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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

In December 1848, Richard Baker of Caldwell County, North Carolina, and Josias Baker of Monroe County, Indiana, conveyed a “two-thirds moiety” in 200 acres on the Johns River in Caldwell County to Hugh Stewart, James H. Collet and Samuel Stewart.1

The language of the deed makes it pretty clear they didn’t own the land outright. So exactly what interest in the land did the brothers sell?

A “moiety” in law generally refers to a one-half interest in real estate.2 An entirety in real estate, by contrast, means the whole parcel.3 But the term “moiety” is broader than just a half-interest. The definition of “moiety” notes by way of example that joint tenants — two or more persons who own land by a joint title4 — are “said to hold by moieties.” Used this way, the term refers to any set of roughly equal parts.

So a “two-thirds moiety” would represent two of three equal shares. The deed, then, conveyed Richard’s one-third interest and Josias’ one-third interest. Turns out that their father, Henry Baker, had died in Burke County, North Carolina, in 1806,5 leaving a life estate to his wife Nancy. Nancy died many years later, in 1848,6 well after Caldwell County was created from parts of Burke.7

As genealogists, getting access to original records means we may come across other terms that mean roughly the same thing as moiety. In old records, a demidietas is a “half or moiety.”8 It’s sometimes spelled dimidietas.9 A half-endeal is a moiety.10

To own all rights to the entire 200 acres, the buyers would have had to separately acquire the remaining rights to the land from the owners of the third share — the children of a third brother, John, who had also inherited a one-third interest and who had also died in 1848.11

Or they could ask for partition… but that’s the language of the law for another day.


  1. Caldwell County, North Carolina, Deed Book 2: 147; microfilm C.017.40001; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 784, “moiety.” See also John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society ( : accessed 2 Jan 2012), “moiety.”
  3. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 423, “entirety.”
  4. Ibid., 651, “joint tenants.”
  5. Minute Book, Burke County, North Carolina, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, January 1804 – April 1807, Part II, p. 678; call no. C.R.014.301.4; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. See Minute Book, Caldwell Co., NC, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, March 1841-February 1852, Minutes of 27 July 1848.
  7. David Leroy Corbitt, The Formation of the North Carolina Counties 1663-1943 (Raleigh : Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1987), 51-52.
  8. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 351, “demidietas.”
  9. Ibid., 368, “dimidietas.”
  10. Ibid., 559, “half-endeal.”
  11. Caldwell Co., N.C., Original Wills, folder John Baker, 1848; call no. C.R.017.801.2; N.C. State Archives.
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