As volunteer enlistments began to wane, government officials needed to find an alternative to keep the dwindling armies full. With the threat of conscription looming over each area, many towns and counties resorted to offering cash incentives to any young men who would volunteer. These incentives, called bounties, were financed by bonds issued by the various communities. Most of these bonds were redeemed and subsequently destroyed, leaving very few for modern collectors. This particular piece is headlined “Essex County Volunteer War Bond” above a central vignette depicting a representation of the design used on the buttons of the New York state volunteers during the war. The body of the bond promises that “The County of ESSEX, in the State of NEW YORK, promises to pay to the bearer the sum of Five Hundred dollars, with interest at 7 per cent per annum, one=fifth of the principal, with all interest then accrued, on the first day of March in each of the years 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868 & 1869, at the office of the Treasurer of said County.”. It further states that “This bond is issued for the benefit of the town of Moriah in aid of raising Volunteers, and is first transferable only by the endorsement of a majority of the members of the board of town auditors of said town, afterwards transferable by delivery.”. The preceding financial obligation is followed by the date “Feby 23 1864” and the signatures of “Cha N Williams” in his position as “Co. Treasurer” and “Wm. E. Calkins” as “Co. Clerk.”. Immediately below this is a printed statement indicating by what authority the bond was being issued, and by whom. An orange-red seal, of “ESSEX COUNTY, NEW YORK”, is affixed to the left of the financial obligation. The verso of this page features the signatures of “Walter Merrill” in his capacity as “Supervisor”, “Andrew J. Taylor” as “Town Clerk”, and “L. L. Lee”, “J. C. Douglass”, “P. Butler”, and “E. S. Edgerton” (?) as “Justices of the Peace”. Below this are five 2-line partly-printed receipts, dated 1865 through 1869, each indicating the amount of the principal and interest paid to the bearer each year. Facing this is a blank page, the verso of which reads “Essex County Bond”, as well as spaces for the denomination and the serial number (each to be filled in at the time of purchase). The document measures approximately 8.5 x 11.75 inches when folded, and 17 x 11.75 inches when fully opened. The presently offered piece is an attractive reminder of this important aspect of the Union war effort, and would make a great addition to any Civil War era collection.
The bounty system emerged early in the Civil War, with Congress authorizing a $100 payment in July, 1861, to men who would enlist in the Union Army for three years. In March, 1863, with the passage of the Enrollment Act, Union volunteers would receive $300 for a three year enlistment and $400 for a five year enlistment. Unlike earlier bounties, these sums were divided and paid to the men at specified intervals to discourage men from enlisting, receiving their bounty, and then deserting the army and enlisting again under another name. Though bounty-jumping, as this practice was termed, was a very serious offense, the financial opportunities were so great that many men could not resist the temptation (one offender admitted to jumping 32 times before he was finally caught). Some state and local authorities would offer as much as $1000 for an individual to enlist in their area, since by meeting their manpower quota, the locality would be spared the indignity of a draft. It has been estimated that during the Civil War, the Federal government, as well as state and local authorities, paid out between 600 and 750 million dollars in recruitment bounties (a massive sum for any era).
Due to the type of paper that was used in its production, this interesting document exhibits light toning across the entire surface. Scattered foxing spots can be seen, though these are fairly light and not terribly detrimental to the overall eye appeal of the piece. The paper quality has also led to significant amount of ink show-thru, as well as a ghost image of the affixed county seal and some of the manuscript material. Two horizontal folds are present, evenly dividing the document into thirds, with several corner folds also noted (especially at the left). Minor edge tears, strengthened with acid free tape, are noted along the folds, with only a small amount of paper loss on the second page. Moderate soiling can be found on the verso of the second page, though this is primarily confined to the center of the piece (this was the outside of the document when it was folded for storage). This historic document, evoking as it does the desperate nature of the volunteer system in use during the latter part of the Civil War, would make a wonderful addition to any Civil War or currency collection.