Orangeburgh District, South Carolina Land Records
The colonial government of South Carolina claimed all of the land in this area before it was settled. The land was given out as grants to encourage settlement and occasionally for services rendered to the government. Once someone became the owner of land granted by the government, they were free to dispose of it as they wished. Various types of legal instruments could be used to transfer title to real estate. These “deeds” may have been officially recorded but were not required to be in order to be valid.
Surveys in South Carolina were done using the Metes and Bounds system. This involved measuring the survey lines by direction and distance, noting the markers along the survey lines, and naming the adjoining landowners. This system was used in the original thirteen colonies, six other states and part of a seventh state and is still used in those areas today. It is more challenging to map than the Public Land system that was adopted in 1785 for use by the Federal government.
South Carolina was established in 1670 under a Proprietary form of government. The Proprietors granted land to settlers but most of those records no longer exist. The crown took over the colony by 1720 and the Royal government began granting land about 1730. One known grant within the boundaries of what eventually became Orangeburgh District was granted in about 1704 to Henry Sterling. A few people began having surveys done in the area by the early 1730s but the primary initial settlement began in July 1735 with the arrival of about 250 German-Swiss settlers. The details of their land records have been published in two volumes by Margaret Waters.
There are a few legal concepts that are helpful in understanding changes in land ownership. Primogeniture was the policy that the eldest son inherited all of the land if his father died without making a will. This was in effect until 1791 in South Carolina. The term “heir at law” in a document reflects this circumstance. If there was no will and no sons, the daughters with their husbands and the widow sold the property and divided the proceeds.
Under the Anglo-American common law tradition of feme sole a women could own land in her own right only if she was single or widowed. Legal action such as a prenuptial agreement was necessary for her to retain control of land while she was married. Otherwise her rights to that land were taken on by her husband. (South Carolina did not change this until 1870.) A widow was entitled to one third of her husband’s real property, even if he left no will, for the duration of her life. This is known as her dower rights. A married man needed his wife’s release of dower to sell any of his real property.