History Happenings

The Balloting Book, and Other Documents Relating to the Military Bounty Lands

Sat, January 23, 2021 2:26 PM | Anonymous

 The Balloting Book, and Other Documents Relating to the Military Bounty Lands in the State of New York, 1825 contains a frontispiece that is a map of the Military Tract as it existed in 1792. It shows the five easternmost Finger Lakes, Lots on 28 Townships laid out geometrically, and two reservations - the Onondaga Reservation at the foot of the Salt Lake and the Cayuga Reservation on either side of the north end of Cayuga Lake.  The book documents the military enlistment policies of the Continental Congress and the State of New York and the subsequent fulfillment of land grant obligations to the veterans of the Revolutionary War.

On the fifth page one finds an “Extract from the Journal of Congress” dated September 16, 1776, relative to the formation of the Continental Army that states “eighty-eight Battalions be enlisted as soon as possible, to serve during the present war….”  It goes on to list the number of battalions expected from each of the thirteen colonies. New York was expected to raise eight battalions.  Furthermore, it states that “twenty dollars shall be given as bounty to each non-commissioned officer and private soldier, who shall enlist to serve during the present war.” In addition, it is noted, “that Congress shall make provision for granting lands…to the officers and soldiers who shall engage in the service, and continue therein to the close of the war, or until discharged by Congress.” The re-organized Continental Army of 1776 consisted of 36 battalions 768 men each, of which 640 men each were rank-and-file.  Note: The Revolutionary War enlistments therefore, began in 1776 and did not end until 1783 - seven long years of hardship and military service.

The distribution of bounty lands was left up to each new state at the close of the war. In New York State various acts were passed beginning in 1783 that reaffirmed the State’s commitment to provide bounty lands, but they did not specify where those lands would be.  At one point in time, lands in the Adirondacks were proposed, but these lands were rejected as “unfit for settler agriculture.”  Settlers, land speculators, and the state government’s eyes of course were all on the lands west of the 1768 “Boundary Line.” This line, negotiated by Sir William Johnson with the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations,  designated “Native Lands” to be west of the line  running up from the Susquehanna River  to follow the Unadilla River northward to the juncture of Canada Creek with Wood Creek, about eight miles west of Fort Stanwix” (present day Utica region).  The agreement was: settlement allowed to the east of the line, but trespass when on Six Nation lands to the west.  The settlement included a direct payment of over 10,000 pounds/sterling put in the hands of the Sachems of the Iroquois. The lands we are referring to, of course, are those of the central /eastern Finger Lakes. 

A series of negotiations between the New York State government and the Six Nations took place between 1783 and 1789. These negotiations involved the State in the purchase of lands west of the “Boundary Line” from representatives of the Six Nations. Because the power to negotiate treaties with the Six Nations had been given to the Continental Congress, those negotiations have been deemed illegal by many scholars of history and are the basis for contemporary tribal land claims today.  

By 1789, the State was ready to direct its Surveyor General, Simeon DeWitt, to complete the survey of the purchased lands, and to map them, including the demarcation of the Cayuga and Onondaga Reservations lands. This mapping then became known as the Military Tract. Records contained in the Balloting Book indicate that over 2,000 veterans were eligible to apply for a bounty land grant. The names of the eligible men are listed by the Companies and Regiments in which they served. Reading through them one can note the ethnic diversity suggested by their surnames.  Also, one can find the names of 12 “Indians” who had been given commissioned officer rank in the Continental Army and were eligible for grants each of 1200 acres or more. The tribal allegiances of these men are not specified. 

Of course, after seven years, some veterans had died.  Others had moved on with their lives and had established themselves and their families in comfortable situations and were not interested in pioneering anew.  Many were quite willing to sell their allotment cheaply to newer arrivals or land speculators.  The rather complicated process of allotment is described in great detail in the Balloting Book.  The deeds were made out to the veteran, but could be picked up in Albany by the veteran’s designate. One can find in the section titled “The Book of Delivery” for example, our Town of Ulysses’ Abner Trimmins, receiver of Lot 2, had Dr. Reuben Frisbee pick up his deed for him.

 According to the research done in 2016 by Mary Ellen Gleason, Registrar of the Chief Taughannock Chapter of the NSDAR, some 305 men who were Revolutionary War veterans lived part of their life in Tompkins County after the Revolutionary War and many are buried in local cemeteries.  However, only about eight of these men actually took up land through the balloting procedure. The rest bought their land from “unscrupulous land speculators who had bought Lots from impoverished veterans for almost nothing.”  Do you know what Lot you are living on today?


John Wertis is the Ulysses Town Historian

Photo caption: The map in the Balloting Book of 1825 shows the individual lots that were drawn to distribute to veterans of the Revolutionary War.

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