By A. B. Pruitt
Box 815, Whitakers, NC 27891
© A. B. Pruitt, 1998. All rights reserved

This is an introductory article about military bounty land warrants and the land fraud involved. More detailed information about bounty land warrants, laws, and the land fraud is found in the references at the end of this article.

In 1783, the North Carolina Legislature decided to reward men who had served in the North Carolina regiments in the Continental Line (national army) during the Revolution. The reward was land in Tennessee. The amount of land a man received depended on how long the man had served (3 to 7 years) and his highest rank. The heirs of men who had died in service received land as if the man had served for seven year no matter how long he actually served before his death. In 1784, the law was expanded to include men who had served for only 2 years. Amounts of land ranged from 228 acres (for privates who served 2 years) to 12,000 acres (for men who had served 7 years and attained the rank of brigadier general). There were two methods of obtaining a warrant: (1) the former soldier or his heir could request a warrant in person at the Secretary of State’s office or (2) a former officer could request warrants for soldiers they knew had served. The second method was an admission by the State that some officers kept better muster records than the State did. The bounty land warrant was signed by the Secretary of State. The warrantee could sell his right or he could go to Tennessee to find the appropriate amount of land. The land was originally to be in the Military District (North central Tennessee). Upon arriving in Tennessee, the warrantee could search for land by himself, or he could ask for assistance from one of the surveyors attached to the military land office in Nashville (Martin Armstrong was placed in charge of that office). When the land was found, the location was recorded in a series of books in the military land office. These locations were very vague and only meant to be a temporary description of the land. Usually in a few months, a survey would be made of the land. The survey and warrant were returned to the Secretary of State so a grant could be issued. No fees were required for the warrant to be issued, for the survey, or for the grant. Surveyors were paid by the State in the form of rights (similar to the bounty land warrants). The amount of rights depended on how many acres the surveyor had surveyed. In 1784, the Legislature passed an act to give Tennessee to the federal government; this act also allowed bounty warrants to be used for grants anywhere in Tennessee, not just the military district (land still belonging to Indians was excluded). This gift (called the “cession” act) was rescinded the next year, but the provision allowing bounty land warrants to be used throughout Tennessee remained in effect. More negotiations were needed before North Carolina, Congress, and residents in Tennessee agreed for Tennessee to become a separate territory. In 1796, Tennessee became a state, but North Carolina still reserved sufficient land to meet future bounty land warrants (even though they didn’t know how many warrants this would involve).

In 1797, Andrew Jackson arrived in Washington to serve in Congress. Jackson told Senator Alexander Martin of North Carolina about suspicious behavior relating to the bounty land warrants. Senator Martin relayed the news to Governor Samuel Ashe in Raleigh. Gov. Ashe asked for a formal statement from Jackson and Mr. Love, the original source of the information. Gov. Ashe reported the information to the Legislature. The Legislature decided to form a committee to investigate the problem. The legislative committee decided there was sufficient evidence to justify appointing a Board to Inquiry to review the military bounty land warrants and resulting grants. The Legislature believed this review could be completed in a couple of months and any misdeeds could be referred to the next meeting of Hillsborough Superior Court. The Legislature also directed the Secretary of State to cease issuing grants related to military bounty warrants. The Legislature also closed the Nashville land office.

Before the Board began its work an attempt was made Jan. 18, 1798 to steal papers from the Secretary’s office. The thieves had removed a trunk and some papers when they were discovered by Peter Bird, a house servant of John Haywood (North Carolina’s Treasurer). The thieves chased Bird away, but Bird reported the incident to a group of people who were gathered at Cassos Tavern to celebrate the second marriage of Mr. Haywood. Some of these men returned to the State House to halt the theft attempt. Phil, a slave of William Terrell, was the only person captured. Phil was later tried and hanged. Peter Bird was given his freedom and Mr. Haywood was compensated (by the Legislature) for the loss of the slave. In February, news arrived from Howell Tatum and John McNairy, judges in Tennessee, about an attempt to burn the State House. This news prompted the Governor to increase the guard at the State House, and no attempt to burn the building was reported.

The first Board of Inquiry (3 men and some clerks) convened in Raleigh and began their review of the warrants and grants in the Secretary’s office. Almost immediately, the Board found they would need additional time to review all the warrants. The Board decided it didn’t have time to review all the sales of each warrant. The Board decided it would review warrants to see (a) if the soldier had actually served the required length of time (by comparing to the muster roll kept by the State) and (b) if the soldier fairly sold his interest in the warrant or if the soldier was cheated out of his right. The Board tried to determine who they believed was involved in fraud with each warrant. The Board reported to the Governor the names of 47 men they believed were most heavily involved in the fraud. The Board also wrote a report indicating their opinion of the fraud involved with each warrant; this report (for unknown reasons) also mentioned a few warrants which didn’t involve fraud. The report was presented to the Hillsborough Superior Court in the Spring of 1798. The records for that court session are sparse, but it appears the court did issue some arrest warrants. About this time, Stockley Donelson and William Terrell were arrested because of their involvement in the fraud. They were later released on bond, but never returned to North Carolina for trial.

Gov. Ashe also appointed John Willis and Francis Locke to head a committee to travel to Nashville and make copies of the location books in Martin Armstrong’s office. Several months were spent going to Nashville, copying the five or six books, and returning to North Carolina. These copies returned to Nashville when the land office reopened in 1800. They remain as the only surviving copies of the location books since the originals have been lost or misplaced.

In the Fall of 1798, the Legislature met and found no trial had been held even though probable cause had been found during the investigation. So the Legislature decided to pass an act creating a new court which could determine the legality of any land grant; the Governor was to appoint judges for the court and set the time for the court to meet. At the same session, a second Board of Inquiry was formed to finish the investigation of bounty land warrants. This second Board was also to investigate the warrants issued from John Armstrong’s office (which weren’t military bounty land warrants).

The second Board convened in Raleigh in the Spring of 1799 and completed the review of military bounty land warrants and warrants from John Armstrong’s office. The complete review involved about 5,312 military bounty warrants and 2,662 warrants from John Armstrong’s office. Gov. William R Davie consulted the Attorney General and Solicitor General about the necessity of the new court. These men agreed that the new court would be too expensive. This finding was presented to the Council of State. The Council agreed that the Governor should not allow this court to sit.

In the Fall of 1799, the Legislature again convened and found, once again, no trial had been held. So the Legislature decided to create another court which would try the land fraud case and “other matters rising on the circuit.” Gov. Benjamin Williams set June 1800 as the time for the trial. Attorney General Blake Baker was allowed to have a “public agent” to assist him in serving arrest warrants and gathering evidence. Samuel Purviance was the public agent. There was some friction between these two men up to the time the trial began. The Attorney General also received help from John Haywood, judge from Hillsborough Superior Court, in preparing the case. While several men were originally implicated in the fraud, only 5 were brought to trial: James Glasgow (Secretary of State), Willoughby Williams (Glasgow’s son-in-law and his assistant in the Secretary’s office), John Bonds, John Gray Blount, & Thomas Blount. Shortly before the trial began, John Haywood decided to resign as a judge and become the chief defense attorney. The result of the trial was that James Glasgow was fined 1,000 pounds, Willoughby Williams was fined 500 pounds, and John Bonds was fined 100 pounds. The Blount brothers said they needed testimony from relatives in Tennessee; so their trial was delayed and moved to New Bern. The Blounts were dismissed (found not guilty) when the court met at New Bern.

William White was appointed Secretary of State (succeeding Mr. Glasgow) in 1799. The Legislature passed a new act to reopen the Nashville military bounty land office. Secretary White began to issue more military warrants as former soldiers requested them. William Christmas was hired to replace Martin Armstrong in the Nashville office. There was some argument when Mr. Christmas arrived in Nashville, but Mr. Armstrong was persuaded that he was no longer in charge of the military land office. Mr. Christmas reopened the office and began to survey land. By this time Tennessee has became a state and didn’t appreciate North Carolina continuing to issue grants for land in Tennessee. So Tennessee’s Legislature passed an act threatening to fine anyone surveying land in Tennessee for North Carolina. Mr. Christmas decided to close the military land office. After some discussion between the two states, an agreement was reached. North Carolina would continue to issue military bounty land warrants, but the survey and grant would be completed by Tennessee officials. Mr. Christmas was hired as one of the first district surveyors in Tennessee, and his area of responsibility was the same as the old North Carolina military district. By reviewing warrants issued after 1799, it is evident that some amount of fraud was still present: warrants were issued to people who didn’t actually serve and warrants were allowed to be used even though the North Carolina Boards of Inquiry had found them fraudulent. But this time, no one was charged with a crime and no one was tried. Tennessee had commissioners who were suppose to review warrants (military or nonmilitary) and determine if fraud had been involved in the issuance or sale of the warrant. It appears the Tennessee commissioners tended to rely on statements by people who presented the warrants to them and relied less on statements by North Carolina officials about evidence of fraud. Between 1810 and 1840 North Carolina required people to petition the Legislature for military warrants or present their case to a commission composed of the Governor, Treasurer, and Comptroller. These activities appear to have stopped when William Hill became Secretary of State. The last warrant issued in 1842.

1. An Angel has Fallen: Glasgow Land Fraud & the Establishment of North Carolina Supreme Court, by Russell S Koonts; Masters thesis NC State 1995.
2. An Angel has Fallen: Glasgow Land Fraud & the Establishment of North Carolina Supreme Court, by Russell S Koonts; article published in North Carolina Historical Review vol. 72 No. 3 301-328 (1995).
3. Glasgow Land Fraud Papers, Vol. 1 by A B Pruitt.
4. Glasgow Land Fraud Papers, Vol. 2 by A B Pruitt
5. Tennessee Land Entries: Military Bounty Land, by A B Pruitt
6. A Case of Fraud & Deception: Revolutionary War Military Land Bounty Policy in Tennessee, by Daniel Jansen; published in Journal of East Tennessee History vol. 64 p. 41-67 (1992).
7. Early Tennessee Land Records: Preemption Warrants, by Mrs. Irene M Griffey.


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Copyright 1998

This page was posted,
12 July 1998

12 July 1998