Land Grants Made Simple

Land in Virginia (pre-American Revolution) was granted by the crown. The majority of the land grants after 1624 have been preserved and are indexed and abstracted in the book, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants. To stimulate immigration to the new colony, any person who paid his own way to Virginia would be given 50 acres of land (the headright system) and if he paid for the transportation of another person or persons, he would receive an additional 50 acres per person. People brought family members, friends and servants. Not all persons imported were indentured. "Among the head rights are found persons of all social classes, nobility and gentry, yeomanry, indentured servants (some of good family and connection in England), and negroes." Land claims weren't always filed immediately after arrival. The claimant only had to present a receipt to prove that he had paid the passage. Not all persons were entering Virginia for the first time. "Sea captains were especially active in the acquisition of land through the transportation of settlers, and they not infrequently acted conjointly with London merchants."

The land was not granted fee simple, for the grantee to use as he pleased. The land was still owned by the crown and was leased to the grantee (the English system of land tenure). The leases typically ran for 21 years or 3 lives and at the end of the lease the land reverted to the crown. The "3 lives" also came from the manor system; the lease ran for the life of the person who lived the longest. The original lease will often mention the sons of the lessee. Annual rents were collected at Michaelmas--thus quit rent lists. Although the land was leased, the leases were sold and traded much like deeds, and transactions following the initial grant were recorded in Deed Books.

The Northern Neck grants were set up the same way, except the land was owned eventually by Lord Fairfax, not the crown, and rents were paid to him. The grants were not restricted to 50 acres but "the tenant took up as much land as he and the proprietor thought he could pay for... The lessee was required to build a house at least sixteen by twenty feet with brick or stone chimney; to plant one hundred fruit trees, which he was to keep under good fence and to replace when necessary;" (The Fairfax Proprietary by Josiah Look Dickinson). Beginning in 1690, these grants were recorded separately. They also survive and have been indexed and abstracted by Gertrude Gray in Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants. The counties of the Shenandoah Valley are included in the Northern Neck Grants.

NOTE: This is an oversimplification of the topic, for it's a complex subject, but perhaps it will clear up most of the questions you might have.

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Page created March 26 2001
Updated April 24, 2006
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