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Private Land Claims

   Private Land Claims
There was a special type of federal land grant called the private land claim, wherein the American government recognized as valid certain land grants made by the earlier French, Spanish, and British governments in areas acquired by the United States after the Revolution. These areas were the Old Northwest north of the Ohio River, the Gulf States from Florida to Louisiana, the tier of states on the west bank of the Mississippi, and the Spanish Southwest from New Mexico to California but not including Texas.

Sometimes the foreign legal titles were quite old and meticulously documented; often they were vague claims without clear bounds. Near villages it was common to find communal fields divided into long, individually owned arable strips surrounded by a communally maintained fence. Also characteristic, though not universal, were the "long lots," narrow adjoining tracts each a few hundred feet wide along a road or river, and each running far back into the woods or prairie sometimes a mile or more. The French and Spanish authorities also made larger grants, such as the square leagues common in Texas and the rancheros in California. Barring the usual losses, the Spanish and French administrations usually kept adequate records, and land titles were recorded and preserved. The Texas General Land Office today has a series of sixty-nine volumes of Spanish and Mexican records. The Spanish land system is discussed in detail for Texas, New Mexico (with Colorado), Arizona, and California in Henry Putney Beers, Spanish & Mexican Records of the American Southwest:
Bibliographical Guide to Archive and Manuscript Sources (Tucson: University of Arizona Press and the Tucson Corral of the Westerners, 1979), pp. 44-60, 141-56, 247-68, 328-39.

When the United States government assumed control of areas containing Spanish and French grants, it had to create private land claims commissions to separate the authentic and legal titles from the fraudulent and dubious. (It is said that 900 Kaskaskia, Illinois, claims were perjured.14) By international law, the new government was obliged to recognize the valid property titles of the previous regime.

The private land claims ruled valid by the claims commissions of the United States state and federal courts are first title deeds surveyed outside the regular federal system of townships and ranges. For example, a survey of Vincennes, Indiana, the federal survey lines stop at the irregular lots and tracts of the private land claims of the old French outpost called Vincennes Common. Even today, the legal titles run back to the confirmed first title patents of the Vincennes private claims validated by the governor of the Northwest Territory, as directed by a Congressional Resolution of 1788. The legal description of this land is not in terms of sections, townships, and ranges, but in terms of the lot numbers the governor assigned to the validated and surveyed private land claims at Vincennes. The general system of private land claims, however, did not always run smoothly. Some perfectly good pre-American titles were not presented to claims commissions, engendering litigation much later.

"Private land claims" can also refer to the claims directly presented to Congress for private relief. These papers could be in different archives, depending on the administrative route taken. Claims to 1837 are recorded in U.S. Congress, The American State Papers, Public Lands (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832-61) and are indexed in Phillip W. McMuUin, Grassroots in America (Salt Lake City: Gendex, 1972). The National Archives has Congressional records, case files, and plat maps of private claims. Its Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (1982), says on page 222:

Originals of the committee reports to Congress on private land claims are among Records of the U. S. Senate, Record Group 46, and Records of the U. S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233. They are filed by Congress, thereunder by name of committee, and thereunder chronologically.
Committee reports on individual land claims considered from 1826 to 1876 by the two congressional committees on private land claims are collected and published in Reports of the Committees on Private Land Claims of the Senate and House of Representatives, 2volumes (45th Cong., 3d sess. Misc. Doc. 81, serial 1836). Each volume is indexed by name of claimant or subject, but many names were omitted. There is also an "Index to Reports of Committee on Private Land Claims, House of Representatives" on pages 5-20 of House Index to Committee Reports by T. H. McKee (Y1.3:C73/2). The Congressional Serial Set provides digested summaries and alphabetical lists of private claims presented to the U. S. Congress from the 1st to 51st Congress (1789-1891).
The Guide's Table 25 shows which Congressional documents list private claims brought before Congress. Major university libraries and other large research libraries are usually repositories for such government documents, since the early publications have been filmed.

Private land claims are also found in various court records, since disapproved claims could be taken to court. In fact, Congress, in abolishing particular claims commissions, routinely authorized the holders of unsettled claims to prosecute their cases through the courts.

For further reading, see Paul W. Gates, History of Public Land Law Development (Washington, D.C.: Public Land Law Review Commission, 1968), pp. 87-119; his "Private Land Claims in the South," Journal of Southern History 22 (1956): 183-204;
Louis Pelzer, "The Private Land Claims of the Old Northwest Territory"
Iowa Journal of History and Politics 12 (1914): 363-93; T. P. Martin, "The Confirmation of French and Spanish Land Titles in the Louisana Purchase" (M.A. thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1914);
Lemont K. Richardson, "Private Land Claims in Missouri," Missouri Historical Review 50 (1955-56): 132-44, 271-86, 387-99;
Cark S. Knowlton, ed., "Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Southwest: A Symposium," Social Science Journal 13 (Oct. 1976): 1-63.

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George K. ANNAN, 1915-1996, age 81yrs, Click on Thumbnail for Larger Photo! These records are dedicated to one of my best friends, my Uncle: George K. ANNAN, 1915-1996, age 81yrs Compiled and self Published in Jun. 28, 1986 by Paul R. Sarrett, Jr. George, grew up in rual area of Yorktown, Page Co., Iowa. He was a large land owner, and Farmer, and was Commissioner on the Page County Soil Conservation District for over 30 years; Director of the Iowa Association of Soil Conservation District Commissioners; Served on the State Soil Conservation Committee; Member of the Lions Club of Clarinda, Iowa; Was a 4-H leader for many years; Helped organize the Lincoln Leaders Boys 4-H Club. Received many awards as a commissioner,  Outstanding Commissioner for Region VII in 1960;  Watershed Achievement Award in 1979;  Emmett ZOLLARS Award in 1974;  Page Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Award in 1976; just to name a few.
Would like any Corrections or Exchange and Share information on the BLM, contact me at:
E-Mail: Paul R. Sarrett, Jr. Auburn, CA.

Text - Copyright © 1996-2002 Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Jan. 23, 2002