Friday, September 22, 2017

The Land Grant that Wasn't

Choosing a time like 1763 to arrive in the wilderness of southwestern Virginia was probably not the most advantageous arrangement. Whatever the mechanism was that granted William Tilson property on the south fork of the Holston River—even if it was on account of his service to the Crown during the French and Indian War—the British government promptly followed up by declaring all colonists' claims to land west of the Appalachians null and void.

But the Tilsons apparently stood their ground. Whether this Proclamation of 1763 suddenly converted all those Virginia settlers into outright criminals or simply scofflaws is hard to tell. Regardless of what others did—or what they were supposed to do—those Tilson ancestors, new to the area in 1763, apparently stayed in the neighborhood long enough to raise their seven children.

If what can be gleaned from Lewis Preston Summers' History of Southwest Virginia, 1746 - 1786 is accurate, land agents for the Patton grants and the Loyal Company grants "immediately proceeded to survey and sell lands upon the waters of the if they had never been restrained from doing so by the proclamation of 1763."

That others eventually affiliated with the Tilson family were also in the area during this disputed time is evident, for the family we mentioned yesterday—that of the Joseph Cole who married William Tilson's youngest daughter—were said to have arrived in the area from Massachusetts by 1774.

The various historic reports of settlers having to vacate their lands seem to either pre-date or post-date the Tilsons' stay in the area. There is no doubt that the unrest caused by the land disputes made a stay in the area risky, but the two eras in which it was mainly reported that settlers actually fled to other colonies were either well before the Tilsons arrived, or during the time when the Tilsons also migrated to Tennessee.

By 1766, in fact, the Loyal Company, one of the very land companies which should have ceased their activities, actually placed ads requesting that "all persons who had contracted for any of the company's land and were driven off their settlements in the former war, to return and claim the same or it would be sold to others."

Perhaps, with those conditions, it was no surprise that the Tilsons held tight to their land.

Still, the question is: if the very governmental entity which authorized the granting of that land to William Tilson for his military service now changed its policy and retracted that grant, exactly who would it be that held the document verifying that land grant that now wasn't?

Despite such questions, it was only a few more years until a subsequent war changed the legal standing of that policy yet another time. 


  1. The April 1921 (10:1) issue of the NGS Quarterly reproduces a 1772 notice by George Washington that was published in the Virginia Gazette about surveying lands for veterans. As far as I can tell, it does not name a specific county, and it does not mention Mr. Tilson. However, it might shed some light on the tentative nature of land grants in that era. Images of back issues of the Quarterly are available to members here:

    1. Marian, thanks so much for mentioning that! I've been surprised, in reading background information, to see George Washington's name pop up as surveyor for lands in the general area where my Tilsons settled--although I suspect my Tilson property may have been surveyed by James Patton, due to the area's connection with Charles Saint Clair. Anything I can read on land grants from that era will indeed be helpful!

  2. Well that seems real two faced but times back then apparently laws changed rapidly :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...