How Grandpa Zeke Collected a Bounty on Himself

My great-great-grandfather Ezekiel Johnson collected a bounty for turning himself into the federal government in 1864. Actually, so did a lot of other folks earn such bounties.

Zeke Johnson was held as a slave in Clay County, Missouri, fro the day he was born in 1847 until one day in May, 1864, when he was 17 years old.  That day he “left” his master.  How exactly he got away is not known.  But two months later in July, 1864,  he enlisted in Company D, 18th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops.

During the Civil War, two acts of Congress—one passed in 1864 (13 Stat. 11) and one in 1866 (14 Stat. 321)—allowed loyal slave owners whose slaves enlisted or were drafted into the U.S. military to file a claim against the Federal government for loss of the slave’s services. The law allowed for up to $300 compensation for slaves who enlisted, and up $100 for slaves who were drafted.

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves in the states which were in rebellion, but in border-states which were loyal to the Union—slavery continued to be legal. The law authorizing the formation of the USCT stated that no man was to fight as a slave, so for slaves in the border-states, enlistment meant freedom. If owners would not give permission to enlist, then slaves had to run away in order to join the army. In some cases, flight from slavery led to enlistment in the state where the slave resided, but other times it led to enlistment in a neighboring state. If a slave’s former owner found out where and when he joined—and the owner was loyal to the Union—then he or she could file a slave compensation claim.

St Louis County Library, What was a Slave Compensation Claim?

The compensation generally was $300 per slave. But since Grandpa Zeke ran away, he, not the slave owner, was entitled to his own bounty! See Colored Men and Their Relation to the Military Service and Black Missourians in the Civil War

The document below shows that Zeke was still owed $100 of his bounty when he was discharged. I don’t know if he ever got it.

zjohnson-usct-1061By the way, Zeke Johnson’s holder, Henry Wilhite was not loyal to the United States, having enlisted in the Confederate army, and so would be ineligible for compensation for Zeke Johnson.

To see another document about this story, go to my page on!


2 Responses to “How Grandpa Zeke Collected a Bounty on Himself”

  • Craig says:

    Thanks, Rhonda!

  • Rhonda A Reid says:

    Hello Craig

    The bounty fee documented on your Grandpa Zeke’s military record was an enlistment fee. Since he served a 2 year term he was paid $100 during enlistment and owed another $100 upon discharge.

    I was also curious about the bounty fee when I noticed it on both of my great-great grandfather’s Freedman Bureau Bank records. They served three years in the USCT 21st Regiment in South Carolina. The section below further explained the bounty fee.

    In conformity with this section the Secretary of War ordered as follows:(*)

    An act approved July 4, 1864,(a) provided–

    That the President of the United States may, at his discretion, at any time hereafter, call for any number of men as volunteers, for the respective terms of one, two, and three years, for military service; and any such volunteer, or, in case of draft, as hereinafter provided, any substitute, shall be credited to the town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of a county not so subdivided, toward the quota of which he may have volunteered or engaged as a substitute; and every volunteer who is accepted and mustered into the service for a term of one year, unless sooner discharged, shall receive and be paid by the United States a bounty of one hundred dollars; and if for a term of two years, unless sooner discharged, a bounty of two hundred dollars; and if for a term of three years, unless sooner discharged, a bounty of three hundred dollars, one-third of which bounty shall be paid to the soldier at the time of his being mustered into the service, one-third at the expiration of one-half of his term of service, and one-third at the expiration of his term of service. And in case of his death while in service, the residue of his bounty unpaid shall be paid to his widow, if he shall have left a widow; if not, to his children; or if there be none, to his mother, if she be a widow.

July 2009
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