This collection consists of Virginia land patents (1623–1774) and land grants (1779–February 2000). It includes land grants within the Northern Neck Proprietary (1690–1874) along with survey plats and accompanying papers for the Northern Neck land grants (1697–1874).
The Virginia government began recording land patents around 1623 when the royal governor, as the agent of English crown, assumed control over the distribution of unappropriated land within the new colony. A few earlier patents, issued by the Virginia Company of London, were recorded or affirmed in the first volumes. Until the early 1700s, land was principally distributed to people who brought settlers into the colony. For each immigrant, the importer was entitled to a “headright” of fifty acres of land. Because the land patents list the names of imported persons, they are the primary source for documenting early Virginia immigration. Beginning in 1699, a person could acquire unappropriated land through the purchase of “treasury rights,” and by 1715, this practice had mostly supplanted the headright system.
The Northern Neck proprietary originated in 1649 when King Charles II, then living in exile, bestowed land in northern Virginia to seven of his supporters. Through purchase and inheritance this land was consolidated by Thomas, Lord Fairfax. The land consisted of over 5.2 million acres, located between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, and stretching into what is now West Virginia. Beginning in 1690, land grants could be purchased from the agents of the proprietor. Although the proprietary ceased granting land in 1781, grants within the Northern Neck area were recorded in a separate series of volumes until 1874.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Virginia General Assembly established the Land Office and revised the system for the sale of land warrants. That warrant system remained the practice until 1950, when the distribution of vacant lands became the responsibility of the counties and independent cities. The state continued to issue grants for escheated lands.
Virginia also awarded military bounty land grants for those who had served in the French and Indian War (1754–1763), Dunmore’s War (1774), and the American Revolution (1775–1783). For additional information and online records of the military bounty land grants, see Revolutionary War Bounty Land Claims.
For a more detailed overview see the Virginia Land Office Research Note.
Revised February 2021