The Land Grant Process In North Carolina

 From the book "Colony of NORTH CAROLINA 1735 - 1764"

Abstracts of Land Patents Vols. I & II

 By Mrs. Margaret M. Hofmann


                       
 In colonial North Carolina it was possible to obtain a grant of vacant land for importing people into the colony (called the headright grant) or to purchase vacant land from the government (a purchase grant). There were four basic steps in obtaining the document conveying title to the vacant land (which is what the patent is). The first step was to notify the secretary of the colony that one wished to have a particular piece of vacant land; at a meeting of the governor and council held to consider land matters (called the Court of Claims) the secretary read out the names of all who had petitioned for an entry on the land. (Researchers need not look for these "petitions" to the secretary since they no longer exist.) If the Court of Claims agreed to the entry, the person could then petition through the same process for a warrant. This document authorized the Crown surveyor to survey the land. When he had done so, a little map of the survey, called the plat, was returned by the surveyor in two copies to the secretary who then informed the Court of Claims that the individual petitioned for a patent. If the court agreed, and if all fees had been paid, the patent was then issued out of the secretary' s office where it was recorded before the original patent was surrendered to the new landowner. The patent was also recorded in the office of the Crown auditor so that that officer would know who was to pay the annual tax on the land (called the quit rent). Even though the land itself was freely granted under the headright system, the paperwork was expensive. It is unlikely that the small farmer earned as much as 100 yearly in cash. The cost of the patent alone (not counting the other three steps) cost nearly 12 if the tract of land was one square mile (640 acres) or less. The governor received 10 shillings for signing the patent; the governor's secretary got 5 shillings for putting a wax seal to the document; the colonial secretary's underclerks got 1 shilling, fivepence for registering the patent; the clerk of the Court of Claims got a shilling for his trouble and another 7 shillings, sixpence for the petitioning process; the auditor was entitled 3 for entering the patent in his records; the attorney general received 2 for examining the patent to be certain that the wording was correct and that the title was clearly and accurately conveyed; and the colonial secretary charged 5 for having written out the original patent and 10 shillings for his trouble. The whole granting process probably cost the average small farmer several months earnings, but in North Carolina where it was not possible to obtain title to land simply by squatting on it. the fees had to be paid in order to obtain clear title to vacant land. And it was a clear title in fee simple, despite statements to the contrary by Secretary of State Saunders in his notes to the published Colonial Records of North Carolina and by historians who have been misled by him. The new owner could and did sell the land subsequently or devise the land to his heirs absolutely at his pleasure and without consultation with government officials.
                        It is not known to what extent the closing of the Crown's land office motivated North Carolinians to join in the rebellion that was the American Revolution, but it certainly must have been one of the moving forces. By order of the King in Council dated 7 April 1773, Governor Josiah Martin was ordered to close the land office. Accordingly, the land office closed in North Carolina on 28 June 1773, when the order was received and read to the council of state. Although the Court of Claims continued to sit, and although patents based on old entries, warrants, and surveys continued to ripen and were issued as late as 25 July 1774, applications for new entries and warrants were denied. Rumor spread through the province that it was the Crown's intention to secure an Act of Parliament that would vacate all American titles to land by annulling former patents, thereby causing all titles to land to revert to the Crown. Governor Martin issued a proclamation to suppress this rumor. He even went so far as to hold another Court of Claims in February 1775 in which 74 petitions for patents were accepted. It was too late. The Crown land office had closed forever. When the land office reopened in 1778, it opened as the State land office under authority of a sovereign people who had assumed title in themselves to all vacant lands within their charted boundaries.
                        The question occasionally arises as to whether or not North Carolina emulated South Carolina after the American Revolution by requiring citizens to present memorials setting forth their land titles. North Carolina did not do this. It accepted the fact that natural title to vacant land vested originally in the chartered proprietor or sovereign power, whether the Lords Proprietors of Carolina or the kings of Great Britain. It merely held that in 1775 title to all vacant lands within its boundaries had demised on the new state upon the cessation of the king's sovereignty within those boundaries. North Carolina allowed no question to shake earlier titles; she held her citizens secure in their lands.