Military Tract of Central New York

This history of the Military Tract of Central New York was compiled by Bernie Corcoran for the Cayuga Count NYGen Project.

Military Tract

"The Military Tract of Central New York" was about 1.75 million acres of bounty land and extended roughly from Lake Ontario southward to the south end of Seneca Lake and from the east line of present Onondaga County westward to Seneca Lake. The present New York counties of Onondaga, Cortland, Cayuga, and Seneca were included, as were portions of Oswego, Schuyler, Tompkins, Yates and Wayne. The 1st Sheet of DeWitt's State Map of New York is dated circa 1792 or 1793 and displays the military tract area, minus the township of Sterling (A.K.A. Stirling).

New York Line

The law of the United States Congress, passed on the 16th day of September, 1776, pursuant to a report of the Board of War, provided for the enlistment of 88 battalions of men to carry on the lately declared war for independence. New York's quota, based on population, was 4 regiments, but as late as March 1781 only two regiments had been activated. The state needed some way to induce soldiers to enlist. On March 20, 1781 the legislature authorized that the remaining 2 regiments be raised. These troops became known as the New York Line and were enlisted for 3 years.

Bounty of 100 Acres

The laws passed by the U.S. Congress stated that all officers and soldiers who should remain in the service till the close of the Revolutionary War or till discharged by Congress, and the representatives of such as should be slain by the enemy, should be entitled to receive from the U.S. government, upon the ratification of the treaty of peace, a grant of the United States' land in Ohio, or a bounty. Consequently, the Continental Congress guaranteed every fighting man in the Revolution a bounty of 100 acres in the public domain and officers in proportion to their rank.

Persuasion to Enlist

There was little faith in the currency at the time, but New York did have a vast surplus of land and a need to persuade New York soldiers to enlist. So, it was decided to offer 500 more acres to the prior 100 acres offered. Thus, the state decided to survey and divide central New York into Townships (not to be confused with current Towns) of 100 lots, being 600 acres per lot. The relationship between a Military Tract Township and a Town is illustrated by the fact that Cayuga County, New York now has 23 Towns, that were comprised of what was originally all or part of 8 Military Tract Townships and part of the Cayuga Indian Nation Reservation area. Deeds in Central New York commonly still refer to these "Military Tract Lots" today as "Great Lots" or "Farm Lots."

Township Tracts

Originally there were 25 Military Tract Townships, but they added 3 more to make a total of 28, because they needed more land to satisfy claims. At first the Townships were only given numbers, but later they were named. The names of the Military Tract Townships are:

  • Aurelius
  • Brutus
  • Camillus
  • Cato
  • Cicero
  • Cincinnatus
  • Dryden
  • Fabius
  • Galen
  • Hannibal
  • Hector
  • Homer
  • Junius
  • Locke
  • Lysander
  • Manlius
  • Marcellus
  • Milton
  • Ovid
  • Pompey
  • Romulus
  • Scipio
  • Sempronius
  • Solon
  • Sterling
  • Tully
  • Ulysses
  • Virgil

Simeon DeWitt

Some history books credit these early Greek / Roman names to the State Surveyor General of the time, "Simeon DeWitt." Most historians today, believe that the names for these Townships may have come from a clerk in the office of Simeon DeWitt who was a student of the classics, named "Robert Harpur."

After they balloted off 94 lots in each Township, the remaining 6 lots would be reserved for the development of gospel and schools, certain commercial offices and to compensate for water-covered land.

If this land was sold by the state, the money was to be set aside to build churches and schools.

Land Scripts

In the center portion of the book, The Balloting Book and Other Documents Relating to Military Bounty Lands, In The State Of New York-Pub. Albany, Printed By Packard and Van Benthuysen in 1825, is a list of Townships, numbered lots from 1 through 100 with the name of the soldier who was balloted to receive the lot. In the last portion of the book is a list of names that were entitled to lots and who actually was issued the patent (deed). Because it took so long for the soldiers to actually get their land, they were only given script ( an "I Owe You") prior to 1790. Many got tired of waiting years for the land they were promised and resorted to selling their claims.

Officers

In the end, Non-Commissioned Officers would get the 600 acre lots, but Officers would get larger areas depending on the rank they achieved. If the soldier decided to take the 100 acres offered by the Continental Congress in another state, the 100 acres in the south-east corner of the 600 acre lot, had to be given back to New York State. These became known as "The State's 100 acres." Another term that is in deeds still today, is "Survey 50 Acres of a Great Lot." This was because each soldier who was balloted to receive this land had to pay 48 shillings (to the state) to cover the cost of having the lots surveyed. If they didn't pay 48 shillings, they had to give up>50 acres.

Original Military Tract Townships

The original Military Tract Townships that are within the present boundaries of Cayuga County, New York are:

  • Number 3 Cato
  • Number 4 Brutus
  • Number 8 Aurelius
  • Number 12 Scipio
  • Number 13 Sempronius
  • Number 17 Milton
  • Number 18 Locke
  • Number 28 Sterling

The east portion of the Cayuga Indian Reservation is also currently within the boundaries of Cayuga County, New York.

Summary & Sources

This summary history of the Military Tract of Central New York, was compiled by Bernie Corcoran for the Cayuga County NYGenWeb Project. The following sources were utilized and are highly recommended for those who wish to study this subject further:

  • The Balloting Book and Other Documents Relating to Military Bounty Lands, In The State Of New York-Pub. Albany: (Printed By Packard and Van Benthuysen- 1825)
  • History of Cayuga County, New York 1789 - 1879; by Elliot Storke (Pub. 1879 by D. Mason and Co.)
  • Auburn, New York. Its Facilities and Resources; By D. Morris Kurtz (Pub. 1884 by Kurtz Publishing Co.)
  • The Military Tract Of Central New York; by Robert S Rose (A thesis composed in 1932 for a Master's Degree in history from Syracuse University)
  • Weedsport - Brutus A Brief History; by Howard J. Finley (Pub. for the Bicentennial in 1976)

More Information

Please refer to the NYGenWeb Project website for the complete account.