Wednesday, June 24, 2020


SAR Compatriot:Eugen Foley
Before Manifest Destiny
In grade school we heard about the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny.  But, as members of the Sons of the American Revolution, our research is much more personal, and we are able to see how our own families grew and spread across the country.  “From Sea to Shining Sea,” our Oregon-based membership is evidence of our nation’s expansion.  And the fact that we honor our forefathers’ sacrifices that made us an independent nation, conceived anew, seemed an obvious message of providence to those who fought…and to the generations that followed.

With a population of about a quarter million souls in 1700, it was clear that those few hundred Europeans that had established themselves in what would be the British Colonies by 1610 were here to stay.  But, by 1780, after the Revolution had fully engulfed the European residents of the new nation in the fight to establish a new republic, the population was nearing 2.8 million and would be nearer 5 million in 1800.

As a practical matter, new lands were needed to accommodate the expansion of the families that inhabited them.  Our youngsters today might suggest that they should have just built taller buildings, instead of moving west.  But, we know that it wasn’t until the late 1920’s that structural steel, safe elevators, tempered structural glass and other architectural and structural necessities made it possible to build above three or four stories without great expense.  And it wasn’t until the 1940’s that we began to manage our crops, farms and ranches in a sustainable fashion that, even with an increasing dependence on foreign sourcing, would make it possible to feed the third of a billion people that live in the United States today.

Before the words Manifest Destiny had come into popular use, our forefathers had already begun their move west.  As early lines were drawn, for instance, the north and south bounds of Connecticut extended well to the west. New York, and other colonies carved their shares out of this area, but much of what is Ohio (called the Western Reserve) was a part of Connecticut as it was being settle in 1796. That’s important because this and other land was available to veterans who were given grants of land to encourage them to build new communities.

Expansionist behavior began from the earliest times of colonialization, and was assumed as a matter of right.  In early records, the first settlers negotiated their use and ownership of land with the Native Americans.  While it is a cliché that our ancestors purchased Manhattan for beads, the early agreements often included trading for other goods, hunting rights and promises to share in the product of farms.  New Jersey records show a clear pattern of making contracts for the land that settlers came to occupy, as well as fair trading with the native population…in most cases.  Sadly, there were abuses and systematic discrimination increased to the time that Manifest Destiny became an excuse for the taking of land, displacement of indigenous people and institutionalized discrimination that continues to be a regrettable mark on our history.

That being said, land records are an important part of our genealogical research.  With the Revolution came the forfeiture of lands previously owned by loyalists.  Generals George Washington, John Sullivan and others were delegated responsibility for dividing the land among veterans who were expanding their families, and their horizons. My ancestors moved north to New Hampshire, and west to northern New York, then with Bounty-Land Warrants, they moved to Ohio.

And here is the opportunity for genealogical researchers…like the military pensions and invalid benefits that became available, those seeking a Land-Bounty Warrant needed to prove their service.  These records, often prepared by or for their widows included details of familial relationships, residences, and employment histories.  These are also primary evidence in the proof of service required for membership in the SAR and DAR.

And, as a final point, the westward movement tends to follow patterns.  Trade routes that include mountain passes and navigable rivers are great clues.  My own ancestors moved along the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, settling within a short distance to the land routes that skirted those waterways.

Good luck on your search for land records and Land-Bounty Warrants.