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NC Land Records before 1800: 1663-1775

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

Introduction

In 1663, King Charles II ascended the throne with the help of eight friends. As a thank you for their assistance, Charles II named them Lords Proprietor of the Carolina Colony (including present-day South Carolina). These Lords proprietor were given authority to govern the Carolina colony and distribute land. The land was distributed in two ways: direct purchasing of land and through the headright system. The land grants through the Lords Proprietor continued 1663-1729. In 1729, the Lords Proprietor gave land back to the British Crown, with the exception of John, Earl Granville. From 1744-1764. Land not held by Earl Granville was granted by the British Crown from 1725-1775.

Headrights, 1663-1744

The earliest type of land records in North Carolina were headrights, also known as landrights, 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 enslaved, indentured servants, or free men, women, and children. Although land could be purchased outright, obtaining land through headright was much more common. It should be noted that headrights were granted, not purchased. It was given simply for bringing people into the colony. The Declaration of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina allowed the system in the Carolinas. Section 7 of the Declaration specifies how much will be given for each person brought in to settle the colony.

The earliest headright was dated September 25, 1663 and the practice continued until it was abolished in the 1744 due to abuse of the system. There were modifications made in 1712 as well. It was always assumed ones a person received a headright, they would remain in the state, but due to abuses of the system, a stipulation was added in 1712 requiring the person had to reside in the colony six (6) months before they could make a claim of headright.

Before 1734, headrights could be proved in several ways: before a magistrate, by oath in court, or by oath at the governor's council. In 1734, the Lords Proprietor headrights could only be claimed in the court where the person resided, to the governor's council, or to the General Court of the colony.

As stated above, headrights were given for enslaved people and servants brought into the state. For servants, they could receive a "freedom" headright at the conclusion of their term of indenture. Learn more about the headright system from NCpedia.

Land Grants from the Lords Proprietor, 1663-1729

There were eight (8) Lords Proprietor that governed different areas of the state through 1775. The eight men were Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon; George Monck, Duke of Albemarle; William, Lord Craven; John, Lord Berkeley; Anthony, Lord Ashley; Sir George Carteret; Sir William Berkeley (brother of John); and Sir John Colleton.

Proprietors had land offices set up in the state. If a person wanted a parcel of land, they filed an application, which is known as an entry. The next step of the process was an order from the land office to the surveyor, this is known as a warrant. The surveyor returned his findings with a plat that described the land. The final step was a land patent, often referred to as a grant, given to the person who made the application in exchange for a sum of money.

These records are on file with the Secretary of State's office and located in the State Archives of North Carolina. These record can be found in the Archives catalog of some records called MARS. With the information in the MARS record, you can request a copy of the original through the State Archives.

Charles II died in 1685. Forty-two years later, in 1727, George the II was crowned King of England. The Lords Proprietors, with the exception Earl Granville, returned their rights to the land given to them by Charles II, effectively ending the grants from the Lords Proprietors in 1729.

Granville District 1744-1775

George, Lord Carteret's heir, John, Lord Carteret, became a Lord Proprietor. In 1735 and Earl Granville. In 1729, soon after King George II was crowned, seven Lords all relinquished their land back to the British Crown. However, Earl Granville refused to relinquish his land and thus created the Granville District. The Granville District essentially encompassed the northern half of North Carolina. Land office for the Granville District was opened in 1744

Many issues arose in the 1750s. Records were poorly kept and agents overcharged for the land. John, Earl Granville died in 1763 and his son Robert, Lord Carteret, 3rd Earl Granville became the new proprietor of the Granville District. Problems continued and some settlers never received a title to their land. When Robert, Lord Carteret died in 1777, the state of North Carolina seized the remaining land.

Land Grants from the British Crown 1729-1775

After land rights were given back to King Charles II, the British Crown opened land offices in the southern region of the state (northern region land still under Lord Granville - See Granville District above). The region was divided into 3 districts: Northern, Southern, and Western.

  • Western district included the counties of Tryon, Mecklenburg and Martin Phifer was assigned entry take for the district. Tryon had a great many more entries than Mecklenburg and received a new Entry Taker to cover Tryon County  in 1773 named John Kirconnel.
  • Northern district was made up the counties of Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Dobbs, Hyde, and the southern part of Johnston County. The northern part of Johnston fell under the jurisdiction of Lord Granville. Onslow County was added to the northern district by 1773. Entry takers for the northern district were Christopher Neale in 1768 and Peter Johnson in 1773.
  • Southern district included Anson, Bladen, Brunswick, Cumberland, Duplin, and New Hanover. Onslow County was part of the southern district until about 1773. Anson County had its own entry taker, James Cotten until 1773, but land grants in the other southern district counties  fell under control of the provincial secretary.

Governor Martin, as directed by the King, ordered all land offices to close June 28, 1773. Entries and warrants that were dated before that date sitill went through, but any new entries or warrants were denied. The last grants under the British Crown completed in 1775.