Hughes Land Record Information

The following information is quoted directly from Guilford County, N.C. – A Map Supplement, by Fred Hughes; published by The Custom House of Jamestown, NC, copyright 1988 by The Custom House. Custom House is closed, and the copyright is now held by Fred Hughes’ widow. This book is also listed on the “Research & Resource Books” page linked to the index page, and may be purchased through Guilford County Genealogical Society, and perhaps some other sources as well. What follows is a few pages and less than 5% of the book. It is a good discussion of the land record situation in early Guilford County. Mr. Hughes was a man whose opinions were evident in his work. Some minor corrections in punctuation have been made, for clarity. Some references will be made to an index of the map of early settlers, as the book was written to accompany that map.

~ Land in Guilford County ~

There were two, and only two, Crown Grants of land in all of Guilford County. In 1737, Henry McCulloh was granted twelve tracts of 100,000 acres each. 42,000 acres of Tract #11 fell in present day Guilford. Granville, the only one of eight Lords Proprietors to retain Carolina land, was granted the same land, plus everything else. All land ownerships originated with these two land holders until after the Revolution. After that, the source of new land was the state, which had confiscated all ungranted land and land that had been owned by active Tories.

For a very long time, location of county lines were vague and indefinite. Consequently, Guilford area land grants were found registered in Edgecombe County, Granville County, Granville District, Bladen County, Anson County, Rowan County, and Orange County, before there was a Guilford County. There was some unexplainable land ownership found in Guilford County, so there may be some land grants not found. They may be registered in other counties or this may be the result of lax record keeping, numerous court house fires, or military destruction. For instance, Orange County records are in terrible condition, with great gaps in the records, as a result of the Revolutionary War. Some of these last records apply to Guilford County, when formed.

Granville’s land grant office had been closed since 1763. McCulloh had deeded his lands to Granville, and hundreds of families were living on land they had no claim to, in anticipation of reopening of the land grant offices. This would never happen.

The Revolutionary forces confiscated the total of all ungranted land in North Carolina, and the lands of Henry McCulloh, as well as the holdings of all Tories. A new process of land distribution had to be arranged.

The new states began making land grants in 1778. Legislation attempted to correct the evils of the proprietors – land swindles, dual entries, defective grants, and other forms of fraud. The new laws specified that all land entries were to be numbered and dated, with the first entry to take precedence over all others. This brought about a new and creative form of theft. It could be called “Rob the Quakers,” as they were the principle victims, although not the only ones. Many land grants state “where ______ formerly lived,” or, “including the improvements of _______.” Sometimes the improvements had been bought, but, too often, it was a clear case of theft. The pacifist Quakers would move, usually, and make other arrangements.

Risdon Moore entered for (applied for) the property of two adjoining Quakers, James Golden, one improvement, and George Stalker, two improvements (Q-2). Stalker’s two improvements were his home and his school. Golden moved on, but Stalker had to buy the entry, to keep the land he had lived on for years. In entry #1909, William Jenkins filed for land, “including the improvements of Michael Swaim and William Swaim” (E-4). Daniel Dillon (C-2) was threatened with confiscation of his land. Sarah Allison (wife of Robert) entered for his land and mill. Court action returned his land, so she did not succeed. This kind of chicanery was not confined to Guilford County.

Benjamin Cleveland, the famous military commander at the battle of Kings Mountain, lived on a well known farm on the Yadkin, in Wilkes County, called “Roundabout.” By precisely this method of “prior entry,” Joel Lewis stole the farm. Cleveland went to court, and lost. In disgust, he went to South Carolina to live. The wonder is that he didn’t blow off Lewis’ head. In Surry County, five consecutive grants took seven Quaker farms, including one of Bowater Beals. Beals went to court to fight the action, to no avail. Thoroughly alarmed, in the spring of 1780, the Quakers went to the court houses in droves, to file for their lands.

Samuel Forthergill was a prominent Quaker minister of England. In 1755 he toured the colonies from Nantucket to Georgia, from meeting house to meeting house. While in North Carolina, he bought 1280 acres of land on Polecat Creek, as investment land for his famous physician brother, Dr. John Fothergill of London (F-4). In 1780, this land was divided up by the commissioners for confiscated lands, in a carefully rigged sale. At this same sale, another tract was bought by Thomas Henderson, Clerk of Court – Guilford Courthouse, and the land surrounding it. Henderson and Alexander Martin promoted this sale, selling lots, for years. They had renamed it Martin Ville. This “sale” also amounted to theft.

Many people lived in Guilford, for which there are no land reports. Some lived on rented land, some on “public land,” in anticipation of purchase, some plainly were squatters. Only six of these people are listed on this map, to show how widespread was this practice. One is Jacob Schumacher (C-6). A strong tradition says that a Shoemaker lived adjoining Friedan’s Church; that he and the church shared a common spring; that the first name of the church was Shoemaker’s Church; that Shoemaker was a Tory; that at the battle of Guilford Court House he killed Arthur Forbes; that Shoemaker’s Whig neighbors captured him in the church yard and killed him there; that he was carried to his grave on the church door.

At least part of this tradition is borne out by the records. In 1780 and 1781, Jacob Schumacher was listed as a chain carrier on land grant surveys in the neighborhood of Friedan’s Church. There are references to “Shoemaker’s line.” In 1781 after the battle of Guilford Court House, Elisabeth Forbes applied to the state for aid. She was, as widow of Arthur, “allowed 25 barrels of corn for 1782 and 1783, out of specific tax of Guilford County.” At the August 1781 term of Court, Arthur Forbes’ will was probated. In 1787, Susannah Shoemaker obtained a land grant near Friedan’s Church and bought other land later. Susannah did not remarry, and died in 1813. She left twelve legatees – George, Barbry, Caty, Jacob, Coonrod, Susannah, Adam, John, Daniel, Mary, Christian and Elisabeth. Susannah’s grant joined two non-owners, Jacob and George Simmerman (Zimmerman), who also served as chain carriers in the community. Guilford land records indicated that it may have been thirty-five years before a Simmerman, or Zimmerman, obtained land – and it was in the Friedan’s Church Community.

Note: (1790 census shows Susannah Shoemaker with two slaves.) Both Zimmerman and Shoemaker are frequent entries in existing Friedan Church records. John MacClure (F-1) was listed on three separate land grants as being on adjacent land. No record was found showing him ever to own land.

One of the first actions of the new state was confiscation of the lands and properties of known Tories and all the lands of the two proprietors. All state land grants are of confiscated lands. County officers were appointed to handle estates that had been confiscated. These officers became leading members of a court house ring, formed immediately. Alexander Martin was a politician representing Guilford County in the Assembly. He and his associate, Thomas Henderson, clerk of court, arranged for the “sale” to themselves [of] 350 acres of land belonging to Edmund Fanning, the site of Guilford Court House. They spent several years promoting the land and building a town on the site, named Martin Ville.

William Dent, county surveyor, bought land from Thomas Low on Reedy Branch in 1773. He had a number of transactions after that, including eleven grants totaling 2759 acres, all confiscated from Henry Eustace McCulloh. His total land acquisitions were 3686 acres, plus a town lot in Martin Ville. John and Daniel Gillespie, commissioners, accumulated more than six thousand acres between them, much of it confiscated land.

Thomas Henderson, clerk of court, [missing verb here] eleven grants totaling 4724 acres, including half interest in the Guilford Court House tract that he shared with Alexander Martin, and half interest in two other tracts with John Hamilton, before leaving Guilford County to become clerk of court in new Rockingham County (1785).

Ralph Gorrell, land entry clerk and register, accumulated 5500 acres over a period of twenty-five years. Denied his seat in the assembly for dual office holding, he arranged for Robert Gorrell to take over as register and served several terms in the assembly.

Thomas Searcy, clerk of court following Henderson, operated a store at Martin Ville, across the street from the court house. He also owned a town lot in Leaksville, Rockingham County, and may have operated a store there. His tax listing shows great land holdings, apparently warrants, as no recorded deeds were found. Searcy went to Tennessee with Andrew Jackson in 1788 as Indian agent. He left his affairs in disarray, with a large shortage in his court accounts.

John Hamilton, sheriff (clerk of court following Searcy), had 33 land transactions before 1800, including eight grants of 1800 acres, plus half-interest in five others, for a total granted acreage of 2261 acres, plus land purchased from individuals.

Charles Bruce bought William Forster’s land on Reedy Fork by two transactions, the first in 1775. Thereafter he accumulated enormous acreage, including twelve grants for a total of 3773 acres, plus two town lots in Martin Ville. He had a very profitable enterprise, indeed, surveying confiscated land for the state, at two pounds per survey.

Alexander Martin gained a half interest in the court house tract, plus other grants. He appears to have been involved, some way, in the Tennessee land frauds with Martin Armstrong and James Glasgow. When he died, he had thousands of acres of Tennessee land. After Martin’s death, Ralph Gorrell managed to get the court house moved to his land.

When the confiscation officers sold each other the land confiscated from Tories, the only non-signer of the deed would be the recipient. They were generous with credit terms to themselves. They also divided up the “perishable goods,” livestock, grain, household goods, and personal properties – wagons, tools, slaves, etc.

23 February 1780 was one of the days for division of the spoils. A sale was held for land and property of William and Robert Field, Tories captured at Moore’s Creek Bridge. Also sold was the land of Dr. John Fothergill, Quaker physician of London. The stated reason was that this land was the property of previous Colonial Governor Tryon. It was not. The land still belonged to Fothergill. Also sold was land that belonged to Edmund Fanning. The recipients were granted six months credit – and the sale not reported to the state for three months, 23 May 1780. Commissioners for this sale were John Paisl[e]y, John Gillespie, and James Martin. A carefully rigged sale, indeed, the commissioners taking all of the land…. Typical and representative of these dubious transactions, Robert Martin’s land was “bought” 23 February 1780; reported to the state 23 May 1780; the deed was dated 22 August 1782; it was recorded February Court 1785.

end of excerpts, from pages 4 through 8

This information is made available strictly for private use and is not for republication in any form. The copyright is held by The Custom House and Mrs. Fred Hughes. Less than 5% of the material from the book has been posted here.