Tennessee Mountain Stories

Ancestral Properties

This year I received a gift of an Ancestry.com subscription.  It has proven one of the most wonderful gifts ever because I’ve spent hours and hours poring over census records, death certificates and wills.  I’ve learned lots of dates and names and that’s exciting.  But there are little tidbits that really make it worth the time.

In fact, I’m learning so much that I’m really struggling to compose this week’s article in any kind of organized fashion.  So let me just tell you about one document and I’ll try to share the rest in little bits over the coming weeks.

All my life I’ve heard about this one or that one that received a land grant for military service.  It makes you proud to be living on a treasure like that.  Unfortunately I have dispelled most all of those tales. 

In the early days of the United States, the government claimed all the vast lands of the continent and fought numerous wars to insure that claim against other governments who sought to do the same or to wrest the land from the Natives who’d used it for centuries without needing a registered deed.  Then, when they needed to pay their soldiers, they found they had more land than money.  Therefore, many Continental soldiers were paid with land grants.  It was a pretty good deal for both parties since the soldiers were mostly in want of land.  However, after a few decades the place started filling up with people and it was no longer worthwhile to give lands in the East – then opens the homesteading of the Plains and a whole new chapter in American history.  Therefore, the last military land grants were issued about 1855. 

If you’ve heard your own family stories like this, a few hours at the courthouse reading old property deeds will reveal the history of land.  This fella bought it from that fella then gave it to his son and so on.   Now, there were SOME land grants on the mountain, in fact, the Fentress County Courthouse has a “Grants Book”.  However, I’ve not found any of my family in there.

But I did find a land grant in Virginia and it was fascinating. 

James Todd would be my great-great-great-great-great Grandfather on my father’s side.  On February 27, 1796 a deed for riverside Virginia land was decreed to him.  This was “of the lands allotted the officers and soldiers of the Continental line of said state” and the entries before and after are similarly worded.  There is an earlier date on each record that I’m assuming is the date the men actually located and marked their claim.  For James Todd that was in 1784.  Now, there was a process of applying for your land and the early date may be the application date, but ten years seems like a long time even for the government to be working on paperwork.

These old deeds read a lot like their modern cousins giving dimensions by the sixty-six foot surveyors pole .  They are handwritten in the flowing penmanship everyone of that generation seemed to possess – don’t know how today’s scribbling developed. However, being used to the printed word I sometimes struggle to read this.  The deed clearly says it’s for fifty-four and a half acres and while there are some plots of two and three hundred acres, there are many similar to this fifty-some-odd acres.  Here’s where my math gets challenged.  When they lay out the dimensions of the land it seems to add up to a lot more acreage. 

There’s more research to be done here.  We knew of a plantation my Todd family left in Virginia and I would expect this to be the same property despite the Virginia / North Carolina discrepancy.  So I’d like to try to locate the area on historic maps.  Since it lays on a river that should be doable.  And, county boundaries have moved but their history is generally documented. 

I know I’m always saying this, but here again I’m left with more questions than answers.  It’s just that the questions are new ones and that alone is progress – isn’t it?

Please share with me any stories your family has passed along about lands that were given to them.  Have you done any research and learned the facts behind those stories?