IGHR (Samford) — Day 1

It’s a tru­ism of geneal­ogy that the laws deter­mine what records might be avail­able. One also hears an echo of Hal Hol­brook in All the President’s Men: “Fol­low the money!” And, as Carl von Clause­witz said, war is the con­tin­u­a­tion of pol­i­tics by other means.

Put these together, and you see that aside from vital records, most records are gen­er­ated by laws, money, and mil­i­taries. In my week at Sam­ford, I am study­ing the effect of land and wars on the records of Vir­ginia. (Last year, we cov­ered the impact of law more generally.)

When one looks at Vir­ginia his­tory, it is strik­ing how hap­haz­ard the legal struc­ture of the early colony was. Accord­ing to the 1911 edi­tion of the Ency­lo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica:

it was [Sir Thomas Dale] who, about 1614, took the first step toward abol­ish­ing the com­mu­nal sys­tem by the intro­duc­tion of pri­vate holdings.”

Sir Thomas Dale, Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica, 11th ed., 1911. Online data­base: http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Sir_Thomas_Dale : Accessed 14 Jun 2010

Dale cre­ated the legal con­cept of the “ancient planter,” or plan­ta­tion own­ers who were in place prior to his arrival, who would receive more land than recent arrivals:

Per­haps Dale’s most last­ing reform was eco­nomic. In 1613, with­out stock­holder con­sent, Dale aban­doned the com­mu­nal agri­cul­ture which had proved unsat­is­fac­tory and assigned 3-acre (12,000 m2) plots to its ‘ancient planters’ and smaller plots to the settlement’s later arrivals. Mea­sur­able eco­nomic progress was made, and the set­tlers began expand­ing their plant­ing to land belong­ing to local native tribes. Not only did food pro­duc­tion increase markedly, but the fol­low­ing year John Rolfe suc­ceeded on his plot in rais­ing the first hybrid tobacco: the key to the colony’s future.”

Thomas Dale,” Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Dale : Accessed 14 Jun 2010

So, pri­macy had its rewards, as did the cre­ation of a Euro­pean mar­ket for an entic­ing New World product.

In 1619, the Vir­ginia Com­pany increased the allot­ment for “ancient planters” to 100 acres, and that for those arriv­ing later to 50 acres. By 1697, these head­rights had become a form of cur­rency in the colony. There were numer­ous cases where per­sons seemed to have claimed head­rights for immi­grants more than once, and the desired effect of entic­ing immi­gra­tion was prob­a­bly diluted.

The records that all this activ­ity leads to are patent, or orig­i­nal land grants. These doc­u­ments can place our ances­tors in time and loca­tion, though some­what vaguely. Since the head­rights were traded as a kind of cur­rency, the use of a head­right to acquire land in a par­tic­u­lar county does not indi­cate that the per­son named in the head­right lived in that county, or even had ever been there. It only served as proof that the per­son had come to Vir­ginia prior to that time.

With­out know­ing the con­text of the head­right, it would be easy to over inter­pret the mean­ing of the appear­ance of an ances­tor in a head­right claim for a patent. One might think that the ances­tor was brought over the ocean by the aus­pices of the receiver of the patent, or that the ances­tor lived in the county of the patent at the time it was granted. These are pos­si­bil­i­ties, but by no means set­tled matters.

I agree: It’s com­pli­cated! And we haven’t even got­ten to the sub­ject of Eng­lish com­mon law inher­i­tance.… That’s tomorrow’s first les­son, at 8:15 a.m.

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