A year after North Carolina joined other states in declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, the newly-established N.C. General Assembly passed legislation authorizing the state to assume ownership of all “vacant” land.
This essentially was all land not awarded earlier in grants from the Crown, Lords Proprietor of the Carolina Colony or Earl Granville.
Also in 1777, the General Assembly created a procedure to encourage settlement and raise revenue by awarding ownership of vacant acreage in land grants. Recipients had to go through a waiting period to make sure no one else claimed ownership of the land and pay a purchase price.
Each county had to establish a land office and appoint an entry-taker and surveyor for handling land grants in 1778, the same year Wilkes County was created from Surry County. This was good news in frontier counties like Wilkes, where most residents were squatters who didn’t legally own the land they lived on and farmed.
The first actions of the Wilkes County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a body appointed by the General Assembly that was equivalent to today’s county commissioners but with more authority, was to appoint county officers that included Benjamin Herndon as entry taker and his brother, Joseph Herndon, as surveyor.
The first step in the land grant process was to submit a land entry for a tract to the entry taker, which essentially was an application to receive land not legally claimed. In early years, this often was land the applicant lived. Increasingly over time, it was adjoining tracts or land far removed from where he lived. A small fee was paid to record the claim.
Next was a waiting period to allow time for others to learn about the tract being claimed and dispute this based on the belief that someone else already owned it. If such a dispute arose, there could be a court trial to determine the issue.
If there were no disputes, the entry taker would issue a land warrant ordering the county surveyor to survey the land in question.
When the survey was finished, the land warrant and two copies of the survey were sent to the N.C. secretary of state.
The final step was the state granting the land with a land patent, but this often was delayed for long periods. A grant is the action of giving the land and the resulting record is a patent.
After the board of county commissioners replaced the county court under the state constitution adopted in 1868, the commissioners appointed county surveyors. Wilkes and Ashe were among the last counties in the state with county surveyors.
Jason Duncan, subject of an article on the front page, said the first 53 land grants in Wilkes were issued on March 3, 1779. These were for tracts ranging from 37 acres to William Slown on both sides of Roaring River to 640 acres (largest allowed in a single grant) to John Witherspoon on Kings Creek and “the main wagon road” and “above his old mill place” in today’s Caldwell County.
They also include a grant issued to Benjamin Cleveland, Wilkes militia leader in the American Revolution, for 348 acres on the north side of the Yadkin River called the “Great Roundabout” because of curves in the river.
Cleveland supposedly had lived there for several years, but lost Roundabout to a competing claim filed by William T. Lewis of Surry County. Duncan researched this and found that Lewis successfully claimed he purchased the land from Hugh Dobbins, who purchased it from Earl Granville’s land office, well before Cleveland filed his claim.
Cleveland subsequently moved to what is now Oconee County in Upstate South Carolina. He is buried there.
Duncan said the last Wilkes land grant was for 3.77 acres at “Shiloh Spring” on Moravian Creek in Boomer Township. This grant was issued to I.T. Church on June 3, 1957.