Sunday, December 19, 2010

Virginia Land Laws: A Chronology (Part I)

Understanding the process by which land was "taken up" in colonial Virginia is often key to recognizing the pattern of migration and settlement that one's family may have experienced. The land laws were specific to the individuals (ancestors) who sought to buy land make a plantation among the wilderness. The following information is abstracted from the work by F.B. Kegley entitled: "Kegley's Virginia Frontier", published by The Southwest Virginia Historical Society, Roanoke, VA, 1938.

The "Land Laws of Virginia" were the laws and customs under which new lands were settled in the first English colony in the new world. In 1606, the 1st Charter of the Virginia Company, the King agreed that he would grant by patent, to such persons and for such estates, as its Council should appoint, all the lands within the territory granted by the charter. These lands were to be held by the Crown, as of the Manor of East Greenwich in Kent in free and common "Socage". [socage = Feudal tenure of land by a tenant, in return for agricultural or other nonmilitary services or for payment of in money.]

The 2nd Charter of the Virginia Company, 1609, authorized and required the lands to be distributed under the Crown's common seal, from time to time, among the adventures and planters, in such proportions as it should appoint and allow. This land distribution required a commission of survey, and the distribution was to be based " to the special merit of the grantee".

This beginning changed in 1624, when all rights and powers were resumed by the Crown. It was then provided that private planter's dividends of lands [those in the Virginia Company] would be placed under control of the Colonial Assembly. These lands were to be laid off in "severalty" [a separate and individual right to possession or ownership that is not shared by any other person] The land boundaries were to be recorded by surveyors. Petty differences were to be decided by the surveyors and important ones were to be referred to the Governor and Council.

It was not until 1666 that any changes in these land laws were made. Here, the colony of Virginia was empowered to make grants of waste and inappropriate lands.

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