Many types of records can be used to attempt to recreate the history of land ownership in Orangeburgh District. Some records have survived; some have not. Discussed below are the most useful records for this work.
Petitions for Land – The first step in acquiring land from the government was to appear before the Governor’s Council in Charleston and request land based on headright or the number of members of one’s family. The recorded details of these verbal petitions varied over time with the earlier ones providing the most information. Brent Holcomb has abstracted the land petitions from 1734/35 through 1775 in a seven volume set of books, Petitions for Land from the South Carolina Council Journals. (All of Holcomb’s publications can be found at his website.)
Colonial Plats – When the Council approved a request for land, the petitioner was given a warrant. He took this to an approved surveyor who helped him pick out his land and survey it. The surveyor drew a plat of the tract, in duplicate, with one copy going to the landowner and one being filed with the Surveyor General. These plats are indexed on the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) website. The archives has also placed copies of them online. The plats are generally described by county location and sometimes by watershed. The four counties which were used for describing land locations, Berkeley, Craven, Colleton and Granville, had no other jurisdictional functions. Orangeburgh District covered parts of Berkeley, Colleton and Granville Counties. The area of Orangeburgh District that was originally in Granville County is not part of my research project.
Royal Grant – Once the survey had been recorded, the Council issued a grant for the property. These grants are listed in the online index at the SCDAH website. Most are extant but usually contain little additional information. They are being abstracted by Brent Holcomb in a series entitled South Carolina’s Royal Grants.
Land Memorials – In order to collect quit rents (a form of tax) on the land granted by the colonial government, landowners were required to file memorials (summaries) of how they acquired the property. Enforcement of this provision was very slack until later in the colonial period. Many of the memorials were filed by the original grantee so contain little additional information. The more helpful and useful memorials were those filed by later owners of a property since they describe how they came to own the property. There may be references in these memorials to recorded deeds, unrecorded deeds, inherited land or land acquired by marriage. These memorials are extant and are indexed in the SCDAH online index. Microfilm copies are available at SCDAH. The microfilming was done from clerical copies made in the 1820s rather than the original memorials which were in damaged condition.
Quit Rent Rolls – There are five unindexed volumes of quit rent rolls at SCDAH. A few of the records have been published by Tony Draine and John Skinner as South Carolina Quit Rents, 1735 & 1736. The information found in these rolls varies but can be useful at times.
State Plats – After the Revolutionary War the state of South Carolina, rather than the new Federal government, retained title to all of its ungranted lands. A law, passed in 1784, established the policy of granting vacant land for $10 per hundred acres in tracts no larger than 640 acres to anyone who wanted to purchase it. The acreage limitation was dropped in 1785 and in 1791 the purchase price was abolished and land could be claimed for only the surveying fees. This led to a good bit of speculative activity with some individuals claiming numerous large grants. State Plats are included in the online index at the SCDAH website and are available from microfilm copies at the archives.
Deeds – Once someone owned a tract of land, he could sell it to anyone. The types of legal instruments used to convey ownership varied over time and according to need. A two part document known as a Lease and Release was used initially but was eventually replace by other types of documents. Deeds did not have to be recorded to be legal but most people probably understood that recording a transaction made it more secure.
Since all records were filed in Charleston during the colonial era and for a time after the Revolutionary War, Charleston County deed records will contain any documents that may have been recorded from the area of Orangeburgh District between 1719 and 1785. In addition there will be some deeds of the area filed in Charleston as late as about 1800 since some of the residents may not have trusted the new court system, established in 1785. Caroline Moore published South Carolina Deed Abstracts 1719—1772 as four volumes and Brent Holcomb continued the series with three more volumes going through 1788.
Since Charleston was the only place legal documents could be recorded in South Carolina prior to 1785, it was difficult for someone living very far inland to record their transactions. Local courts were established in 1785 to handle deeds and other legal transactions. Lewisburg County, Lexington County, Orange County and Winton County were established in the area of Orangeburgh District. Lewisburg, Lexington and Orange County records have not survived. Some Winton County records are extant but that county primarily covered the area that eventually became Barnwell District with only a very small section of what remained Orangeburgh District.
Lewisburg, Lexington, Orange and Winton Counties ceased to function by about 1791. The courthouse in Orangeburgh District became the appropriate place to record deeds. Unfortunately, when Sherman’s troops began their march into South Carolina in 1865, the courthouse records from Orangeburgh were sent to Columbia for safekeeping. That did not protect them and all of the deed records were lost.
A new set of Orangeburg District deed books was started in 1866. Orangeburgh District became Orangeburg County under the new state constitution in 1868. Some individuals chose to re-register older deeds, particularly when the property was changing hands again. These deed books can be accessed on microfilm at SCDAH or at the office of the Register of Deeds (ROD) at the Orangeburg County Courthouse. (Until 1998 the Register of Deeds was known as the Register of Mense Conveyance or RMC office.)
Manuscript Collections – It was apparently traditional that when property was sold from one individual to another, the former owner passed along all of the land documents he had to the new owner. This means that as time went by someone might have the original plat or plats, if several parcels had been combined, and several sets of deeds in their possession. Some of these collections of family documents have found their way to various repositories such as the SCDAH, the South Caroliniana Library and the Orangeburg County Historical Society (also known as the Salley Archives) in Orangeburg. Some collections remain in private ownership. There are collections of Orangeburgh District documents at all of these locations. Brent Holcomb also publishes collections of documents pertaining to Orangeburgh District in his South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research when he finds them.
Wills and Estate Records:
These records are usually first thought of in connection with identifying relationships among family members but they can also be quite useful in tracing land ownership. Like deeds, discussed above, all of these documents were filed in Charleston until about 1781 or later. Caroline Moore abstracted the wills of that period in a four volume set entitled Abstracts of the Wills of the State of South Carolina (of Charleston District for the fourth volume). Brent Holcomb has published three volumes of Probate Records of South Carolina that cover about the same period.
Beginning in 1781 the District courts (or County courts between 1787 and 1791) took over the responsibility of this recordkeeping. This means that Orangeburgh District wills and estate records suffered the same fate as the antebellum deeds when the records were lost during the Civil War. The one exception was a small volume of Equity Court records that survived, probably because it was in an offsite location at the time. The Equity Court was responsible, among other things, for dividing land among heirs when someone died. This surviving volume of records has been published by Brent Holcomb asOrangeburgh District, South Carolina Returns in Partition for the Court of Equity, 1824—1837.