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The bounty laws

There is a story in every statute book… and sometimes in every statute.

Like the story of the beasties of Orange County.

Orange County, New York, is where The Legal Genealogist will be this Saturday, April 30, at the spring seminar of the Orange County Genealogical Society at the Goshen United Methodist Church.

(And yep, there should still be a space or two for walk-ins, so come on out and join us.)

And the people of Orange County had their hands full with beasties in the early days of the county’s history.

You don’t need to find a history of the county to know that there were terrible depredations by wolves in that part of New York when it was still the Province of New York. You don’t need to find a family diary or a letter or a manuscript by an ancestor. You can know, sure as you’re sitting there, that wolves were a real and present threat to any ancestor of yours who lived in Orange County.

And you can find that story in the statute books.

On the 21st of July 1715, the Provincial Legislature passed a law:

WHEREAS the Inhabitants of the County of Orange in this Colony Suffer great Losses in their Stocks, both of Sheep and Neat Cattle by the increase of Wolves in the said County. For preventing which, and Encouraging those who shall destroy Wolves in the said County BE IT Enacted by his Excellency the Govern’r Council and General Assembly, And by the Authority of the same, That every person or persons inhabiting in the said County who shall kill any Wolf, and carry the head of it to any Justice of the Peace, such Justice of the Peace shall give him or them a Certificate to the Treasurer of the said County, who upon sight thereof shall pay to the Person inhabiting in the said County as aforesaid, the Sum of four Shillings and Six pence Current mony of this Colony, and to any Indian or Slave so killing any Wolf, & bringing such Certificate as aforesaid, the Sum of Three Shillings money aforesaid.1.

“Neat cattle,” by the way, are cows or oxen, not just cows.2

WolfWolves were still a problem in 1726, and the bounty on wolves was raised to six shillings for every Person or persons, whither he be A Christian Indian or a Negroe inhabiting or Sojourning there.3 It was continued for another two years at the rate of four shillings by a 1728 statute,4 and then replaced with a standard rate for all affected counties of 12 shillings for a grown wolf and six shillings for every wolf under a year old in 1732.5

Now you might think that would be enough of an incentive, but it wasn’t enough to wipe out the wolf problem. And, as a matter of fact, you will find that another beastie started to be enough of a problem by 1740 that it too had to be addressed by way of a bounty. That was the year that the bounty went up to 15 shillings for an adult and eight shillings for a young wolf in Orange and Ulster Counties6 — and the same was offered as a bounty in neighboring Dutchess County on panthers (another name for the probably-extinct Eastern cougar or puma7

More statutes were passed with bounties on wolves and panthers — and in Orange County too — in 1742,8 1743,9 174810 1753,11 and 1759.12

Didn’t work. As of 1762, the statute said that the “former Reward for Destroying of Wolves … hath by Experience not been found sufficient,” and the bounty in Orange County was upped to 30 shillings for a grown wolf and 15 shillings for a young wolf.13 It didn’t mention panthers. In 1764, panthers were added back and, to protect the pocketbooks of the taxpayers, anybody claiming the reward had to swear he was a resident and had killed the animal in the county.14.

It still wasn’t enough. In 1768, the bounty raised to three pounds for every adult animal and 30 shillings for every young one.15 That bounty act was continued in 1775.16

New Yorkers were too busy with enemies of the two-legged kind to pass any laws dealing with four-leggedy beasties again until 1783, when the new State of New York passed a statewide bounty — 40 shillings for every grown wolf or panther and 20 shillings for every animal under a year old.17 But the law — in one form or another — stayed on the books. And stayed. And stayed.

The last wolf was killed in New York around 189718 and last panther a few years before that.19 The last bounty? It was paid in May of 1884.20

It’s been a long time since people were so very afraid of wolves and panthers.

But we would already have known that.

Because we know there’s a story in every statute book… and sometimes in every statute.

We just need to spend the time to read it.


SOURCES

  1. “An Act for the Destroying Wolves in the County of Orange,” 21 July 1715, in The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution (Albany: State Printer, 1894), I: 878; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 25 Apr 2016)
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 805, “neat cattle.”
  3. “An Act for destroying Wolves in the County of Albany Dutchess County and Orange County,” 11 November 1726, in The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution, II: 346.
  4. “An Act to Continue an Act Entituled An Act for destroying Wolves in the County of Albany Dutchess County and Orange County…,” 31 August 1728, in ibid., II: 422.
  5. “An Act to Encourage the Destroying of wolves in the County of Albany, Ulster County, Orange County, Dutchess County and the County of West Chester,” 14 October 1732, in ibid., II: 750-752.
  6. “An Act to Encourage the Distroying of Wolves & Panthers in Dutchess County, and of Wolves in Ulster and Orange Counties,” 3 November 1740, in ibid., III: 74.
  7. Ibid. And see “Eastern Cougar,” Northeast Region, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ : accessed 25 Apr 2016).
  8. “An Act to Encourage the Distroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess & Orange,” 29 October 1742, in The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution, III: 270.
  9. “An Act for Lessening the Reward for Killing & Distroying of Wolves & Panthers in the County of Orange,” 17 December 1743, in ibid., III: 335.
  10. “An Act to Continue an Act Entitled an Act to Encourage the Destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess & Orange…,” 12 November 1748, in ibid., III: 744.
  11. “An Act to revive and further continue an Act Entituled an Act for the destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess & Orange,” 12 December 1753, in ibid., III: 992.
  12. “An Act further to Continue an Act Entitled an Act to for the destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess & Orange,” 24 December 1759, in ibid., IV: 392.
  13. “An Act for the more Effectual Destroying of Wolves in the County of Orange,” 11 December 1762, in ibid., Iv: 682.
  14. “An Act for the more Effectual Destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess and Orange,” 26 October 1764, in ibid., IV: 812.
  15. “An Act to amend an Act, entitled an Act for the more effectual destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess & Orange,” 31 December 1768, in ibid., IV: 1059.
  16. “An Act to encourage the destroying of Wolves and Panthers in the Counties of Albany, Ulster, Orange and Dutchess,” 1 April 1775, in ibid., V: 774.
  17. “An Act to encourage the destroying of wolves and panthers,” 4 March 1783, in The Laws of the State New York… (Albany: Weed Parsons & Co., Printers, 1894), I: 534; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 25 Apr 2016).
  18. See “Wolf Tracks: A Summary of Gray Wolf Activities and Issues,” May 1999, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (https://www.fws.gov/ : accessed 25 Apr 2016).
  19. See “Eastern Cougar Sightings,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (http://www.dec.ny.gov/ : accessed 25 Apr 2016).
  20. See David E. Lantz, Laws Relating to Fur-Bearing Animals, 1918, Farmers Bulletin 1022, U.S. Department of Agriculture (Washington, D.C. : Govt. Printing Office, 1918), 16; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 25 Apr 2016).
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