Documenting the World of Outlander #1: Land Grants

[This post was written by Alison Thurman and Josh Hager, Reference Archivists]

This blog is intended as a “bonus feature” for fans of Outlander who want to explore the world of Jamie and Claire through original documents housed at the State Archives of North Carolina. SPOILERS for the first episode of Season 4!

Outlander, the hit series from Starz, has officially arrived in colonial North Carolina. This season, Jamie and Claire will traverse the state from Wilmington to the mountains. The State Archives of North Carolina will join them on this journey as we showcase documents that provide a window into their world. Welcome to our biweekly series, Documenting the World of Outlander, wherein each new entry in our series will focus on one topic that appears on screen in Outlander.

This week, we’ll tackle land grants. In the first episode of the season, “America the Beautiful,” Governor William Tryon offers a land grant to Jamie Fraser as payment for his recruitment of new residents in the North Carolina colony. While Jamie’s path to a grant was unique, he wasn’t alone in using a grant to find a corner of North Carolina as his own. Thousands of new residents of the colony took advantage of the land grant process to start a new chapter of their lives.

The process for obtaining a land grant from the Crown government started with a petition to the Secretary of State from the prospective land owner for a specific piece of vacant land somewhere in the North Carolina colony. The Secretary of State then presented the list of petitioners to the Governor’s Council, who generally approved the petitions without objection. North Carolina’s royal government wanted to attract as many new residents to their relatively impoverished colony as possible, so most potential land owners found success with their initial petition. After receiving approval, the land owner received a warrant from the Governor and the Secretary of State including a vague description of the land in question. The land owner then hired a surveyor to draw a plat of their tract. Finally, the Secretary of State’s office received a copy of the plat and then issued a land patent to the new owner. Once the owner received his patent, the land became his property to cultivate as he saw fit.

At the State Archives of North Carolina, we have surviving warrants and plats in the Secretary of State Record Group. As an example, we have an early land plat from 1758 for Rowan County. It is possible that Jamie and Claire settled in what was Rowan County, so their land grant warrant and plat might have looked quite a bit like this record.

Benajah Penington

Secretary of State Record Group, Land Office, Land Warrants, Plats of Survey, and Related Records, 1693-1959, Rowan County, Box 1765, File No. 484, Plat of Grant Awarded to Benajah Penington

Since Governor Tryon spoke to Jamie and offered him a grant as payment for recruiting settlers to North Carolina, we also wanted to show you a warrant signed by the Governor himself. In our Private Collections, we have a land warrant awarded by William Tryon in 1771 on behalf of King George III to William Sprout for an area along the Cape Fear River. Jamie would have kept this document on his person as documented proof that he could settle at Fraser’s Ridge.

William Sprout Papers [PC 950}

PC 950. William Sprout Papers. Warrant of Land Grant from George the Third to William Sprout, Witnessed by William Tryon, 1771).

Are you curious to see who else might have received a land grant? We encourage you to check out our online catalog, MARS, where we have indexed all our land grants by name in the Secretary of State Record Group. Geographic features are often included as subjects, so you might also find success searching for grants near a specific river or creek.

Receiving a land grant in colonial North Carolina was often the first step for new immigrants from Scotland and the rest of the British Isles to become residents of the colony, but obtaining land was easy compared to the day-to-day struggles of settling in rural North Carolina. Jamie and Claire certainly have more challenges in store and we’ll be here to document the real history behind their adventures.

3 thoughts on “Documenting the World of Outlander #1: Land Grants

  1. David McCorkle

    Great article and great concept for a series! It will be interesting to see all the different things y’all can come up for this. However, I do have two minor corrections related to the sample documents you show.

    The first correction is for the William Sprout document described as a Warrant. It is actually the Land Grant (Patent) itself, and as you mentioned what Jamie would have in his possession. A Warrant would/should have been returned to the land office.

    The second correction is for the sample Rowan Co. plat. and the speculation that they could have settled in Rowan County. Jamie’s grant could not have been in Rowan Co. in 1767 when the story is set because at that time it was part of the Granville District, and Gov. Tryon was not allowed to issue grants there. In fact, no grants all all were issued in that area from when Lord Granville died in 1763 until after independence – quite a mess. The Rowan plat you show from 1758 is itself from a Granville Grant (Granville Grants of Deed,, it’s one of a number of Granville documents that got put in with the regular land grants by mistake (thanks to Vann for telling me about that). That said, the plat Jamie received along with his patent would indeed look similar to what you showed, just from a different land office.

    Sorry to get geeky on you, but I’ve been deep in Granville Grants as of late so that caught my eye

    1. Francesca Post author

      Hello Mr. McCorkle: Thank you so much for your time and clarifications. We appreciate your feedback!

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