By A. B. Pruitt
Box 815, Whitakers, NC 27891
© A. B. Pruitt, 1998. All rights reserved

This is a brief discussion of early land grants in Tennessee. It is not all you will ever need to know about early land grants. Reference is made to other publications where additional (more detailed) description of the records is found. Reference 1 gives general details about records in Tennessee which are important to genealogists. Reference 2 gives a general overview of land grants in Tennessee.
The earliest entries/grants in Tennessee are those by the Watauga Society for land in Northeast Tennessee. The surviving paper work for these grants was recently published by Troy Keesee. Of equal importance to genealogists is the map that accompanies this book by Charles Reeves [see note, bottom of page]; the map shows the location of many of the grants.
When the Watauga Society failed as an independent government, North Carolina assumed control of vacant land in Tennessee. The first North Carolina land office was opened in 1778 in Washington County. Later, offices were also opened in Sullivan and Greene Counties. A separate land office was opened in 1783 primarily for land outside of these three counties. Also in 1783, the military district was created. There was an office for people who lived in this area before the military district was created (preemption rights) and a separate office (opened in 1784) for military bounty grants. So, the majority of grants by North Carolina were due to claims recorded in one of these four land offices:
1. County land offices (1778-1796): these offices were similar to offices in other North Carolina counties. Vacant land was identified, a claim was recorded with the county entry taker, a warrant for survey was issued by the entry taker, the survey was done, a grant was issued (signed by the governor & secretary of state), & the grant was recorded with county register of deeds. Fees were paid at each step. The major part of the fees was originally 50 shillings per hundred acres; in 1783 this fee was increased to 10 pounds per hundred acres. The first county office in Tennessee opened in 1778 in Washington County. The entry takers in this office were Col. John Carter and (later) his sons Landon Carter and John Carter jr. Offices were opened in Sullivan, Hawkins, and Greene Counties when these counties were created. Entry takers were John Adair, Gilbert Christian, John Grimes, & William Snodgrass (Sullivan & Hawkins Counties) and Joseph Hardin Jr (Greene County). One can identify the office that issued the warrant because the entry taker signed the warrant. The entry/claim book for Washington County doesn’t exist; there is a partial book for Sullivan County; there is a small book for Greene County. No separate book was kept for warrants, but one was created (about 1804) for Washington County using the loose warrants in the secretary of state’s office in North Carolina. Loose warrants, loose surveys, & grant books for Washington County reside in the North Carolina Archives and are on film there and at some libraries in Tennessee. Entry books for Sullivan and Greene County are in the Tennessee Archives. More details about the Washington County office are found in Reference 14. About 36% of North Carolina’s grants were due to claims in county land offices and Washington County accounted for about 75% of the county files. There are about 130 grants and 190 loose surveys filed under 10 other counties or under “no county” because that’s the way the land was described when it was surveyed. These were counties formed from Washington, Sullivan, Hawkins, or Greene Counties.
2. John Armstrong’s office (office located in Hillsborough, NC): this office was suppose to handle claims almost anywhere in Tennessee except for land still claimed by Indians. Because the office was open for about 9 months (Oct. 1783 and May 1784) you had to be ready to record your claim without delay; for this reason this was called the great land grab. Land was located in Tennessee, the description was recorded in Hillsborough, a warrant was issued, a survey was done, a grant issued, and the grant was recorded in the county were the land was. The office was closed (for several reasons) in 1784. In the same year a law was passed authorizing surveys for the claims that had been recorded. For the purpose of these surveys, Tennessee was divided into three districts: (a) Eastern District--Greene County to Cumberland Mountains, (b) Middle District--Cumberland Mountains to Tennessee River, & (c) Western District--Tennessee River to Mississippi River. The borders of Greene County were very vague in many of the claims; some claims on the Mississippi River indicated the land was in Greene County. So, the borders of Eastern District could have been vague and were sometimes considered to be the North Carolina border to Cumberland Mountains. Also, in 1784, the military district was created in North central Tennessee or northern part of Middle District. The military district was open to military bounty warrants and preemption warrants and warrants from John Armstrong’s office weren’t suppose to be used there. Many surveys in the three districts also mention a county which might help in identifying the location of the land today. Most of the original entry book for John Armstrong’s office survives in the North Carolina Archives. A transcription of the whole book (made about 1804) is in the Tennessee Archives. Loose warrants, loose surveys, & grant books are in the North Carolina Archives. Some warrants were later used to obtain grants from Tennessee; this material is in the Tennessee Archives. Mrs. Irene Griffey has published John Armstrong’s entry book (Ref. 6). Additional information about the operation of this office can be found in my book on John Armstrong’s office (Ref. 12). This office had about 22% of the warrants used for grants (issued by North Carolina) for land in Tennessee.
3. Military bounty land: These warrants were suppose to be for men (or heirs of men) who had served at least 2 years in one of the North Carolina regiments in the continental line during the Revolution. Because of fraud involved in these warrants, we need to authenticate the service of a man by referring to the muster roll, federal pension, or other contemporary statements rather than assuming a man served because his name is on a warrant. The warrants were issued by the secretary of state, the corresponding amount of land was located, land location was recorded in the military land office, the survey was made, the grant issued, & grant was recorded in the county where the land was. The military land office was in Nashville; Martin Armstrong was in charge of the office from 1784 to 1798; William Christmas succeeded Armstrong, and other men succeeded Christmas (until the office closed about 1842). A listing of warrants and to whom warrant was issued are in North Carolina Archives. Land location books are in Tennessee Archives. Loose warrants and loose surveys for grants issued by North Carolina are in North Carolina Archives. Loose warrants, loose surveys, and grant books for grants issued by Tennessee are in Tennessee Archives. Most of the North Carolina grants are in Davidson, Sumner, Tennessee, Montgomery, & Robertson Counties. Most grants issued by Tennessee are for land in West Tennessee. More information about the warrants is found in Reference 13. Additional information about the land fraud is in my two books References 3, 8, 9, 10, & 11 About 42% of the grants issued by North Carolina (for land in Tennessee) involve military bounty land warrants.
4. Preemption warrants: These warrants were issued to people who lived in the military district before the district was formed. A settler was allowed 640 acres sort of centered around his cabin. The settler had his claim recorded in an office in Nashville, a warrant for survey was issued, the survey was done, the grant was issued, and the grant was recorded in the county were the land was. There were about 484 such claims recorded in this office. This land office was operated by Samuel Barton. Most of these claims were for land in Davidson County. The original entry book doesn’t survive, but it has been reconstructed from surviving warrants (see Reference 5). This book also contains some information about warrants issued to members of Evans’ Battalion (hired to protect the road from Knoxville to Nashville). Loose warrants, loose surveys, & grant books are in the North Carolina Archives.
Transylvania Land Company: This company was eight men led by Richard Henderson. The company negotiated a treaty with the Indians which was suppose to give the company most of Kentucky, part of West Virginia, & a large part of Tennessee. But the treaty was never recognized by the states of Virginia or North Carolina. In exchange for their claim, the company received 200,000 acres in western Kentucky (from Virginia) and 200,000 acres in the Powell/Clinch River Valley (from North Carolina). This was probably the largest single grant in Tennessee, but not necessarily the largest one in Kentucky.
The type of North Carolina warrant can be determined by the person who signed the warrant. Warrants from county offices were signed by one of the Carters (Washington County), Adair, Christian, Grimes, or Snodgrass (Sullivan & Hawkins Counties), or by Hardin (Greene County). Warrants from John Armstrong’s office were signed by Armstrong or, later, by J. Craven. Military bounty land warrants were signed by a secretary of state: James Glasgow, William White, William Hill, or (less often) by one of their deputies. Preemption warrants were signed by Samuel Barton.
About the loose warrants and loose surveys in North Carolina: The original warrants and surveys are in the archives and are also on microfilm. Microfilm of these records are also available in the Tennessee Archives, East Tennessee Historical Society (Knoxville), and perhaps other places. In North Carolina, there is an old card index to these grant records as well as a MARS (computer) index. Either index refers to a county and file number within the county. The file number is written on the outside of each warrant/survey packet (or shuck or file). Numbers such as 1, 2, 3, etc. are for files for which a grant issued. Numbers such as 01, 02, 03, etc. are for files for which no grant issued. The grant book and page number are written on the outside of each packet (or shuck) and on the index card (or MARS computer screen). The Tennessee Archives also has copies of the grant books made about 1804. These books are numbered differently, so consult the card file in the Tennessee Archives to access these books.
By agreement, North Carolina ceased issuing grants in Tennessee about 1806 except for a brief period in the 1820s. North Carolina was allowed to continue to issue military bounty warrants, but the survey was done by Tennessee officials and grants were from Tennessee. In 1806, Tennessee took over land granting within its territory. Southeast Tennessee was closed to new settlement until the removal of the Cherokees; South central Tennessee was originally reserved for Congressional use (Congressional Reservation); and West Tennessee belonged to the Chickasaw Indians until about 1818. In the area open for white settlement, Tennessee divided the land into surveyor districts. The surveyor for each district was suppose to (a) resurvey all grants issued prior to 1806, (b) find all warrants and identify the land associate with each one (when no survey had been made), and (c) determine how much vacant land remained in the district. If there were two grants for the same land, the older (earlier) grant remained in effect. The younger grant was voided, and it’s owner was given a warrant for the amount of land covered by the older grant. This warrant could be used to obtain a grant for vacant land elsewhere in Tennessee. Warrants which hadn’t been surveyed were to be adjudged by a commission for East Tennessee or commission for West Tennessee to make sure the warrant was valid (no fraud involved). If the warrant was valid, a duplicate warrant was issued which could be used to obtain a grant from Tennessee. Many of these warrants were used for grants in West Tennessee once a treaty was signed with the Chickasaw Indians because that’s where most of the vacant land was located.
Tennessee adopted the land grant practice that involved locating the land, recording the claim, issuing a warrant for survey, performing the survey, issuing the grant, & recording the grant in the county where the land was. Tennessee allowed settlers who lived in some areas of the state prior to 1820 to claim the land on which they lived (similar to preemption warrants). For both types of grants, fees were required , so these weren’t “free gifts” of land.

Source books and articles for additional information:

1. [Genealogical] Research in Tennessee by Gale W Bamman; published in National Genealogical Society Quarterly vol. 81 No. 2 p. 99-125 (1993).
2. This Land in Our Land by Gale Williams Bamman; published in [Utah] “Genealogical Journal” vol. 26 No. 3 (1996); also available here on TNGenWeb.
3. A Case of Fraud & Deception: Revolutionary War Military Land Bounty Policy in Tennessee by Daniel Jansen; published in “Journal of East Tennessee History” vol. 64 p. 41-67 (1992).
4. Public Land in Tennessee by Thomas B Jones; published in “Tennessee Historical Quarterly” vol. 27 No. 1 p. 13-36 (1968).
5. Early Tennessee Land Records: Preemption Warrants by Irene M Griffey.
6. Early Tennessee Land Records: John Armstrong’s Office by Irene M. Griffey.
7. North Carolina Western Lands by Albert L Bramlett; dissertation UNC (1928).
8. An Angel has Fallen: Glasgow Land Fraud & the Establishment of North Carolina Supreme Court by Russell S. Koonts; Master’s thesis NC State 1995.
9. An Angel has Fallen: Glasgow Land Fraud & the establishment of North Carolina Supreme Court by Russell S Koonts; article published in “North Carolina Historical Review” vol. 72 No. 3 301-328 (1995).
10. Glasgow Land Fraud Papers (vol. 1) by A B Pruitt
11. Glasgow Land Fraud Papers (vol. 2) by A B Pruitt
12. Tennessee Land Entries: John Armstrong’s Office by A B Pruitt
13. Tennessee Land Entries: Military Bounty Land by A B Pruitt
14. Tennessee Land Entries: Washington County by A B Pruitt

[Editors note: The fine map that accompanies Mr Troy Keesee’s book Wataugah Land Purchases was based on research done by Mr Keesee. All tract placements are the work of Mr Keesee. Mr Charles A. Reeves, Jr is a technical illustrator and he produced the final map at Mr Keesee’s order.]


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Copyright 1998

This page was posted,
28 April 1998

28 April 1998