South Carolina Land Records

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the South Carolina Family History Research series.
History of South Carolina
South Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for South Carolina
Background Sources for South Carolina
South Carolina Maps
South Carolina Land Records
South Carolina Probate Records
South Carolina Court Records
South Carolina Tax Records
South Carolina Cemetery Records
South Carolina Church Records
South Carolina Military Records
South Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
South Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
South Carolina Immigration
African Americans of South Carolina
South Carolina County/District Resources
Map of South Carolina


South Carolina is a State-Land State.

Land and property records, in combination with court records, are often the key to solving difficult research problems. South Carolina’s colonial land records are among the most complete of the thirteen original colonies, probably because all records were maintained in Charleston, and Charleston was not destroyed during the Revolutionary War.

Land in South Carolina was granted by headright and bounty. Headrights were the “right” to free land of every “head” settling in the colony. Settlers who arrived with the first fleet were authorized headrights of 150 acres for every male aged sixteen and above and a hundred acres for every female and every male aged under sixteen. Heads-of-household could claim land for their slaves and servants as well as family members. Settlers who arrived after the first fleet and before 1756 were authorized fifty acres for each member of the household. After 1755, heads-of-household could receive a hundred acres plus an additional fifty acres for every other member of the household.

The prospective grantee first petitioned the Grand Council for a warrant (see South Carolina Court Records). The petition had to be made in person by the head-of-household; he had to give his name, the number of acres requested, and the location of the land. While there was no requirement to request all of the land due to the family, the household had to have as many persons as claimed. Petitions occasionally include names and ages of spouses and children or other genealogically valuable information. The date of petition or application is often called the precept, warrant, or pursuant date. The petitions are found at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in one of two sets of volumes: Records of the Grand Council (1671–92), in two volumes and Records of His Majesty’s Council in twenty-seven volumes covering the entire colonial period. These twenty-nine volumes are in chronological order and are unindexed; the precept date is required to locate the petition. See also Alexander S. Salley Jr., and R. N. Olsberg, eds., Warrants for Land in South Carolina, 1672–1721 (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1977), and Alexander S. Salley, Jr., Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina, 1671–1675 (Columbia, S.C.: Historical Commission of South Carolina, 1944).

After receiving a warrant, the prospective grantee carried it to a surveyor who surveyed the land and drew a plat, or map, of its boundaries. Recorded plats have important information including the following: the precept date, necessary to locate the original petition the survey (or certified) date; the recording date; and a full description of the land, including watercourses and location. Recorded plats are indexed in the Combined Alphabetical Index (see Background Sources for South Carolina).

When the plat was returned to the surveyor general’s office, the prospective grant was checked against other plats to ensure that only one person was claiming the same land. If there were no problems, grant papers were sent to the governor for his signature and seal. Recorded grants are indexed in the Combined Alphabetical Index (see Background Sources for South Carolina). The The Family History Library (FHL) has South Carolina Land Plats, 1731–1861 (with indexes covering 1688–1872), filmed on twenty-eight microfilm reels from original records at the Secretary of State’s Office in 1955.

Once the land was finally granted, the owner was responsible for paying a quitrent. The first quitrent payment came due within two years on headright grants and within ten years on bounty land grants. The quitrent was a land tax that had its roots in English manorial society where “the land obligations due the manor, such as plowing and haying the lord’s land, were computed to an annual money payment. Upon payment, the obligations were ‘quit’ for the year.” The FHL has South Carolina Land Grants, 1784–1882, filmed from the original records and including a partial general index and some volumes indexed individually.

Another important land record is the memorial. From 1731 through 1775, those who had obtained land were tasked with preparing a memorial attesting to the location, quantity, names of adjacent landowners, and the boundaries of the land. Memorials also included a chain of title, often from the original patentee to the current owner. Original memorials are located at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and are indexed in the Combined Alphabetical Index (see Background Sources). Some memorials have been microfilmed and are available at the FHL. The following published volumes are useful:

  • Esker, Katie-Prince Ward. South Carolina Memorials, 1731–1776: Abstracts of Selected Land Records from a Collection in the Department of Archives and History. 2 vols. New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1973–77.
  • Jackson, Ronald Vern, Gary Ronald Teeples, and David Schaefermeyer, eds., Index to South Carolina Land Grants, 1784–1800. Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1977.
  • Langley, Clara A. South Carolina Deed Abstracts, 1719–1772. 4 vols. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1983–84.
  • Lucas, Silas E., Jr., An Index to Deed of the Province and State of South Carolina, 1719–1785, and Charleston District, 1785–1800. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1977.

The boundary between South Carolina and North Carolina was first surveyed in 1772, and a final agreement was reached in 1815. Land previously thought to be in Mecklenburg and Tryon counties, North Carolina, was found to be in South Carolina. Records of both Carolinas should be examined for colonial inhabitants of the area encompassed by present-day Cherokee, Greenville, Spartanburg, and York Counties. See Brent Howard Holcomb, comp., North Carolina Land Grants in South Carolina (Greenville, S.C.: A Press, 1980).

In South Carolina, deeds are often called mesne conveyances, or conveyances, and are recorded in the office of the Register of Mesne Conveyance. Original records are found in each county’s Clerk of Court office, and microfilmed copies of most pre-1865 records are available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, and the FHL.

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