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North Carolina Land Records through 1783: Home

Information on the different types of land records in North Carolina through the Revolutionary War and some resources available in Genealogical Services of the Government and Heritage Library

Terminology Definition

Bounty land grants – these were land grants that were given as a result of military service.  In North Carolina, bounty land for service on the Continental Line of the Revolutionary War was located in Tennessee.  At the time, Tennessee was mostly unsettled by non-Native Americans

Chain – a measurement of length totaling 66 feet.  1 chain is the length of 100 links or 4 poles.

Courses and Distances – system North Carolina used that measured land based on compass directions (courses) and lengths of the line (distances)

Deed - written agreement between one party (Grantor - the seller) transferring real property (i.e., land) to another party (Grantee - the buyer) in exchange for a specified amount of money

Headright – also called landright, was a British system that was adopted by North Carolina during the colonial era that allowed a certain amount of land for each person that a person brought into the colony. of patent. A person was granted a headright for bringing in someone who was a slave, an indentured servant, or free and age and gender did not matter. The practice of granting headright was abolished in the 1740s due to abuse of the system and unfair practices

Land entries – the first step to acquire land from the state or colony; this was a petition for a specific tract of land by the prospective land owner that has been identified as vacant

Land grants – related to land patents (below), land grants were the transfer of public lands to private individuals by means of a land patents. the term "land grant" corresponds with the term "deed" (although not the same thing) as both are legal documents with the transfer of lands written down.

Land patents – land patents are the legal documents granting land to an individual from the state, the lords proprietors, or the Crown. Land patents correspond with the term "land sale" as it is the actual selling of the land in question.

Land warrants – an order to the surveyor to set apart land which was loosely described in the warrant.

Landright - Also called headright, was a British system that was adopted by North Carolina during the colonial era that allowed a certain amount of land for each person that a person brought into the colony. of patent. A person was granted a headright for bringing in someone who was a slave, an indentured servant, or free and age and gender did not matter. The practice of granting headright was abolished in 1712 due to abuse of the system and unfair practices

Links – a measurement of length equaling 7.92 inches

Metes and Bounds – boundary (bounds) lines of land with their specific points and angles (metes). Metes and bounds were used in North Carolina

Poles – also called a rod or perch, this is a unit of land measuring 5 and ½ yards and is ¼ of a chain

Quitrents – a tax on land owned by the British Crown, generally 3 shillings for every 100 acres.  Quitrents were abolished during the Revolutionary War.


Colonial Land Records (1600s-1763):

The earliest type of land records in North Carolina were left Headrights, a common land granting system used in all of the original 13 colonies.  In North Carolina, Headrights were granted until 1712 when the practice was abolished in this state. In summary, headrights gave each grantee a particular amount of land based on the number of people they brought into the colony. Those people could have been slaves, indentured servants, or free men, women, and children - note that rules varied from place to place in North Carolina and also varied by state.  Although land could be purchased outright during this time, obtaining land through headright was much more common. The practice of headrights was abolished in the 1740s. The best source for headrights in North Carolina is the book  North Carolina Headrights: a List of Names, 1663-1744, compiled by Carolina  B. Whitley and prepared by Susan M. Trible.  


As mentioned above, during the colonial period land grants could be purchased as well as using the headright system.  Land could be purchased directly from any of the 8 Lords Proprieter, who were assigned by King Charles II in the 1660s, and later by the British Crown.  These purchases were known as Land Patents, which continued through about 1775.  The land patents granted by the Lords Proprietors from 1663-1775 have been abstracted by Margaret M. Hofmann and published in the book Province of North Carolina, 1663-1729: Abstracts of Land Patents.  Land patents granted by the Lords Proprietors from 1735-1775 have be abstracted by the same author and published in the 2 volume series Colony of North Carolina...:Abstracts of Land PatentsThe first book, Province of North Carolina, includes all land patents granted by the governor and council under the authority of the Lords Proprieter. The list in this book is complete, but readers will note apparent gaps in dates of the grants. This is due to closure of the land office by order of the Lords Proprieter. The author states in the introduction that these records are "...absolutely essential to the study of genealogy and local history."  Colony of North Carolina includes all land patents granted by the governor and council under the authority of the British Crown. The dates of the patents in volume 1 of the series are 1735-1764.  The books have a gap between 1729 and 1735 due to the governor during that time (Gov. George Burrington, who was appointed by the Crown) did not open a land office. Therefore, there are no missing land patents between these 2 titles. It is important to note that land patents in Province of North Carolina through 1729 included all patents in the entire state, but patents in Colony of North Carolina include only the southern part of the state.

Margaret M. Hofmann authored a 5 volume series called Granville District of North Carolina, 1748-1763 : Abstracts of Land GrantsThe Granville District was a large tract of land created in 1744 and owned by John, Lord Carteret, who became the Earl of Granville. The Granville District ran along the border of Virginia in the North from the Atlantic Coast with a southern border going west at 35 degrees and 34 minutes latitude from the middle of present day Beaufort County through the middle of Swain County. In 1729, the Lords Propieters sold their land to the Crown, all except one, which became Granville District. A land office did not open however, until 1748 due to negotiations between the Crown and the Earl of Granville. This 5 volume series gives abstracts for land deeds dated between 1749-1763.  Another book by Margeret M. Hofmann continues the Granville District land patents with the book Abstracts of Granville Grantees, Halifax County, North Carolina Public Registry. This book covers Granville Grants from Halifax County during 1749-1763. With the completion of this book, Margeret M. Hofmann abstracted every land patent in colonial North Carolina.


Land could also be purchased from other land holders. Very few abstracts for land records during this period have been abstracted and published, but the original deeds during this time are located in the State Archives of North Carolina.  Before 1763, only 27 counties existed (compared with the 100 counties that exist today) and 4 of those counties were later abolished. Some of the abolished counties have land records that are filed with the country that was created when it became abolished. 


Revolutionary Period Land Records (1763-1783)

The practice of land patents during the colonial period continued through the Revolutionary Period.  In volume 2 of Colony of North Carolina...:Abstracts of Land Patents, land patents included are dated 1765-1775. The land office in the upper portion of the state closed in 1763 upon the death of Lord Granville, and in 1775, the Crown closed land offices in the lower portion of the state before royal authority collapsed. Until North Carolina was declared a sovereign state in 1776, the first session of the General Assembly was created in 1777 and one of their first duties pass an act in November 1777 that allowed men who took an oath of allegience to the state to purchase land based on 50 shillings an acres and dependent on those in the household.  A single man could purchase 640 acres while a married man could purchase 640 acres for himself and 100 acres each for his wife and each child. The process of receiving land patents during this time included making a claim on vacant land and if not contested within 3 months the claim would go to the county surveyor for permission to survey the land and thus create a warrant and plat for the land.  The surveyor sent the plat and warrant to the secretary of state who created the patent.  As you can see, there were several steps.  Also, at times the surveyor could not find suitable land for the acreage claimed so at time and entry for the claim and the warrant had different acreages.  Duing this time, there was more than just a land patent, but an entry for the claim, a plat map, a warrant, and finally a patent. 


The Wataugah Land Purchases 1775-1782

Before the Revolutionary War, land in what is known today as Tennessee was sold by the state of North Carolina. Author Troy R. Keesee wrote the book The Wataugah Land Purchases, which discusses these land grants.  This land in the book primarily deals with the locality that is now the northeast tip of the state of Tennessee in the following counties: Johnson, Sullivan, Carter, Washington, Union, and Greene. The land was originally settled by white squatters and the first settler is often credited as Capt. William Bean who settled on a tributary of the Watauga river in what is today known as Washington County, TN.   The land was purchased from the local Cherokee tribe and deeded to Charles Robertson who represented the Wataugah settlement. The cost of the purchase was £2000. Land from this purchase was sold to individuals who were among the first white settlers in what is now Tennessee.