Understanding Maryland Records
When the land now comprising Maryland was given to Lord Baltimore, he wanted to use it as a source of wealth. The first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, died before actually receiving the land, but his son Cecelius, the second Lord Baltimore, who received it in 1632, had the same goal. As Lord Proprietor, he owned the land, had complete jurisdiction over it, and established the Conditions of Plantation to govern the patenting process. In 1776 Lord Baltimore lost all rights he had to the land. Quit rents were no longer due, and the rent rolls and debt books that listed them were no longer kept by Baltimore's agents. Persons holding land at that time became the absolute owners of it, in their own right, and began paying tax assessments on land instead of quit rents. In order to dispose of vacant land, the state of Maryland continued the warrant, survey, and patent system, a procedure remaining in effect to the present.
The following terms and types of documents will be encountered as one uses the records pertaining to land in Maryland.
Alienation Fees. An alienation fee was paid whenever there was a transfer or conveyance of all or part of a tract of land, and was usually the equivalent of a year's quit rent.
Beginning Tree. This is the tree marking the beginning point of a survey of a tract of land. Oaks, which tend to live the longest, were preferred, but many other types were used. When the beginning tree died, records indicate that there was often an effort to prove and perpetuate the memory of the bounds. Depositions taken 50 or 75 years after the first survey will refer to a stump where the white oak stood, or a large rock where the stump of the white oak was located, or even a heap of stones or a locust post marking the beginning of the tract.
Caveats. A landowner knowing or suspecting that a survey, or even a patent, included some of his land could file a caveat to protest against the infringement and have the matter was investigated. A withdrawn caveat usually meant that the caveator no longer believed the survey crossed his boundary lines. At other times an elder survey was found and the caveat upheld.
Certificates of Survey & Resurvey. After obtaining a warrant, the prospective landowner requested (and paid for) a survey of the specified acreage, and gave a name to the tract. After making the survey, the surveyor filed a certificate of survey which included a plat and description with the Land Office. Resurveys of patented land were frequently made, using a warrant of resurvey. The resurvey verified the original boundaries of the tract and added contiguous vacant land, if any was discovered. Resurveys were also used to consolidate a landowner's holdings of parts of several parcels into a single patented tract with a new name.
Certificates of Survey, Unpatented. Some certificates of survey failed to result in the issuance of a patent under that tract name or at that time. Sometimes the reasons are given, and sometimes are unknown.
Condemned Land. This is land taken by a governmental body for a public purpose, such as a road or reservoir. Sometimes individuals or private firms could hold condemned property. In the colonial period, if an agreement could not be reached with the landowner, an individual could condemn that person's land to construct a mill. Railroads can condemn land for tracks, if a landowner refuses to grant an easement.
Conditions of Plantation. These were the rules which governed how land was granted in Maryland in the colonial period. Before the first settlers landed in 1634, Lord Baltimore had set up his Conditions of Plantation, which he changed from time to time. The land was held by Lord Baltimore in fief, a type of tenure somewhat resembling an assignable lease in perpetuity. Settlers could sell their land and pass it on by inheritance, but paid yearly quit rents to Lord Baltimore and under certain circumstances, at his discretion, he could and did revoke grants.
Confiscated British Property. During the Revolutionary War, the General Assembly learned that the British had seized Maryland's Bank of England stock. In retaliation, the General Assembly in 1780 voted to seize and sell Loyalist and British property in Maryland. Usually it was simply land or a house and lot but if there was a business or plantation that included slaves and other personal property, someone was appointed to manage the property until it was sold. There are records showing the properties confiscated and the names of the purchasors. Many of the conveyances were never recorded in county land records.
Deeds Acknowledgments. An acknowledgment following a deed often contains language indicating that a wife agrees to her husband selling the land and relinquishs her dower right in it. There were some situations where the wife had no dower right in the land, for example, when the husband was signing the deed as a trustee or where he and a brother had inherited a tract jointly and the deed divided it. Otherwise the wife was to appear in court and relinquish dower. Sometimes the acknowledgement is omitted even though the wife is alive. Occasionally the purchaser obtains her acknowledgment later and has it recorded. Usually there is no indication anyone challenged the missing acknowledgment, and title to the land passed without question.
Deeds. Deeds for the conveyance of land were usually executed and recorded only after payment had been received. Often beforehand the buyer and seller had signed a contract to sell the land, which specified the terms of the sale. Although the contracts were not recorded, occasionally references to a contract may be found in later deeds or court cases. The purchaser frequently took possession of the land and paid taxes for a considerable period before the land was actually conveyed by deed. Deeds, agreements, mortgages, and other land transactions usually are found in the land records of the county where the land was located. Land transactions in Maryland during the colonial period were sometimes recorded with the Provincial Court instead of or in addition to the county court, particularly when the transfer involved persons not living in the same county. In 1777 the Provincial Court is replaced by the General Court of the Western Shore and the General Court of the Eastern Shore.When the General Court is abolished in 1806, the Court of Appeals assumes the recordation function until the activity ceases in 1826.
Escheat. In some instances, land became escheat, meaning it reverted to Lord Baltimore, and the landowner lost all right to it. Lord Baltimore had the right to all escheated land, and could then regrant it, adding to his revenue. A new owner obtained it with an escheat warrant. To find as many escheats as possible, the agents of Lord Baltimore usually allowed the first discoverers to patent the land at two-thirds of its value. Lord Baltimore interpreted escheat concept rather broadly, even more so than in England at the time. Escheat cases in Maryland cited one or more of three grounds: (1) The landowner failed to conform to the conditions of the patent, for example, by not paying quit rents or not obtaining a patent on surveyed land within the time allowed; (2) The landowner committed suicide or was convicted of either treason or a felony punishable by death, thereby depriving his heirs of the land; and (3) The landowner died without heirs, which was interpreted broadly as descendants of the whole blood only. Even the father or the wife sometimes lost the land in the absence of a will, and a purchaser of the land might lose it years later, as the newly-discovered escheat meant he did not have clear title.
Fee Simple. Fee simple means absolute ownership of land by a person and his or her heirs and assignees, without limitation.
Leases. Most leases of land were not recorded in the land records, unless the length of the lease was long term. Leases often included requirements beyond the payment of rent, such as building house or planting an orchard. The term of the lease might be stated in terms of years, but could be for three lives. In the latter type of document three people were named as rentors, the first lessee and two others to succeed that person, usually a wife and a child, or a son and a grandson. The lease did not end until all three had died, the last one being called the longest liver.
Outbuildings. The outbuildings were structures separate from the dwelling house, and included, for example, barns, sheds, stables, smokehouses, and icehouses.
Patents. Patents were grants of land from Lord Baltimore, and after the Revolution, the State of Maryland. A patent was issued after the certificate of survey was approved. A propective patentee was considered the owner of the land between the time of the approval of the certificate of survey and issuance of the patent, and thus paid taxes and could sell or bequeath the parcel.
Quit Rents. Quit rents were semi-annual payments by land owners to Lord Baltimore. They were based on acreage, whether land was rich loam, swamp, or mostly rocks. The quit rents resembled property taxes, imposed after the Revolution by the state and county governments, except that they represented personal income for Lord Baltimore.
Rent Rolls & Debt Books. Rent rolls and debt books were records in which Lord Baltimore's agents kept track of the quit rents due him by county. The rent rolls listed each tract of patented land, the name of the person for whom it was surveyed, the name of the current possessor(s), the acreage, the quit rent, and sometimes subsequent deed transactions. Inheritances were not noted, but when a new rent roll book was begun, the new possessor of the land was listed. Debt books, which began in 1733 for the Eastern Shore and 1753 for the Western Shore, were prepared annually for each county. They listed each land owner and then the tracts of land and the quit rent due on each.
Seize. Seized meant possessed and was widely used to indicate ownership, a frequently statement being, "He was seized of certain lands at the time of his death."
Tenements & Hereditaments. Tenements meant all houses and other buildings on the land. Hereditaments includes everything in the nature of realty not covered by "land and tenements."
Warrants. A warrant of survey, the first step in the patenting of land, entitled a person to a designated number of acres of vacant land. Lord Baltimore issued a series of Conditions of Plantation to govern the patent process. At first in order to attract settlers several categories of individuals were entitled to a warrant, called a common warrant, for a specified number of acres, usually 50 or 100 acres. After 1683, all prospective patentees had to pay for the warrants. These payments were called caution money or purchase money. The warrants could be sold and often were. In addition to common warrants, there were special warrants which were required if the land had been cultivated or had improvements on it or if vacant land was being combined with a previously patented tract.