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Claimed versus owned

My cousin Jim Poole is trying to nail down the land of one of our Pettypool forebears and ran into a problem of terminology.

“I’m poring over a number of 18th century land memorials in South Carolina,” he writes, “and I wonder if there is any legal significance to the terminology used in the adjacency descriptions.

Generally, phrases like ‘land held by…,’ ‘land laid out to…,’ ‘land laid out by…’ or ‘…(name)’s land’ are used. But on a few, the phrase ‘land claimed by …’ appears. Is that last phrase significant legally, or just creative writing?”

Since one particular May 1773 land survey mentions “land Claimed by Seth Petty poole” as being on the north side of the surveyed land,1 this is a matter of more than just passing interest to our family. It’s likely going to make a big difference if Seth owned specific land, or merely claimed it.

And it turns out that, yes, the phrase as used by the surveyors has legal significance.

Here’s what was going on:

South Carolina is what’s called a state-land state, meaning that it had its own system of surveying and granting land.

In most state-lands states, the process of transferring land from the government (often, in early days, the royal governor) to an individual began with a petition — a formal request for land; followed by a warrant, which certified the petitioner’s right to land and authorized a survey; followed by a survey, or plat, of the specific land the petitioner wanted, to document the land and ensure that it was free and clear of any claims by others; and then finally the grant or patent which transferred ownership or title to the individual.2

In South Carolina, the amount of land a settler could get depended on his or her entitlement to headrights — legal grants of land to settlers who would settle on and cultivate the land.3

The very first colonists landing in the colony of South Carolina could receive 150 acres for every male aged 16 and over and 100 acres for every younger male and every female. After that first landing and before 1756, colonists could receive 50 acres for every member of the household, and after 1756 and until the Revolution, every head of household could receive 100 acres plus 50 acres for every other member of the household.4

And the headright system in South Carolina followed the general four-step pattern:

     • “The head of household appeared in person before the Grand Council to request a warrant. The verbal petition included his name and the number and location of the acres requested. …”
     • “A warrant was issued, ordering a survey and plat.”
     • “The petitioner took the warrant to a surveyor who surveyed the desired land and drew a plat using the metes-and-bounds method of surveying … using landmarks, neighbors, and waterhouses.”
     • “The plat/survey was recorded in Charleston.”5

Most importantly for this question, land was only claimed, and not owned, until that last step was achieved. Even after the survey was prepared, it had to be checked against every other already-recorded plat to be sure that the same bit of land wasn’t being claimed by more than one person. Only after it was carefully checked would the grant papers issue to confirm ownership in the person who’d claimed the land.6

Clearly, in the early years of South Carolina’s history, surveyors often found themselves surveying lands where some of the adjoining tracts may have already been claimed and patented and thus owned (“lands of”), but many others were vacant, or claimed but not yet surveyed (“claimed by”), or surveyed but not yet patented (“laid out to”).

And, just as clearly, an examination of the surveys — the colonial plats — at the time and place of the Pettypool settlement in South Carolina shows that the surveyors were very careful to distinguish among those lands and the way they were, or were not, owned.

For example:

     • The May 1773 survey referencing the “Petty poole” claim distinguished between land owned by Hillery Guy, James Mitchell and John Lyles, land claimed by Seth “Petty poole” and by Thomas Sumerall, and vacant land.7

     • The same surveyor surveyed another tract the same day and identified the adjacent lands as “a former tract of Land of the said Jonathan Parkers,” “Archibald Gillilands Land,” “John Lyles’ Hillery Guys and Hugee’s Lands,” “Land Called Hugees Land,” “vacant Land,” and “Lands Claimed by Henry Baker.”8

     • And a survey a day earlier in the same area by a different surveyor identified one adjacent tract as “Land of Solomon Niblets,” another tract as “Land the owners name unknown” and a third as “Land Claimed by one Crumby,” with vacant land on another side.9

So yes, the terms were significant and have specific meaning.

Great question, Jim! Good hunting in those early records!


SOURCES

  1. Joel Farmer, plat for 200 acres, Ninety-Six District, 5 May 1773, Colonial Plat Books (copy series), vol. 15, p. 83, S213184, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (http://scdah.sc.gov/ : accessed 25 Nov 2012).
  2. Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, “Land Records,” in Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds., The Source : A Guidebook to American Genealogy, 3d ed. (Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006), 435.
  3. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Headright,” rev. 15 Nov 2012.
  4. Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark, “South Carolina Land Records,” in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources 3d ed., html version, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Nov 2012).
  5. Janis Walker Gilmore, NGS Research in the States Series: South Carolina, PDF (Arlington, Va. : National Genealogical Society, 2011), 26.
  6. Cerny and Mark, “South Carolina Land Records,” in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources 3d ed.
  7. Joel Farmer, plat for 200 acres, Ninety-Six District, 5 May 1773.
  8. Jonathan Parker, plat for 500 acres, Ninety-Six District, 5 May 1773, Colonial Plat Books (copy series), vol. 19, p. 45, S213184, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (http://scdah.sc.gov/ : accessed 25 Nov 2012).
  9. John Freer, plat for 750 acres, Ninety-Six District, 4 May 1773, Colonial Plat Books (copy series), vol. 15, p. 217, S213184, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (http://scdah.sc.gov/ : accessed 25 Nov 2012).
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