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.