1786 & 1787
After the 8-year Revolutionary struggle between Great Britain and the inhabitants of New York, many small farmers found themselves in overwhelming economic distress. The burdensome cost of this extended war resulted in heavy taxes being imposed on New York's remaining residents in 1786 and 1787. Many of the small farmers of Albany, Tryon, and Washington Counties had been driven from their farms by forces under the direction of the Crown during the conflict, and were thus barely able to sustain their own families, yet alone pay the taxes that were continuously being raised to pay New York's massive war debts. Among these taxes were the "quit-rents", payable each year to the Treasurer of the Colony and/or State of New York.
The annual quit-rent, long assumed by many historians to be nothing more than a nuisance tax, was 0-2-6 (two shilling six pence) per 100 acres per year. The easiest way to relate to the total financial load of the annual quit-rents on an individual land owner is to use a June 10, 1777 payroll calculator developed for the use of Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer (New York State Library Manuscript Collection Manuscript Collection #11965, Folder 1), which lists a full colonel's pay at 1-0-0 (one Pound Sterling) per month. In January of 2011 the monthly pay of a full colonel in the US Army was listed as $5094.00 per month (http://www.us-army-info.com/pages/ranks.html). Reducing this mathematically we arrive at an equivalency of approximately $254.70 per shilling. Thus, in numbers we can relate to, the arrearages in annual quit rents were roughly $6.37 per acre per year, regardless of whether the land was occupied or vacant, good or poor. All future Quit-Rents were payable at a rate of roughly $11.15 per acre accounting for the difference in the British Pound versus the New York Pound.
Recognizing the land-owners' potential inability to pay the annual quit-rent for the period of September 29th, 1775 through September 29th, 1783, primarily due to mandatory Militia service, the New York State Legislature saw fit to grant a forgiveness of quit-rents due upon all lands for the length of the war. A forgiveness of quit-rents in arrears upon all estates seized from Loyalists was also enacted. But, the greatest benefit of the April 1, 1786, "Act for the Collection and Commutation of Quit-Rents":
Laws of the State of New York Volume One
NINTH SESSION CHAP. XXIII.
An ACT for the, Collection and Commutation of Quit-Rents.
Passed 1st April, 1786.
Be, it Enacted by the People of the State of New-York, represented in Senate and Assembly, and it is hereby Enacted by the Authority of the same, That in all Cases where any Person or Persons, being Citizens of this State, or of any of the United States, is or are, or shall be seised of any Lands or Tenements in this State, charged with the Payment of Quit-Rent, it shall and may be lawful to and for such Person at any Time on or before the first Day of January next, to pay to the Treasurer of this State for the Time being, for the Use of the People of the State, all the Arrears of such Quit Rent then due, in any public Securities receivable in Payment on Sales of confiscated Estates, or in any other Securities or Certificates issued or to be issued by the Treasurer of this State, and at the same Rate such Securities and Certificates are receivable in Payment for confiscated Estates; but no Quit Rent which accrued between the Twenty-ninth Day of September, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-five, and the Twenty-ninth Day of September, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-three, shall be demanded or exacted from any such Person or Persons.
. . . And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid That no purchaser of forfeited estates shall be liable to pay quit rents for any lands purchased or to be purchased by him or her, but the same and all the arrearages thereof shall be and are hereby forever remitted.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid That all quit rents reserved in sterling money shall be computed at and after the rate of one hundred and seventy five pounds lawful money of this State for every one hundred pounds sterling money aforesaid; and that all quit rents reserved in proclamation money, shall be considered as current money of this State.
And whereas many of the inhabitants of this State have been driven from their habitations by the incursions of the enemy and thereby have been greatly distressed, therefore Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid That any person or persons having been so driven off as aforesaid, shall be exempted from paying any arrears of quit rents now due and which are required to be paid by this act for so much land and was included in the farm whereon they actually resided and from which they were driven as aforesaid provided such farm does not contain more than one hundred & fifty acres. And provided that any person claiming such exemption shall produce a certificate signed by one of the judges of the inferior court of the county wherein such person resides specifying that he or she was obliged to quit his or her farm on account of the war, and also specifying the number of acres contained in such farm.
While it would be reasonable to assume that this opened a great opportunity for fraud and deceit on the part of individual land owner's, the very fact that the Inferior Court Justices who were required to affix their names upon these certificates were, during the war, their neighbors and/or local Militia officers minimized that potential. A man who was known or suspected of having been sympathetic to the Crown was often the subject of very close scrutiny by the very men who were being asked to attest to their sufferings at the hands of the Crown: In essence, an individual farmer's dedication to the 'Rebel Cause'. As a result of this act, hundreds of Quit-Rent Remission Certificates were produced. Collectively they point out the precise location and size of a few hundred eligible farms.
On April 11, 1787, "AN ACT to amend an act entitled an act for the collection of and commutation of quit-rents", forgave all future quit-rents due upon farms specified in the
Laws of the State of New York Volume One
TENTH SESSION CHAP. LXXV1.
An ACT to amend an Act entitled, An Act for the Collection
Commutation of Quit-Rents
Passed 11the April, 1787.
Persons driven from their Habitations exempted From Quit-Rents,
Upon producing Certificates.
WHEREAS sundry Circumstances have intervened which have rendered it impossible for those from whom Quit-Rents were due, to discharge or commute for the fame by the Times limited in the A&, entitled, An Act for the Collection And Commutation of Quit-Rents, passed the 1st Day of April, 1786: Therefore,
V. AND whereas many of the Inhabitants of this State have, during the late War, been driven from their Habitations, by the Incursions of the Enemy, and thereby have been greatly distressed; Therefore, Be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That any Person or Persons having been so driven off as aforesaid, shall be, and hereby are discharged from paying as well all future Quit-Rents, as those which have already become due to the People of this State, for so much Land only, and no more, as was included in the Farm whereon such Person or Persons actually resided, and from which he or she were driven as aforesaid. Provided, That any Person claiming such Exemption, shall produce a Certificate, signed by one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of the County wherein such Person did reside, specifying that he or she was obliged to quit his or her Farm, on Account of the War, and also specifying the Number of Acres which it shall appear to such Judge, were contained in such Farm; and provided such Certificate shall not intitle any Person to a Remission for more than One Hundred and Fifty Acres. And, Provided also, That such Certificate shall be delivered to the Assessors herein before mentioned, where Assessments shall be made, previous to the making of such Assessment, or to the said Treasurer, where Quit-Rents shall be paid without Assessment.
The 1786 Quit-Rent Act came about at a time when personal taxes were being imposed upon the property owners in New York's individual counties. Thus the 1786 Tax Assessment Rolls provide us with a crude census of the remaining Rebel families within particular counties of the State. As a result, the Quit-Rent Remission Certificates generated under the aforesaid Act can be used to pinpoint the locale of various individuals upon an individual tax list, allowing a historian to literally track a tax assessor's movements through individual communities.
By using maps generated prior to, during, or immediately following the war, many of which can be found upon www.fort-plank.com's "Mohawk Valley Maps and Sketches" page, historians can pinpoint the location of many of these farms within Tryon County. Thus, areas where the enemy depredations were the greatest can be readily identified. The pinpointing of these farms is also useful in locating various military installations, taverns, and stages named in military correspondence, personal journals, and Revolutionary War Pension Applications.
The bulk of the Quit Rent Certificates generated by these acts seem to have been issued to residents of areas where few "feudal-like" estates existed. A smaller number were issued to farmers in Albany and Washington Counties. All known Tryon County Certificates have been abstracted and can be found in either "The Bloodied Mohawk", published in June of 2000 by Picton Press of Rockport, Maine or at www.fort-plank.com under "Additional Partisans Discovered after The Bloodied Mohawk was Published." All known surviving certificates are found within the "Public Domain" in either the Garrit Y. Lansing Papers (SC13324) of the Manuscript Division of the New York State Library, and/or in Collections A1211 & A1228 of the New York State Archives in Albany, New York. Others are known to have existed as they were recorded in the Deeds of Montgomery County in the late 18th Century.
The author would like to thank the staff of the New York State Archives and the New York State Library for their assistance in locating these certificates.