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North Carolina land grant procedure 1777-1800
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Land Entries, Land Warrants, Land Surveys, & Land Grants in North Carolina (1777-1800):
In 1777 the legislature of the "new" state of North Carolina passed an act allowing the state to take over the title to all "vacant" land within its borders. This land had formerly been the property of the King or the Earl of Granville. In the same year, the legislature also passed an act creating a procedure for selling the land to almost anyone who had the money to pay the required fees. These "instruments" were called grants, but that does not imply the free gift of land.
The first step in the procedure was for the prospective landowner to find some vacant land. He may choose land on which he has been living, an adjoining tract, or a tract far removed from his current residence. The next step was to have the claim recorded in the land office in the county where the land was. There was a small fee to pay for recording the claim. This is sometimes called "making a land entry" or having the claim entered in the records. A land entry taker was appointed to each county land office. The land description at this point was purposely vague. The state was interested in getting the entry in the records and making sure the claimant could pay the required fees. It was understood that the land description would be clearer once a survey was made.
In 1778, ALL required fees were supposed to be paid when the entry was recorded (entry fees, surveying fees, & grant fees). But this soon changed, and only entry fees were required when the entry was recorded. Between 1778 and 1781, the person making an entry had to pledge allegiance to the state. This requirement was supposed to keep tories from claiming land.
Next there was a waiting period. The purpose of the waiting period was to allow time for everyone else to know the tract had been claimed. Other people could then decide if the claim included land that was already owned by someone other than the claimant. If such problems arose, there could be a court trial to determine who was really entitled to claim (or own) the land before additional steps were taken.
If there were no disputes, the entry taker would issue a land warrant. The warrant was form letter addressed to the county surveyor instructing the surveyor to survey the claim "without delay". The surveyor was paid based on the number of acres in the survey (which may be slightly different from the number of acres in the land entry). When the survey was finished, the land warrant and two copies of the survey were sent to the North Carolina Secretary of State. Usually, surveys included the name of the surveyor and names of chain carriers. Chain carriers may be neighbors or the person whose land is being surveyed; depending on who was present on that day.
The Secretary was supposed to make sure the State Treasurer had received the state's share of the fees before he proceeded with a grant. The state charged 50 shillings per hundred acres between 1778 and 1781. Beginning in 1783, the state fee was raised to 10 pounds per hundred acres. Afterward, the fee varied; lower fees were charged if the land included a swamp or was mountainous. Still later, the state's fees were changed every few years. Using the land description in the survey, the Secretary (or one of his clerks) filled out a land grant. The Governor signed the grant. The state seal was attached to the grant by the Governor's Secretary. One copy of the survey was attached to the grant. The land description was recorded in the land grant books kept by the Secretary of State. The Secretary kept the second copy of the survey and the land warrant. The Secretary of State and Governor's Secretary were paid small fees for each grant that was processed. Prior to the Governor signing a grant, a "last minute" protest could be made. Paperwork survives for petitions dated between 1778 and 1835; such disputes were settled by a jury trial in the county where the land was located. Many times, we find a petition to the Governor, but we have difficulty determining the outcome of the trial.
The grant was returned to the grantee. Sometimes this means the grant was returned to the county court house, and an advertisement was placed in the local newspaper announcing the arrival of grants from the Secretary. The grantee (new landowner) now had one year in which to have the grant recorded in books kept by the county Register of Deeds. There was a small fee to pay for this also. For as much as 50 years, no one actively made sure each grant was recorded in the county, so some grants weren't recorded in the county.
In 1781 entry offices were closed possibly because the state wanted to change the fee structure, but there was no agreement on how much to change. Warrants could still be issued, surveys could still be done, & grants could still be issued (for entries already on the books) PROVIDED the required fees were paid. In 1783, the county entry offices were reopened, and the grant fee to the state was four times the previous amount (10 pounds vs. 50 shillings per hundred acres).
The books on land entries contain abstracts of the books kept by county land entry takers. PLEASE REMEMBER, there are many entries which were never turned into grants. So we find many more entries than warrants or grants in every county. In 1796 clerks of county courts were required to make copies of all entries dated between 1778 and 1796. The clerk was supposed to keep the original entry books and send the copies to the Secretary of State. Since 1796, some original entry books have been lost due to court house fires; most of the old originals have now been sent to the state archives. The copies are also in the archives except in a few cases: Hertford County and Edgecombe County (prior to 1783). Some entry books were destroyed during the Revolutionary War and weren't available to be copied in 1796. Examples of these are Guilford County and Randolph County. All surviving entry books dated between 1778 and 1796 have now been published.
The primary sources of land warrants are the Secretary of State's land grant files now in the North Carolina Archives. The archives has the original paperwork. The archives is busy trying to film all the original paperwork, so you will probably be directed to the microfilm if it is available. There are 2 indexes to the land grant files. The older index is a card index found only in the archives. This index isn't perfect, but it is available. The second index is on the MARS computer system. This index is being compiled by going through the counties in alphebetical order. The computer index includes only files which have been microfilmed; one day it will contain all the grant files. To use either index, you look in the index for a person's name and then for the "file number" (which some people call a shuck number). The grant shucks or files are arranged by county and then numerically by shuck number. Within each shuck (or brown envelope) will be the warrant and survey (if they survive) and, sometimes, other related material. If a shuck is empty, the land description can be learned by referring to the land grant book and page number mentioned on the cover of each shuck.
The Secretary of State's land grant books are also in the North Carolina archives. All the books are on microfilm. You will need to find the grant book and page number using the same card or computer index described above. On each card and in the computer, the grant book and page number are mentioned. The file (or shuck) numbers usually appear in the margins of pages in the grant book (beside each grant). Mrs. Margaret Hofmann is busy publishing the early state grants.