The Resource Agency history of the Virginia Colonial Land Office

Agency history of the Virginia Colonial Land Office

Agency history of the Virginia Colonial Land Office
Agency history of the Virginia Colonial Land Office
The records of the Colonial Land Office are now part of the Virginia Land Office. Agency history record describes the history and functions of the Virginia Land Office (Search Virginia Land Office as author).
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Biographical or historical data
  • The charter issued by King James I in 1606 to Sir Thomas Smith and his associates, who were incorporated as the Virginia Company of London, provided for distribution of lands on a private basis, but until the resolutions known as the Great Charter of Privileges, enacted in November 1618, there were few grants recorded. This charter confirmed that while only the Quarter Court of the Company in London had the right to dispose of lands by issuing titles, the governor in the colony had the duty of allotting lands to individuals. After the London Courts abolished the charter of Virginia Company in 1624, and placed colony administration and land disposal directly under the crown, it again 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 which, 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, a patent was issued. Two copies of the patent were made: one was signed by the governor, sealed, and delivered to the patentee, and the other was retained by the Secretary. 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. A report on conditions of the office in 1697 noted many loose, torn pieces which were barely legible.
  • 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. These methods continued to use the office of the Secretary of the Colony 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. Following a recitation of the titles of the sovereign under whom it was issued, were the consideration on which it was issued, the name of the patentee, the size of the tract, the county in which the land was located, the description of the land, any reservations for the crown, and the date on which the document was signed.
  • 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 documents were recorded when issued. Annually, however, the papers on which the patent was issued were examined and destroyed.
Cataloging source
Agency history of the Virginia Colonial Land Office
  • This is not a record. This is background information for Virginia's state government records
  • Record Group 1
  • The Library of Virginia

Library Locations

    • Library of VirginiaBorrow it
      800 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA, 23219, US
      37.5415632 -77.4360805
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