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About the Virginia Land Office Patents and Grants/Northern Neck Grant and Surveys

This database consists of entries that index two major collections of land records housed in the Library of Virginia plus a small collection of field notes and plats of tracts surveyed by Guy Broadwater.

[Colonial Land Office Patents, 1623–1774]  [Land Office Grants, 1779–1993]
[Northern Neck Land Office] [Northern Neck Grants]
[Northern Neck Surveys]  [Guy Broadwater Field Notes]
[Format of Collection]  [Related Resources]

Colonial Land Office Patents, 1623–1774

With the abolition of the charter of the Virginia Company of London in 1624, the administration of the colony was placed directly under the crown. As this included the disposal of land, it fell to the governor to use his broad powers to issue land patents. In 1634 the Privy Council authorized the patenting of lands under the principle of granting patents to any person who qualified as a planter. In practice, the acreage was awarded to the person who paid the transportation cost of the emigrant and not to the settler himself. This method, called the headright system, was employed as the major means of distributing virgin lands in the 17th century.

The office of the Secretary of the Colony was key to the process, and it remained in place until the Revolution. This office issued patents after all the steps were approved. First, the patentee was required to appear before a county court and present proof that a stated number of persons had been imported to the colony at his expense. The certificate of importation rights issued by the courts was taken to the Secretary of the Colony in the capital, where a "right" was issued that, when presented to a county surveyor, authorized him to survey the tract located by the patentee. Once the survey was completed, it and all supporting papers were returned to the office of the Secretary, and, if no discrepancies existed, two copies of the patent were made. One copy was signed by the governor, sealed, and delivered to the patentee, and the other was retained by the Secretary. No Land Office surveys are extant prior to 1779 although some county court records include survey books. Also, none of the supporting papers mentioned above are extant prior to 1779.

Another method of land distribution authorized during the 17th century was the military right granted to persons who would settle in hostile territory, but this was seldom used. In the 18th century the treasury right was established whereby land could be purchased. The office of the Secretary of the Colony continued to act as the official channel for the legal distribution of land until the establishment of the Virginia Land Office on June 22, 1779.

Colonial Land Office patents, whether issued on importation, treasury, or military rights, or as part of an order of Council, were consistent in format. The patent always recited the titles of the sovereign or protector under whom it was issued, the consideration for which it was issued, the name of the patentee, the size of the tract, the county of location, a description of the land, any reservations for the crown, and the date the patent was signed.

This collection consists of the patents as recorded by the office of the Secretary of the Colony. These copies were hung on strings in the office and, as time was available, they were recorded in bound volumes. A random method of selection of documents to be entered accounts for the haphazard dating in the early volumes, and the method of hanging the patent on string accounts for loss of documents. The system of recording was improved in the 18th century. Rather than having duplicate copies made and entered in a bound volume at intervals, the patents were recorded when issued. All other accompanying documents including surveys were annually destroyed.

Land Office Grants, 1779–1993

The Virginia Land Office was established in 1779 by the General Assembly and was headed by a Register "appointed from time to time, by joint ballot of both houses of assembly. . . . " It was the responsibility of the Register to carry out the very carefully structured legislation that provided the procedure for obtaining waste and unapproriated lands.

Under the act, any person could purchase as much land as desired upon payment to the Treasurer of a fee of forty pounds for one hundred acres. In return the purchaser was given a receipt, that was then given to the Auditor of Public Accounts, who issued a certificate noting the amount of land to which the person was entitled. The certificate was taken to the Land Office where the Register entered a warrant authorizing a surveyor to lay off the land. The warantee entered a claim to the land by depositing the warrant with the surveyor of the county in which the land was located.

Once the survey had been completed, it and the warrant on which it was based were returned to the warrantee whose responsibility it was to deliver the papers to the Land Office. The documents were examined by the Register, and, if correctly executed, were filed for a period of not less than six months. If, within that time, no caveat was entered on the survey, the plat and certificate of survey were recorded and the grant was issued by the Register. Once written, the grant was signed by the governor, sealed, recorded, and delivered to the grantee.

In 1948 the records of the Land Office, which were then in the custody of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, were transferred to the State Library and, by Act of Assembly, March 5, 1952, the duties of the Register of the Land Office were transferred from the Secretary of the Commonwealth to the State Librarian. Following the reorganization of the Land Office, the localities were charged with the issuing of titles to vacant lands, while the state only issued grants for escheated lands, primarily for non-payment of taxes.

This collection consists of recorded copies of grants issued for land from the establishment of the Land Office in 1779 through the present. (Grants issued after 1993 are not at present part of the online collection but are on microfilm.) Following a statement regarding the basis on which the grant was made is the name of the grantee, a description of the land granted, and the date on which the grant was signed. After 1779 the surveys were also recorded in the Land Office. These documents have been microfilmed but are not part of this online collection. 

Northern Neck Land Office

The Northern Neck, or "Fairfax Proprietary," consisted of 5,282,000 acres located between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. In 1649, King Charles II, then in exile, gave this unsettled region to seven loyal supporters, including Lord Fairfax. By 1688 most of the region was owned by Thomas, Lord Culpeper. Lord Culpeper's daughter married Thomas, Lord Fairfax, in 1690, and the region became synonymous with the Fairfax name.

Agents of the Northern Neck proprietors issued the first land grant in 1690. Individuals purchased warrants for a specified amount of land in a particular location. The warrants were taken to a surveyer and the land surveyed. The plat and any accompanying papers were returned to the proprietor's office, and a grant was issued. In an effort to halt land speculation, an order was issued by the proprietor's office on March 26, 1765, forbidding the assignment of warrants or surveys. The Northern Neck Land Office continued to operate during the Revolution until Lord Fairfax's death in 1782. Fairfax family interest was terminated in 1808 when the last surviving heir sold his title to a syndicate. Until 1862 land grants in the Northern Neck issued by the commonwealth of Virginia were recorded in volumes maintained separately from the regular Land Office grants.

Northern Neck Grants

This collection consists of recorded copies of grants issued for land in the Northern Neck from 1692 to 1862 when the territory encompassing the present state of West Virginia withdrew from the Commonwealth to enter the Union. The formation of West Virginia eliminated the major source of available land in Virginia. Eighteen additional instruments dated as late as 1874 were entered in the final volume before these books were closed. Gaps in the records exist for the period 1719–1722 and 1732–1736. Following the recitation of the ownership of the Northern Neck are the name of the grantee, the description of the land, any reservations for the proprietor, and the date on which the grant was signed.

Northern Neck Surveys

Three collections of records comprise the surveys related to land grants in the Northern Neck. The Northern Neck Surveys, 1697, 1722–1781, and the Northern Neck Plats and Certificates, 1786–1874, are unrecorded documents arranged in folders. While they are indexed online, the documents themselves are not available as part of the online collection. The Northern Neck Survey, 1786–1874, consists of recorded documents that are indexed and available online.

Northern Neck Surveys, 1697, 1722–1781

This collection of records consists of original plats and accompanying papers pertaining to land grants. Included among the supplemental papers, in addition to warrants and assignments, are transcripts of official records from England and several of the colonies, a small number of Bible leaves, affidavits, and letters. The major subjects of these documents are family relationships, social and economic situations in the area, and interpretations of verbal contracts. These documents are available on microfilm.

Northern Neck Plats and Certificates, 1786–1874

This collection of records comprise original plats and accompanying papers relative to land grants made by the commonwealth after 1786 for land in the Northern Neck. Since there was a delay between the issuance of the first document, the warrant, and the final one, the grant, some of the documents predate 1786. The materials are arranged in folders labeled with the name of the grantee, the names of all persons who owned the warrant or survey, the county in which the land was situated when the grant was issued, the date of the survey and warrant, the number of acres in the grant, and the number of items in the folder. These documents have not been microfilmed.

Northern Neck Surveys, 1786–1874

This group of documents consists of recorded plats and descriptions of land in the Northern Neck for which grants were issued by the commonwealth's Land Office after 1786. Marginal notes indicate the date the survey was received into the office as well as the date the grant was issued. A few surveys for grants issued as late as 1874 are entered. These documents are available online and on microfilm.

Guy Broadwater Field Notes

These items consist of the field notes and plats of tracts in the New Creek, Warm Springs, and Sleepy Creek areas of Frederick, now Hampshire, County surveyed by Guy Broadwater in 1749. Descriptions of the quality of the land are frequently given, together with information about the persons for whom the land was surveyed. Grants for most of these tracts have been located in the Northern Neck Land Office records, and this information has been included. 

Format of Collection

The online collection consists of digitized images of recorded Land Office patents and grants, recorded Northern Neck grants, and recorded Northern Neck surveys (1786–1874).

These documents are also available on microfilm. Additionally, the Land Office surveys after 1779 are available on microfilm as are the original, unrecorded Northern Neck surveys prior to 1782.

It is important to note that there are no pre-1779 Land Office surveys. Only original documents exist for the Northern Neck plats and certificates.

Related Resources

Land Office

Gentry, Daphne S., comp. Virginia Land Office Inventory. 3rd ed., revised and enlarged by John S. Salmon. Richmond, Va.: Archives and Records Division, Virginia State Library, 1981.

Land Office Surveys, 1779–present (Entry 41–42 in Virginia Land Office Inventory).

Nugent, Nell Marion. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants. Vol. 1- , Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library and Archives, 1992- . Vol. 4-7, edited by Dennis Ray Hudgins. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1994-1999.

Northern Neck

Additional materials related to the Northern Neck Proprietary are described in Entries 104 and 111–119 in Virginia Land Office Inventory.

"Abstracts of Grants from 1690–1692 (Grant Book 1)" in Cavaliers and Pioneers, Supplement, Northern Neck Grants, No. 1, 1690–1692, abstracted by Nell Marion Nugent; indexed by Susan Bracey Sheppard. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1980.

The rest of the grant books are abstracted in Gray, Gertrude E., comp. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants. 4 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., Inc., 1987–1993.

Northern Neck surveys, 1722–1781 are abstracted in Joyner, Peggy S., comp. Abstracts of Virginia's Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys. 5 vols. Portsmouth, Va.: P. Joyner, 1985–1987. Vol. 4 contains abstracts of the Guy Broadwater surveys.