Tag Archives: land grants

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.

It is time to celebrate!

Example of a land grant envelope, “shuck”

Example of a land grant envelope, “shuck”

In the mid-1980s the State Archives of North Carolina started work on preserving, microfilming and indexing the North Carolina Land Grants. I have not been part of this project since the beginning, but for the past 6 years one of my jobs has been to index the microfilmed North Carolina Land Grants into our MARS database, I have now indexed 133 reels of microfilm which is 25,899 land grants and I am very happy to say that the project is now complete.

To give an idea as to the scope of this project there are over 200 fiberdex boxes consisting of 216,024 land grants which in turn became 611 reels of microfilm. North Carolina Land Grants span the years 1679-1959 and are arranged by county including the Tennessee Counties that used to be part of North Carolina. Prior to the indexing of these land grants, which consist of a warrant, plat and often a receipt, they would have to be taken out of their envelope “shuck,” flattened ,deacidified, and repaired in the conservation lab. From there they would be microfilmed and then finally indexing could take place. The indexing of the land grants required the ability to read the microfilm of old and at times almost illegible script. The information captured in this indexing was information found on the envelope “shuck” which includes the county name, name of the grantee, number of acres, grant number, date issued, warrant number, entry number, date entered, book number, page number, location, and remarks. The location field often required researching the names of the counties’, cities, creeks, rivers, branches, and other geographical locations. This process could be time consuming because not only might the handwriting be hard to read but in many cases the spelling would be wrong or the names of geographic features would have changed over the years as well. There were also times that the names of the people listed on the shuck would be spelled different ways within the documents and shuck. In those cases I would try to determine, as much as possible, the correct name. But indexing also had its upside, including finding many interesting or humorous names, such as Ice Snow or the all-time favorite among staff working on the land grant project, Bold Robin Hood.

Although the process was long and tedious, this project will now enable researchers to view the North Carolina land grant “shuck” information online. Land grants can provide valuable information for many different researchers. Recently I learned that land grants were used to help reestablish the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Genealogists may also find information in land grants useful in their family research. Just remember that the information found in our MARS online catalog is the information found on the envelope, the “shuck,” at the time of the filming. If a researcher wants more information on the contents of the shuck they will need to visit our search room to view the microfilm, because the original land grants have been withdrawn from use as a preservation measure.

Now that this project has been completed I am on to a new project. Keep an eye out for news about a new addition to the North Carolina Digital Collections.