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The availability of land attracted many immigrants to America and encouraged westward expansion. Land records are primarily used to learn where a person lived and when he or she lived there. They often reveal other family information as well, such as the name of a spouse, an heir, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn a person’s previous residences, his occupation, if he had served in the military, if he was a naturalized citizen, and other clues for further research.
Before 1663 a few settlers from Virginia had filtered down to the Albemarle Sound of present-day North Carolina. None of the Virginians held land by grant from an English authority, but some had made formal or informal agreements with the American Indians who already occupied the area..
Government Land Grants
The Land Grant Process. Various royal, colonial, state, and federal governments established the first claims to land in what is now North Carolina. These governments later gave or sold much of this land to individuals. The person who obtained title to the land from government agents received a land grant, also known as a land patent. Obtaining a grant of land from the government was the final step in a process that often resulted in the creation of several documents:
- Entries or applications
- Plats or surveys
- Grants or patents
Each of these documents may contain the names of family members, neighbors who were sometimes relatives, or clues about the owner's previous residence. They are described in greater detail below.
After being granted a patent, the new owner could sell or transfer his property to others. For information about records created during these subsequent land transactions, see "Subsequent Exchanges of Land" near the end of this section.
Entries or applications. After a person selected a piece of vacant land, he would enter a claim or apply for it by describing its features to a government official or entry-taker. The entry-taker would record the description on loose sheets or into bound volumes, depending on the time period. These descriptions show the name of the person seeking the land, a description of the land, the number of acres, the name of adjacent land owners, and the date the entry was made.
Warrants. If, after three months, the person seeking the land received no opposition to his entry by way of legal caveat, the entry taker would convey a warrant to the assigned surveyor. This warrant was the authorization for the surveyor to complete a plat. Sometimes as many as 10 years could pass between entry and warrant.
Plats or surveys. After receiving the warrant, the surveyor would survey the land and draw a plat map. This map may vary from the land description given in the entry or warrant. The surveyor sent copies of the plat to the land office.
Grants or patents. After officials received the necessary papers and fees, the new land owner was given the grant document that was his patent to the land.
Land Grant History in North Carolina
Provincial or Proprietary Era (1663–1729). In 1663 King Charles II of England granted land in the Carolinas to eight men who had helped him regain the throne. These men were called the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, and they had the right to grant land to others. The boundaries of their grant extended from the present-day North Carolina-Virginia border on the north to a line drawn across present-day Florida on the south. During the time when they controlled the land, North Carolina was a proprietary colony.
Colonial, British Crown, or Royal Era (1729–1775). By 1729 seven of the eight proprietors sold their shares to King George II for political and economic reasons, making North Carolina a royal colony. Most of the land belonging to the Crown was located in the southern half of the state.
One proprietor refused to sell, and his domain was later known as the Granville District after one of his heirs. It covered roughly the northern half of the state. From 1748 to 1763, agents of Lord Granville made grants to vacant lands and collected rents. When the second Earl of Granville died in 1763, the Granville District office was closed.
In 1737, before the boundaries of the Granville District were established, Henry McCulloh received a royal patent for 1.2 million acres in western North Carolina. Five of his 12 tracts were within the Granville District in Orange and Rowan counties. Lands granted by McCulloh and by the Granville office were technically deeds and not grants.
Revolutionary War and State Era (1777–1959). In November 1777, while the Revolutionary War was in progress, the new General Assembly of North Carolina created a land office in every county, with each county having its own appointed entry-taker and surveyor. The entry-taker was authorized to issue a warrant for vacant lands that once belonged to either the British Crown or the Granville District.
Beginning in 1777 limitations were imposed on the size of the grants. In addition, the state required the person receiving the grant to have it recorded, usually within 12 months, at the Register of Deeds office in the county where the land lay. Because many patent owners did not live on their new land or in close proximity to it, there was time allowed by the secretary of state for the patentee to have his land recorded in the county where he was presently living. Failure to have the patent recorded could void the grant.
Many North Carolina land documents for the years 1663–1959 still survive and are kept at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. Many have been microfilmed or published in abstract form.
Land Grant Indexes
Two alphabetical name indexes of those who received a land grant either in North Carolina or for land that later became a part of Tennessee are:
MARS (Manuscript and Archives Reference System) Computer Index. This index is only available at the North Carolina State Archives. It indexes the land grants, all warrants that have been microfilmed in the North Carolina State Archives, and lists all names that appear on the military bounty warrants in the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office.
Card Index. This index, also referred to as the Land Grant Index, is the predecessor to the newer MARS index. This index is located at the North Carolina State Archives, and a microfilm copy of part of the index is available at the Family History Library.
North Carolina. Secretary of State. Land Grant Office. Land Records, 1600s thru 1957, Land Grant Index. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina State Archives, 1980–. (On 519 FHL films beginning with 1942606.) The warrants and plats are in the process of being microfilmed and are available for Anson through Montgomery counties. The index is in six alphabetical parts:
Grants covering 1693–1959. This is the largest and principal index and has the cards arranged first alphabetically by surname and then each surname is broken down by the county where the land was originally located. (FHL films 1942606–643.)
Grants in extinct counties. Bath, Bute, Dobbs, Glasgow, and Tryon counties are included. (FHL film 1942644.)
Granville District grants. (FHL film 1942645.) The index is at the beginning of the film.
Lords Proprietors grants prior to 1729. This portion covers grants mainly within the old Albemarle County area. (FHL film 1942645.) The index follows the Granville District grants index.
Lords Proprietors grants for which no county is given. Most of these grants were probably in the old Albemarle County area. (FHL film 1942645.) This is the last index on the film.
Tennessee grants. This indexes land grants given in the Western Country of North Carolina (now Tennessee). This index also includes grants based on military bounty warrants that have the words Military Warrant stamped at the bottom. (FHL films 1942646–648.)
Land Grant Records from the Provincial or Proprietary Era (1663–1729)
Prior to 1728 the border between Virginia and North Carolina was not defined, so many early North Carolina grants were found in Virginia. For example, one of the eight Carolina proprietors, Sir William Berkeley, lived in the American colonies and served as the governor of Virginia. In 1663 he started granting patents for land that was located in the Carolinas. Abstracts of 29 of his patents can be found in volume 1 of:
Nugent, Nell Marion. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants. 5vols. Richmond, Virginia.: Dietz Print.: Virginia State Library: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1934, 1963, 1977–1979, 1994, 1998. (FHL book 975.5 R2n; film 1320779 item 5.) See the index in volume 1. Volume 1 includes records for 1623–1666. No entries, warrants, or plats have been found for the years 1663–1668.
Most of the Lords Proprietors began granting land in the Carolinas in 1669, but unfortunately all of the entries, warrants, plats, and patents for 1669 through 1678 are lost. For the time period of 1679 through 1729 the entry records are also lost, but a transcription of some of the surviving warrants and surveys can be found in:
Haun, Weynette Parks. Old Albemarle County, North Carolina, Book of Land Warrants and Surveys, 1681–1706. 1st ed. Durham, North Carolina: W.P. Haun, 1984. (FHL book 975.61 R2h.)
Many of the original warrants and surveys have been microfilmed in the Land Records, 1600s thru 1957, Land Grant Index listed above. The original land patent books or copies of these books covering 1679–1729, have survived and are located at the North Carolina State Archives. Microfilms of these patent books are not available at the Family History Library. These patent books contain approximately 3,400 patents and are abstracted in:
Hofmann, Margaret M. Province of North Carolina, 1663–1729, Abstracts of Land Patents. Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina: M.M. Hofmann, 1983. (FHL book 975.6 R2hp.)
Headright Patents. During the Proprietary Era and ending in 1754, emigrants to North Carolina could obtain entitlement to land patents, usually 50 acres for each family member, friend, or stranger for whom they paid passage. The same rules also applied to those who brought settlers into North Carolina from other American colonies. These requirements changed over time.
The number of acres was determined by the number of people or "heads" brought into the colony. Lands obtained in this fashion are often described as headrights, and no fees were paid by those entitled to these patents. Many people sold their entitlement to a buyer known as an assignee.
The names of many settlers who received a headright entitlement, or sometimes called Rights, plus the names of many of those whose passage or way was paid into North Carolina, can be found in Weynette Parks Haun’s Old Albemarle County, cited above.
Purchase Patents. Beginning in the 1720s, settlers who moved into the Carolinas could also obtain a patent by paying the necessary paperwork fees associated with the steps of entry, warrant, and plat. After 1754 and into the statehood time period, this method was the only way to obtain vacant lands in North Carolina.
Land Grant Records from the Colonial, British Crown, or Royal Era (1729–1775)
Crown Grants. Numerous Crown land entries, warrants, and some surveys for this southern area, covering 1735–1774, have been abstracted and can be found in the following three sources:
Murphy, William L. Dobbs County, North Carolina Entries and Warrants, 1741–1757. Raleigh, North Carolina: W. L. Murphy, 1987. (FHL book 975.6 R2m; fiche 6100009.) These land entries were originally made in Craven and Johnston counties, which later became part of Dobbs County. Dobbs County was formed in 1759 and abolished in 1791. This area now includes Greene, Wayne, Lenoir, and Jones counties.
Philbeck, Miles S. Bladen Precinct/County, North Carolina Surviving Land Warrants and Surveys, 1735–1749, and Surviving Land Entries 1743–1761. N.p.: M. S. Philbeck, 1985. (FHL book 975.632 R28p.) Old Bladen County was formed in 1734 and was the parent county of Anson, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Robeson, and part of Orange counties. For additional abstracts of warrants and surveys by Mr. Philbeck, see the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog under his name.
Pruitt, Albert Bruce. Colonial Land Entries in North Carolina. 4 vols. Whitakers, North Carolina: A. B. Pruitt, 1995. (FHL book 975.6 R2paL.) These volumes cover 1735–1775 and include all those counties not abstracted by Mr. Murphy and Mr. Philbeck.
No land entry records are known to exist for North Carolina during the years 1729–1734.
The original Crown warrants and surviving plats are located at the North Carolina State Archives and have been microfilmed in:
- North Carolina. Secretary of State. Land Grant Office. Land Records, 1600s thru 1957, Land Grant Index cited earlier.
- The Secretary of State’s office kept lists of the warrants they issued. For the lists from 1769 to 1771, see:
- List of Warrants for Various Counties of North Carolina, 1769–1771. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1941. (FHL film 018065.)
The original Crown patent books are located at the North Carolina State Archives and are not on microfilm at the Family History Library. Abstracts of these patents for the time period of 1735–1775, are found in:
Hofmann, Margaret M. Colony of North Carolina, Abstracts of Land Patents. 2vols. Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina: M.M. Hofmann, 1982–84. (FHL book 975.6 R2hm.) Volume 1 is for 1735–1754, and volume 2 1765–1775. Each volume is indexed.
Quit Rent records for 1729–1732, are found in volume 22, pages 240–258 of William L. Saunders’ Colonial Records of North Carolina cited fully the "Public Records" section of this outline.
The Crown ordered its land offices in North Carolina closed in 1774.
Granville District Grants. In 1729 Baron John Carteret, heir of one of the eight original Lords Proprietors, did not sell to the Crown his right to lands in the Carolinas. By 1744 his one-eighth portion of the Carolinas had been surveyed and separated from the Crown lands. His land took in the northern half of present North Carolina, approximately 60 miles wide, and included what later became Rowan county. This area also contained the majority of the population at that time.
His agents began granting land in 1748, and his heirs continued the practice until the death of the second Earl of Granville in 1763. At that time the Granville Office was closed. No further grants were issued in the counties that made up the Granville District until the state of North Carolina obtained these lands in 1777. Abstracts of the entries, warrants, plats, and the approximately 4,000 Granville grants can be found in:
Hofmann, Margaret M. The Granville District of North Carolina, 1748–1763: Abstracts of Land Grants. 5vols. Weldon, North Carolina: Roanoke News, 1986–1995. (FHL book 975.6 R28h.)
The original entries, warrants, plats, and grants are located at the North Carolina State Archives and have been microfilmed. These microfilms are not available at the Family History Library. The Granville land office did not use the headright system but sold the land directly to the grantee. The land office also used the term grant instead of patent in describing the official record.
Henry McCulloh Patents. Henry McCulloh started selling his land in the late 1740s, with the majority of sales covering the 1760–1763 time period. Many individuals who obtained McCulloh patents had problems later establishing their right to the land.
For the names of the approximately 450 people who obtained a McCulloh patent in the Granville District counties such as Orange, Rowan, and Guilford, plus maps showing the location of the 12 patents or tracts, see:
Early Settlers in the North Carolina Piedmont 1749–1763. North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 4, no. 2 (May 1978): 74–86. (FHL book 975.6 B2s.)
Pruitt, Albert Bruce. Abstracts of Henry E. McCulloh’s Survey Book and Petition to the Crown and Warrants (Money) Issued in 1787 by Gov. Richard Caswell. Rocky Mount, North Carolina: A.B. Pruitt, 1992. (FHL book 975.6 R2pr.)
Resurveyed Lands. Certain Crown patents and a few patents that were given during the Proprietary Era were resurveyed. The names of the persons requesting the resurveys as well as all other names involved in the resurvey petitions can be found in:
Pruitt, Albert Bruce. Colonial Petitions for Land Resurveys, Some Land Warrants 1753–1774, Caveats of Land Warrants 1767–1773 in North Carolina. Whitakers, North Carolina: A.B. Pruitt, 1993. (FHL book 975.6 R2pc.)
South Carolina Patents. Starting as early as 1735, many North Carolina patents were issued by the Crown for land that was later discovered to be part of South Carolina. These patents were assumed to be part of the North Carolina counties of Anson, Mecklenburg, Bladen, and Old Tryon (abolished 1779). The border between the two states was officially drawn in 1772. After the border survey, the lands formerly granted by North Carolina were registered in the South Carolina Land Memorials and are often called North Patents. South Carolina issued new grants for some of these lands. Many early residents of what later became South Carolina are listed in:
Holcomb, Brent H. Deed Abstracts of Tryon, Lincoln and Rutherford Counties, North Carolina, 1769–1786: Tryon County Wills and Estates. Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1977. (FHL book 975.6 R2ho.) This source examines early deed records of the area that later became part of South Carolina. These records generally show the name of the person who received the patent and the date. Several maps that show the area that was once known as Tryon county are also found in this source.
Holcomb, Brent H. North Carolina Land Grants in South Carolina. Clinton, South Carolina: Holcomb, 1975–. (FHL book 975 R28n.) This source abstracts approximately 680 patents, covering 1749–1773. There is also a list of 169 land owners who petitioned the king in an effort to keep their North Carolina patents after the North and South Carolina border were established.
For more information on South Carolina lands granted by North Carolina, see the South Carolina Research Outline (30972). Also search in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Locality Search under:
SOUTH CAROLINA- LAND AND PROPERTY
Land Grant Records from the Revolutionary War and State Era (1777–1959)
After all the vacant land had been granted by the state of North Carolina, the county officials sent their entry records to the state land office. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most of the early original entry records as well as many published and indexed abstracts. These can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Locality Search for the desired county under the subject "Land and Property."
Many of the original warrants and plats have also been microfilmed and can be found in Land Records, 1600s thru 1957, Land Grant Index cited above.
The original grant records for the Revolutionary War and statehood time period for the area that is now North Carolina are only available at the North Carolina State Archives.
Many land disputes involving residents of the western counties of North Carolina were taken before a regional superior court. Transcripts of many loose court papers relating to these disputes can be found in volume 2 of:
Haun, Weynette Parks. Morgan District North Carolina, Superior Court of Law & Equity. 4 vols. Durham, North Carolina: Weynette Parks Haun, 1987–1995. (FHL book 975.6 P29h.) Volume 2 has land records for 1773–1807. This district was created in 1782 and included Lincoln, Burke, and Wilkes counties and all counties west of these three. In 1784 this district only covered the western counties of what is now the state of North Carolina. This book contains a detailed name index.
Suspended Grants. Many North Carolina land owners and potential land owners wrote to the governor of North Carolina asking him to not sign certain land grants until true ownership could be determined by a trial. The trials were to be held in the county where the land was located. Details from approximately 1,600 of these disputes showing the names of those involved and covering the years 1776–1836 can be found in:
Pruitt, Albert Bruce. Petitions for Land Grant Suspensions in North Carolina, 1776–1836. 2 vols. Whitakers, North Carolina: A.B. Pruitt, 1993. (FHL book 975.6 R29p.)
Loyalist Land Losses. Many residents of North Carolina remained loyal to the British Crown during the Revolutionary War. Because of this, their lands were taken from them and sold. Descriptions of many of these lands giving the name of the Loyalist and the name(s) of the new owner can be found in:
Pruitt, Albert Bruce. Abstracts of Sales of Confiscated Loyalists Land and Property in North Carolina. Rocky Mount, North Carolina: A. B. Pruitt, 1989. (FHL book 975.6 R2pa.)
Many names of these Loyalists from 1776 onwards can also be found beginning in volume 10 of the Colonial Records of North Carolina described in the "Public Records" section of this outline.
Grants for Land That Later Became Tennessee. The area that is now Tennessee was originally attached to North Carolina. The people of the region wanted to enter the Union as the state of Franklin, but their request was rejected. In 1790 the federal government annexed that area of North Carolina and renamed it the Territory South of the Ohio River. This area was first the Washington District of North Carolina, then became Washington County, Tennessee. This same area was first under the control of Virginia, then North Carolina, and finally Tennessee. Records of these three states may have to be searched to find the land records of an ancestor who lived in that area. The earliest records are in Bristol or Washington County, Virginia, and in Washington County, North Carolina.
North Carolina received permission from the federal government to continue to finalize the military warrants located on these lands, as well as finalizing all other types of entries it had initiated prior to 1790. No land within the present boundaries of North Carolina was ever offered as military bounty land.
In 1791 the United States Congress requested the state of North Carolina to provide a list of all grants (military included) that they had issued for land in what later became the state of Tennessee. This list totaled 5,486 grants and included the counties of Davidson, Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Summer, Tennessee, and Washington and the Eastern, Middle, and Western districts. The list can be found on the following film:
North Carolina. Secretary of State. List of North Carolina Land Grants in Tennessee, 1778–1791. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0068. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1944. (FHL film 025451.)
For additional records of lands within the boundaries of present-day Tennessee that were granted by the state of North Carolina, see the "Land and Property" section of the Tennessee Research Outline and the Family History Library Catalog, using a Place Search under:
TENNESSEE- LAND AND PROPERTY
Subsequent Exchanges of Land
County Records. After land was transferred to individual ownership, later transactions, including deeds and mortgages, were recorded by the county registers of deeds, clerks of the superior courts, and sheriffs. Recording for most counties was incomplete in the early years. Probate records and wills were also used to transfer property. They were usually recorded by other county officials.
The Family History Library has extensive collections of county land records dating from the earliest settlement to the twentieth century. From the Register of Deeds in Mecklenburg County, for example, the library has 1,059 microfilms of deeds and indexes for 1755 to 1959.
Land records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search under:
NORTH CAROLINA, [COUNTY]- LAND AND PROPERTY