With the abolition of the charter of the Virginia Company of London in 1624, the administration of the colony was placed directly under the crown. As this included the disposal of land, it fell to the governor to use his broad powers to issue land patents.
In 1634 the Privy Council authorized the patenting of lands under the principle of granting patents to any person who qualified as a planter. In practice, the acreage was awarded to the person who paid the transportation cost of the emigrant and not to the settler himself. This method, called the headright system, was employed as the major means of distributing virgin lands in the 17th century.
The office of the Secretary of the Colony was key to the process, and it remained in place until the Revolution. This office issued patents after all the steps were approved. First, the patentee was required to appear before a county court and present proof that a stated number of persons had been imported to the colony at his expense. The certificate of importation rights issued by the courts was taken to the Secretary of the Colony in the capital, where a "right" was issued that, when presented to a county surveyor, authorized him to survey the tract located by the patentee.
Once the survey was completed, it and all supporting papers were returned to the office of the Secretary, and, if no discrepancies existed, two copies of the patent were made. One copy was signed by the governor, sealed, and delivered to the patentee, and the other was retained by the Secretary. No Land Office surveys are extant prior to 1779 although some county court records include survey books. Also, none of the supporting papers mentioned above are extant prior to 1779.
Another method of land distribution authorized during the 17th century was the military right granted to persons who would settle in hostile territory, but this was seldom used. In the 18th century the treasury right was established whereby land could be purchased. The office of the Secretary of the Colony continued to act as the official channel for the legal distribution of land until the establishment of the Virginia Land Office on June 22, 1779.