Juniata County PAGenWeb Land Records

Land Claims on the Juniata

by Phil McGinty

The process of obtaining land in early Pennsylvania was fairly complex, involving Claims, Warrants, Surveys, Resurveys, and finally Patents. It is necessary to understand the needs of the time to fully understand how all these procedures related to each other. Of special note are the many barriers of time, distance and circumstance that worked to amend the legal requirements “on the ground, and in the field” for accepted land ownership.

First of all, the settler would have to CLAIM a piece of land. The land was not randomly assigned by the government. The applicant was aware of the land he desired well BEFORE any documentation found in the archives. The 1755 survey of Robert Campbell, for example, shows John McGinty to the East as a neighbor, although there is no warranted survey for this land by McGinty. (Cumberland County Survey Book C-25, page 125) It is possible that McGinty had indeed claimed this land and was known by the locals as owning said land - even without legal documentation.

In fact, John McGinty had applied for a 50 acre Warrant a month before Campbell in 1755. This land was described as on the north side of the Juniata on Henderson’s Run. However, no evidence of a survey for this land is recorded in the Warrant Register and it has been thought that John never acted on this warrant. (Warrant Register Book, Cumberland County, page 104, #112). This may have been the mysterious land we see next to the Robert Campbell plat.

Of note are several complaints registered by the Indians to the Colonial government about settlers illegally claiming Indian lands around the Juniata. There had been a treaty in 1743 with the Delaware Indians guaranteeing them these lands, and for its part, the Colonial Government did try to maintain and enforce this agreement. For example, William White, a future neighbor of John McGinty, had discovered a lovely meadow used for growing corn on the north side of the Juniata near the present day waters of the DO Run. White, along with several other settlers, had claimed the land and even raised five cabins upon it. In May of 1750, White was forcibly removed from this property and his cabins were ordered to be burned - by the government, NOT by the Indians. The burning of the cabins was supposed to discourage White from his illegal enterprise. ("History of that part of the Susquehanna and Juniata Valleys, embraced in the counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union and Snyder, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania", Chapter 17, Walker Township)

All this changed in 1755. In February of that year, these lands were opened up for legal settlement and Warrant Applications began to be accepted . When applying for a WARRANT, the size of the claim was estimated by the applicant. Since no formal survey had been made, these warrants seldom if ever agreed with the actual acreage as discovered by the SURVEYS. In 1762, John McGinty would receive a warrant for 100 acres that would be surveyed as 190 acres. (Warrant Register Book, Cumberland County, page 107, #199, Survey Book A-26, page 248.)

On February 3rd, 1755, the first day of the “Land Rush”, land hungry colonists lined up at the Land Office to stake their claims. One of the first warrants was issued to Alexander McGinty. (Warrant Register Book, Cumberland County, page 103, #89). Alexander had found a peninsula of rich bottom land on the Tuscarora Creek only 4 miles upstream from the Juniata River. (Cumberland County, Survey Book C-168, page 44).

On February 6th, 1755, an angry White applied for and received a DOUBLE warrant for his former lands. (Warrant Register Book, Cumberland County, page 190, #30 & #33.) He would later discover that double warranting did little to protect him. During the period that White had been evicted from said property, a James Kyle had moved onto a portion the same lands. Kyle warranted his portion of White’s claim seven years later, in June of 1762. A caveat ensued and Kyle was allowed to keep his portion of White’s claim. A year later, in 1763, White received the ultimate “payback” as he was massacred at his home by the Indians. ("History of that part of the Susquehanna and Juniata Valleys, embraced in the counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union and Snyder, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania", Chapter 17, Walker Township)

Once a WARRANT - an Application - was made, the land would be SURVEYED. These surveys would usually occur within three months of the Warrant Date. The units of measure for these surveys are expressed in Acres and Perches. Today, we are quite familiar with the term Acre to measure land area. In the land records, Acres are often abbreviated as “a”. However, the term “Perch” is not so common. Whereas in Georgia, the unit of survey was the Chain (80 Chains = 1 Mile. One Chain equals 66 feet.), in Pennsylvania the unit of linear measurement was the Perch (320 Perches = 1 Mile. A distance of One Perch is equal to 16.5 feet.) Perches are abbreviated as "p".

Traditionally, an Acre is defined as an amount of land running 1 Chain by 1 Furlong. This is thought to have indicated the amount of land necessary to sustain a man in Olde England. A Furlong is equal to 10 Chains, so an Acre is 1 Chain X 10 Chains, or 10 Square Chains in area. Since a Chain is equal 4 Perches, an Acre can also be described as 4 Perches X 40 Perches, or 160 Square Perches in area. In the Warrant Register Index, land areas are expressed in Acres and Perches, the Perch being used to expressed a portion of an Acre. A cursory glance at the Copied Surveys and their respective areas also shows Perches, written as a subset to the Acres listing. The number of Perches NEVER exceeds 160, the number of Square Perches in an Acre.

On the web site, PA State Archives - RG-17 - Copied Survey Images - Main Interface, we have copies of these surveys. In addition to showing the amounts of land surveyed (expressed in Acres and Perches), each survey usually notes two dates - a Warrant Date and a Survey Date. When I drew my latest map, I chose to identify the plats by the earlier of the two dates - the Warrant Date - with the understanding that the settler was probably there earlier.

Some of these surveys were lost for various reasons and had to be RESURVEYED as the State of Pennsylvania requires a survey for every piece of land. So, the survey plat may indicate a Warrant Date and a RESURVEY Date. In 1770, there was a caveat filed by William Henderson against John Bayly over the land that John McGinty had sold to John Bayly. Apparently, John's original documents (including the official land survey) were destroyed when the house of Colonel Armstrong burned down. This land was RESURVEYED in 1811. (Pennsylvania Archives Series: Series 3, Volume 1, Chapter: "Minutes of the Board of Property," pages 312-313)

To finalize the process, the settler would have to take the Warrant and the Survey and go to Philadelphia and pay a fee. Then, a PATENT would be issued giving the settler legal and full Title by the government to the land in question. In this respect, a Patent is like a Grant.
Note: Unlike a WARRANT, the amount of land PATENTED always agrees with the amount of acreage shown on the SURVEY.

This last step in the process was quite often ignored. John and Alexander McGinty, as well as many others, deeded and sold their lands based solely on Warrant Applications - and it was legally acceptable to do so. In the case of Alexander McGinty, his survey of 312 acres and 50 perches was not PATENTED until the 1840s, some eighty years after Alexander had left Pennsylvania for North Carolina. There was not felt the need to rush to the Patent Office in Philadelphia to legitimize claims with paper titles. The general lack of patents among the populace presented the State of Pennsylvania with an opportunity to collect money during the Civil War. In an effort to collect war funds, the State of Pennsylvania threatened to confiscate people's lands if they did not pay for and receive Patents to their lands. (The key word here is PAY.)

This opens up an interesting possibility. The 1766 deed of land from John McGinty to John Bayly (Cumberland County, PA, Deeds, Volume 1, Book D, page 270) specifically ties the deeded land to the WARRANT that John McGinty applied for and received in 1762. (Warrant Registers 1733-1965, Cumberland County, page 107, #199) This Warrant was for 100 acres, and in fact, the deed is just for 100 acres. However, this 1762 Warrant was RESURVEYED in 1811 as 190 acres. Remember, the original survey had burned in the fire of Colonel Armstrong's house. So, the land McGinty deeded to Bayly in 1766 may have actually contained 190 acres, even though the deed just specifies 100 acres, agreeable to the 1762 Warrant. The question arises, therefore, as to how much land did Bayly actually purchase from John McGinty? Thus, we have the 1770 land caveat between Henderson and Bayly. The court sided with Bayly based on the fact that the original land records had been destroyed by the fire that burned down Colonel Armstrong's house. (Pennsylvania Archives Series: Series 3, Volume 1, Chapter: "Minutes of the Board of Property," pages 312-313)

The buying and selling of lands without Patents reflects several forces at work:

1. It was a hassle to travel over a hundred miles from the frontier back to Philadelphia - to PAY money when the system in place did NOT require a Patent to buy and sell land.
2. The Scot Irish were looked down upon by William Penn and he made life tough for them by imposing high taxes, etc. So, they didn't want to pay any more money to William Penn anyway - just on principle. This disdain for Penn was one of the reasons the Scot Irish colonists are found along the far western margins of civilization in PA. They were trying to put as much real estate between them and Philadelphia as possible. This of course pushed them into contact and conflict with the Indians.
3. As they were living on the margins, many didn't have the extra money to pay the government, especially if it was not required.
4. In the view of the Government, they weren't going to make a big deal about the "legalities" of Patents, as a major goal of the Colony was the settlement of the frontier. They needed the Scot Irish to buffer the Colony from the Indians.

In summary, we note the following steps to land title in PA:

Claim - by Occupation of the land
W - Warrant for Title or Application
S - Survey of land
RS - Resurvey of land - when necessary
P - Patent (Legal Title) - similar to the “legality” of a Grant in GA

Due to apathy, lack of funds, disdain for the government and/or the lack of penalty for not completing the process, the patenting of land may have taken years, generations and even multiple owners to complete. Today, there are still lands that have not been patented in the State of Pennsylvania. But now the law has teeth. The State holds the right to confiscate any such lands not patented. (Jonathan R. Stayer, Head Reference Section, Pennsylvania State Archives, 350 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120-0090.)

Phil McGinty
December 1, 2007

Note: Many thanks to Jonathan R. Stayer, Head Reference Section, Pennsylvania State Archives, 350 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120-0090., for his help in explaining the Pennsylvania processes.

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