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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

Colonial Land Records (1600s-1763):

The earliest type of land records in North Carolina were headrights, a common land grant system used in all of the original 13 colonies.  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.  Although land could be purchased outright, obtaining land through headright was much more common. The practice of headrights was abolished in the 1740s.

In addition to the headright system, land could be purchased directly from any of the eight Lords Proprietor, 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 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 from the middle of present day Beaufort County going east through the middle of Swain County. In 1729, the Lords Proprietors sold their land to the Crown, all except the Early of Granville. A land office did not open however, until 1748 due to negotiations between the Crown and the Earl of Granville.

Land could also be purchased from other land holders. These land transactions resulted in the creation of deeds and were recorded both in deed books and in the County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. The original deeds are located in the State Archives of North Carolina.  

​Revolutionary Period Land Records (1763-1783)

The practice of land patents during the colonial period continued through the Revolutionary Period of 1763-1783.  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 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 acreage.  The process could take many months, first, the buyer must file and entry for the land, which then led to the warrant for the land given to the surveyor. After the surveyor was finished, he would make a plat of the land and return back to the courts, who would then create a patent for the land.

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.