(Submitted by PACJ1945@aol.com on VA Southside Mailing List, submitted for Gill web page by Sue Gill)

Headright lists were also sold by the Clerks in the county. See the following from "Mother Earth" by W.Stitt Robinson, p. 41 & 42

"As abuse of the system increased, headright lists sometimes included fictitious names or in some cases names copied from old record books. The final stage in irregular procedure was reached when the clerks in the office of the secretary of the colony sold the headright claim to persons who would simply pay from one to five shillings. The exact date at which this practice began has not been determined. But it was prevalent sometime before 1692. Francis Nicholson reported to the Board of Trade that while serving as Governor of Virginia from 1690 to 6192, he had "heard" that the sale of rights by the clerks in the secretary's office was "common practice." Another report to the Board in 1697 described the clerks as being "a constant mint of those rights."

The combined variations in the operation of the headright system resulted in the distortion, if not destruction, of its original concepts. The system continued to bring immigrants into the colony which had been a very important purpose when inaugurated. But the abuses threw out of balance the relation between patented land and the number of people in the colony; and furthermore through perversion of the system, speculation in land was not prevented and there resulted large areas of wholly uncultivated and uninhabited lands to which title had been granted. The headright was also originally intended to apply to inhabitants of the British Isles, but by the middle of the seventeenth century the names of persons imported from Africa appeared occasionally as the basis for headright, and by the last decade of the century they were frequently found.

The distortion of the headright system was done with considerable public approval and in some ways reflected the evolution of economic development that seemed to demand a more convenient and lese expensive method for obtaining title to large areas of unoccupied land. As the population of the colony increased and as the labor supply became more plentiful, there was a rather widespread demand to be able to obtain additional land, particularly adjacent undeveloped tracts, without having to import an additional person for every fifty acres. Partly through this demand, impetus was given to the custom, which was not at first sanctioned by law, to permit the granting of patents by simply paying a fee in the secretary's office."

Pat in Va

Thought I would throw my 2 cents in ($200 in today's money?). My ancestors was on several headright lists. I also noticed some same names were coming up many times. Apparently a lot of list selling was going on. I suspect if a man wanted a certain number of acres, he divided by fifty to find the number of hadrights needed, went to the land office, paid an unspecified number of tobacco leaves, and the clerk pulled up several completed patent lists for him to copy. I have seen patents with several thousand acres - and a list of names several miles long. Did these people come over on the same ship? NO. I can definately prove one of my ancestors used his long dead brother's name. He also used his own name twice (two trips from England) on the same patent. Many of the headright lists were honest. There just is not any way of proving which is honest and which is not. The larger the list of headrights attached to the patent, the more the chance it was a dishonest transaction. After all, who was watching the clerk who was writting the patents? As suggested, take the earliest headright date with your ancestors name and say he was in this country "by xxx date."

Bob Jordan, jorbob@webtv.net

Ron Bullock asked questions about the Headright items as abstracted by Nugent in Cavaliers and Pioneers. It has always been my opinion that, while that set of books is the most valuable work in print for early VA, many people have used it to prove things which are simply not represented by that paraticular record. I have felt that it did not always reflect arrival from across the ocean, but in fact arrival into the particular colony of VA. Persons could have arrived from MD, NY, Mass, or certainly the islands such as Barbados. Commerce was brisk in the 17th century with the islands and persons could go back and forth with their residence many times.

Unless a particular item cites a ship and represents itself as a passenger list, the group of people that are listed together may not have come together or at the same time. I have also thought that the date of the Patent reflected that the person named as a headright had certainly been in the Colony of VA before that date, but there is no telling how long.

To support these thoughts I am going to give some quotes from an expert.

This is an article published in the National 'Genealogical Society Quarterly" Vol. 75, No. 3, Sept. 1987, p. 169-179, by Richard Slatten, a past president of the VA Genealogical Society (among other qualifications.)

The Virginia land-patent books constitute a basic source for researching a colonial-VA family. Carefully assessed, they provide essential clues to the arrival and migration of ancestors. While these widely used records are cited as the basis of many a distinguished pedigree, they are frequently misinterpreted by those who assume they understand them. Probably the most-serious misunderstanding with respect to the patents involves certain easy assumptions regarding the individuals named in these instruments: that the person in whose name a headright was claimed was a recent arrival; that this individual was known to the patentee; and that either ever resided on the land described in the patent. Since abuses of the headright system were so flagrant from its inception, caution should be exercised by anyone attempting to establish facts concerning an immigrant by citing his inclusion in a headright list.

. . . . . . . .

In Virginia, the allotment of vacant land as individual free holds began about 1619 ...... Later incoming settlers who defrayed their own passage were made eligible of a personal right to 50 ac. of land. This was liberalized to include the transportation right, or the right to fifty ac for anyone who paid the passage of another. By 1620 military rights was also redeemable in land. After 1624, this process was a Crown function. Later the treasury right was authorized whereby a warrant redeemable in land could be purchased directly from the land office. This was the principal means of acquiring vacant land and, after about 1730, almost the exclusive one.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Witness the significance currently attached to headright lists: that the date of the patent is the approximate date of a headrights arrival in the colony; that the lists represent passenger lists; that there is a correlation between the county of disembarkation (or even of residence) of the headright; and that these names represent people who ever came, remained and left issue.

(Note: He goes on at length here to give examples to illustrate his various points, being that the Patents on their own rarely prove the above factors.)

He stresses that an immigrants arrival will predate his mention as a headright by many months or even years. If this lapse involves a considerable period of time, the name will probably appear in another record. Also he says to remember that these abstracts are just that, a partial copy of work, based on originals which, for the most part, have been destroyed.

In conclusion, he says that when these records are used with a critical approach, they are "one of the great historical treasures of our American heritage and can contribute immeasurably to an era that is not rich in primary sources.


Hello Southside researchers,

I have found another great out of print book. This is a small book with only 74 pages of text. This book is the history or land grants, how they were granted and the laws that governed them. Since this is such a small book, I will post it to the list. This first installment is the first chapter, (pages 1 - 10) which actually amounts to only 6 pages in MS Word.

I hope this information will help those of us who are new to genealogy understand the land grant system.

Thank you

Pat in Va.

Mother Earth

Land Grants in Virginia, 1607-1699


W. Stitt Robinson, Jr.

Assoc. Professor of History

University of Kansas

Chapter One

Among the motives of English colonization of America in the seventeenth century, the desire for free land occupied a prominent place. The availability of land in the New World appealed to all classes and ranks in Europe, particularly to the small landholder who sought to increase his landed estate and to the artisans and tenants who longed to enter the ranks of the freeholder.

The desire for land and the opportunity to provide a home for one's family, according to Professor C. M. Andrews, "probably influenced the largest number of those who settled in North America." Land also had its appeal as the gateway to freedom, contributing substantially to the shaping of the American character. When analyzing the factors that helped make this "new man, who acts upon new principles," De Crevecoeur in 1782 emphasized the opportunity to "become a free man, invested with lands, to which every municipal blessing is annexed!"

Formulation of a land policy confronted the officials of all the colonies in early America. Its importance is reflected in the statement by C. L. Raper in his study of English colonial government that the "System and policy concerning land determine to a very considerable extent the economic, social, and political life of the colonists." The existence of the American Frontier with unoccupied land was a potent force in America, and Frederick Jackson Turner stated in his famous essay in 1893 that the "Most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land."

Before analyzing the nature of landholding and the land policy that was adopted in early Virginia, let us examine first the problem that arose by virtue of the presence of the Indians in North America.

At the time of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 the area of present-day Virginia was occupied by Indians of three linguistic stocks: Alqonquin, Siouan, and Iroquoian. Generally speaking, the Algonquins which included the Powhatan Confederacy inhabited the Tidewater, reaching from the Potomac to the James River and extending to the Eastern Shore. The Siouan tribes, including the Monacans and the Manahoacs, occupied the Piedmont; while the Iroquoian group, containing the independent Nottoways and Meherrins, partially surrounded the others in a rough semicircle reaching from the headwaters of the Chesapeake through the western mountains and back to the coast in the region south of the James River.

The presence of these tribes in the areas of proposed colonization confronted the colonizers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the same problem that has faced imperialists of a later date, the question of "right and title" to land. The British, like other European nations, did not recognize the sovereign right of the heathen natives but claimed a general title to the area by the prevailing doctrine of right by discovery and later by the generally accepted doctrine of effective occupation. As stated in the charter to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 with essentially the same provision included in the first charter of Virginia in 1606, the colonizers were authorized to occupy land "not actually possessed of any Christian Prince, nor inhabited by Christian People." Over the Indians the British maintained a "limited sovereignty": and when acknowledging any claim, they recognized only the Indian's right of occupation and asserted the "exclusive right" to extinguish this title which occupancy gave them.

In the first years of the colony not even these tenure rights were recognized by the British. While a few gifts of land had been made by the natives and one of these confirmed by the London Company, there was no admission, either direct or by inference, that the Indians possessed a superior claim to the land. When such an implication was made in a land grant to Barkham in 1621, the company reacted with bitter resentment. Governor Yeardley, striving to maintain peace with the natives, made the grant conditional upon the consent of the Indian chief Opechancanough. According to stated practice under the company, the grant then had to be approved in England by a quarter court of the company's stockholders. When Barkham's petition was presented for ratification, the members of the court held the provision concerning the Indian chief to be "verie dishonorable and prejudiciall" for it infringed upon the company's title by acknowledging sovereignty in that "heathen infidell."


[VA-SOUTHSIDE-L] Mother Earth - Chapter 1 part 3

Commissioners were also employed for the supervision of Indian lands. Upon the recommendation of the committee appointed for Indian affairs, the Assembly in 1662 authorized the Governor to appoint a commission "to enquire into and examine the severall claimes made to any part of our neighboring Indian land, and confirme such persons who have justly invested themselves, and cause all others to remove." The English with rights to land within three miles of the natives were to assist in fencing the Indian corn fields. This was done to prevent harm to the Indian crops by hogs and cattle of the colony. Commissioners appointed were to designate the time and number of English to aid in the construction. Other commissioners were to view annually the boundaries separating the two people.

The commissioners diligently enforced the provisions of these laws which underwent few changes until the outburst of hostilities in Bacon's Rebellion. In 1678 the additional expense of the Indian war led the colony to modify temporarily its former provisions in order to obtain more revenue from land. All territory recently assigned to the Indians but then abandoned and any land then occupied that should later be deserted were to be sold. The proceeds from the sale were to be used in the public interest to defray the expense of the war.

This regulation applied only to land abandoned by the Indians. The colony continued to protect the natives in other lands assigned them as is exemplified in the region south of the James River. In 1665 the Indian boundary line for the area was designated to run from the southern branches of the Blackwater River to the Appomattox Indian town, and from there to Manakin Town located only a few miles above the Fall Line. By 1674 some of the colonists had crossed this line and were settling on the territory of the Nottoway Indians. When the encroachment was called to the attention of the Governor and Council, they ordered the English to withdraw immediately, and in the next instructions to the surveyor of the colony they again forbade the location of new grants in the region designated as Indian land.

The number of the aborigines gradually dwindled in this section as in other parts of the colony, due mainly to wars, smallpox epidemics, spirituous liquors, migration, and the abridgement of territory of a people who lived principally on the "spontaneous productions of nature." Because of the decrease the Burgesses in 1685 appealed to Governor Howard for permission to allow grants to some of the land in the area. The Governor failed to comply with their requests. Later, in 1690, an order was issued for the immediate removal of several persons who had obtained illegal patents to land south of the main Blackwater Swamp. All members of the colony were again forbidden to settle beyond the boundary line, and any who had already constructed houses were ordered not to repair them nor to finish any other uncompleted buildings. The sheriffs and justices of the peace of Charles City, Surry, Isle of Wight, and Nansemond counties were instructed to be on the alert for violators of the order.

However, the Indians themselves, residing in the region on the south side of the Blackwater River and in Pamunkey Neck had requested in 1688 that colonists be allowed to settle across the boundary line in the area now made vacant by the gradual dying out of their tribes. The basis for the request seems to have been a desire for relief in their precarious economic condition and the fear of invasion by hostile Indians, whom they regarded with more apprehension than they did the English. By 1705, the colony, influenced by the request from the natives revoked its former law regarding the Indian boundary, permitting a limited number of white settlements in Pamunkey Neck and in the region south of the Blackwater Swamp and Nottoway River.

Thus in the seventeenth century the pendulum moved from a position of the colony ignoring any Indian rights in the land to a gradual recognition of the Indian right of occupation. This sweep of the pendulum brought the establishment of boundary lines between the whites and the Indians with reservations being designated for certain tribes. By the end of the century the diminution of the tribes found the pendulum swinging back to open the area to white settlement which had once been reserved to the natives, yet still retaining the recognition of the Indian's right of occupation where tribes survived. With this survey of the problem of the red man's title to land, let us now turn to a consideration of the white man's title and how it was obtained in seventeenth-century Virginia.

(That was the end of chapter one. Chapter two to follow: The London Company)


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