History of MS Land Offices

SOURCE PUBLIC DOMAIN MATERIAL: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History; Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions and Persona; Planned and Edited by Dunbar Rowland, LL.D. Director Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Member American Historical Associations, Vol. II. L-Z 1907

LAND OFFICES -  The first enactment of the United States Congress regarding the lands of Mississippi Territory, bears the date March 3, 1803.  The territorial government was established in 1798, but the authority of the United States to provide for the rights of the inhabitants in the lands they held and regulate the sale of vacant lands, was not clear until after the agreement with Georgia in 1802.

This act provided, "That, for the disposal of the lands of the United States
within the Mississippi Territory, two Land Offices shall be established in the same; one at such place in the county of Adams, as shall be designated by the President of the United States, for the lands lying West of "Pearl River", sometimes called "Halfway River"; and one at such place in the county of Washington, as shall be designated by the President of the United States, for the lands lying East of the Pearl River; and for each of the said offices a Register and Receiver of Public Moneys shall be appointed," etc., the same regulations being made as in the Northwest territory.

Until more land than the old districts of Natchez and Mobile, north of latitude 31 degrees, should be acquired from the Indians, it was the duty of the register in each district to act with two persons to be appointed by the president, as a commission to adjust the claims arising from grants and other acts of the former governments of the country.

On July 9, 1803, Edward TURNER, of Mississippi , was appointed register of the land office for the lands lying west of Pearl River.  He was re-appointed  Nov. 18, 1804.  On March 3, 1805, Thomas Hill WILLIAMS, of Mississippi  territory, was appointed register of the county of Adams, west of Pearl River, and the latter was succeeded by Nehemiah TILTON, of Delaware, by appointment Jan 10, 1811.  East of Pearl River Joseph CHAMBERS was the first register.  The commissioners appointed were Thomas RODNEY of Delaware, Robert WILLIAMS of North Carolina, for the western district, to have their office at Washington; Ephraim KIRBY of Conn. and Robert Carter NICHOLAS of Kentucky for the eastern district to have their office at St. Stephens.
        The board for the district west of Pearl River "convened at the town of
Washington on Dec 1, 1803, and continued open for the reception of claims until July 3 1809, when it was adjourned sine die, after having received for record 2,090 claims.  Some of these claims were subsequently contested in the high courts of the United States."  There were no public lands to be disposed of ab initio, except such as might be found unclaimed in the Natchez district.  Settlers upon the land, who were in possession March 3, 1803, were to have the preference in becoming purchasers at the price then fixed by law for public lands, and these constituted the main class of pre-emptors.

April 21, 1806, it was enacted that persons entitled to a right of pre-emption by virtue of certificate from the commissioners, should be allowed until Jan 1, 1807, to make the first payment; when, if they failed so to do, their right became void.  As for those without title who were actual settlers in 1798, they were donated 640 acres to each male settler of full age.  Finally, by act of Jan. 10, 1808, every person the head of a family or of full age, who on March 3, 1807, actually inhabited and cultivated a tract of land not claimed under a land commissioners"  certificate, and had obtained permission to reside on the lands under the act of March 1807, should have the right of preference in becoming a purchaser of not to exceed 640 acres, and be allowed until Jan. 1, 1809 to make the first payment.

Sept 19 1808 the Mississippi House of Representatives, F. L. CLAIBORNE,
speaker, adopted a memorial to congress, asking further indulgence in making the first payment.  It was represented that the planters "have been cut off from every hope of payment by an act of that government to which they were indebted.  It has been deemed expedient to suspend, by embargo, our mercantile operations, and thereby our produce lies, unsold and unsaleable in our barns.  The policy of this measure is nowhere admired more than by the people of this territory . . . but . . . we deplore the severe and destructive effects which will inevitably accompany the operations of the law, if the payments due to the United States are rigidly exacted."  The committee on public lands reported adversely to the petition, saving the  pre-emptors already had had a longer time for making their first payment that other purchasers, and had enjoyed the selection of the best lands without competition.  In March, 1808, the first Choctaw purchase was ordered opened to sale, and thereafter the land office had to deal with the original sale of land outside of the historic ground of Natchez district, and sales were made under the general land laws of the United States.

Under the act of 1808 Thomas W. MURRAY of Virginia, was register, and Lemuel HENRY, receiver, at St. Stephens, for the district east of Pearl.

Before the Choctaw cession of 1820 there were 4,792,000 acres of land sold
in Mississippi and Alabama for $17,656,549, of which $5,577,057 had been paid.

The sales were about $150,000 in 1807, when they began; next year, when
there was war in prospect, they dropped to $35,000; after that they varied from $150,000 to $300,000 until 1813-15, the war period, when the annual sales were $60,000, $82,000 and $54,000.  Then in 1816 the sales leaped to over $1,000,000, next year to $2,000,000, and in 1818 to $3,715,000.  The sales in 1819 were, however, unprecedented - $9,700,000, more than half the total from 1807.  This was almost entirely in Alabama, however, in the new Indian cessions.

Under the act of March 3, 1819, a land office was established at Jackson
Courthouse, (county seat of Jackson County), to take evidence regarding titles to land in the coast region based on French, English and Spanish grants.  William BARTON was register; William BARNETT, receiver; John ELLIOTT, clerk and interpreter.  These officers also had charge of the sale of the lands in that region, annexed in 1812 from east Florida south of the Ellicott line and east of the Pearl River.  The report for October 1, 1821, was west of Pearl River district, total lands in district, 3,502,080 acres, all surveyed; Jackson Courthouse, 2,097,600, no surveys; east of Pearl River (Ala), 6,904,320,  (of which) 5,253,000 surveyed.  The receipts of the Jackson county officer in 1820 were $13,405; at Washington $90,876; while the receipts at Huntsville, Chawba were $407,000, and at St. Stephens $67,000.

By the act of May 6, 1822, the old district east of Pearl River in the first Choctaw cession was divided, and that part of it in Mississippi was assigned to the Jackson county land office, which was removed to Augusta.  The territory of this office was then the southeast corner of the State, south of the "old Choctaw boundary."  The same act also created a new district to include lands ceded by the Choctaws at Doak's Stand (q.v.) in 1820, estimated at over 5,000,000 acres, the land office to be established at such convenient place as the president might direct.  The president was authorized to order all or part of the land surveyed and offered for sale, the first sale to be held at any convenient place west of Pearl River if so
desired.  To this new district was attached the lands east of the Tombigbee in Mississippi, to which the Indian title had been extinguished in 1816, and which had belonged to the Madison County district (Alabama).

In 1822, the president appointed Gideon FITZ register, and James C. DICKSON, brother of David DICKSON, receiver for the land office at Jackson.  Surveyor FREEMAN recommended the sales to be at Washington or Port Gibson, but the legislature in December 1822, petitioned for sales at Jackson, where the
first sale occurred in November 1833.

The act of Feb. 22, 1827 authorized the president to order the removal of  "the land office now located at Jackson," and it was accordingly, changed to Mount Salus, the former home of Gov. LEAKE, (now Clinton), upon request of  the legislature.

Under the act of 1803, there was also appointed a "surveyor of the lands of
the United States south of Tennessee," to whose duties were added the survey of the lands of Orleans district in 1805, and the country annexed from West Florida in 1812.  Isaac BRIGGS of Maryland, was the first surveyor, appointed April 7, 1803.  He was succeeded by Seth PEASE, of the District of Columbia, appointed March 2, 1807, who arrived in May of that year.  Thomas FREEMAN was appointed Aug. 27, 1810, and he continued in office until his death in 1821.  His jurisdiction was restricted in 1817, by the appointment of Gen. John COFFEE as surveyor in the northern district of Mississippi territory, which district was changed in the following year to Alabama territory, leaving FREEMAN the surveyor of all public lands in the State of Mississippi.  Jan. 9, 1822, Levin WAILES was appointed to succeed FREEMAN. Joseph DUNBAR, collector of the revenue district, was appointed surveyor in Jan. 1830.

The report of B. L. C. WAILES, register at Washington, in July 1824, showed: Area of Natchez District, 2,031,800 acres; subsequent purchases 12,475,000 acres.  The State was divided into three land districts, one for the district west of the Pearl, with the land office at Washington, one east of the Pearl, with office at Augusta, and the Choctaw district, with the office at Clinton, where all transactions were on the cash basis, no debts or forfeitures.  In the western district the private claims confirmed by the United States, chiefly British and Spanish grants, amounted to 545,480 acres.  Only about one third of the lands in the district had been disposed of, say 988,000 acres.  The forfeitures March 4, 1829 were about $159,000.

There were six land districts, called the Paulding, the Columbus, the Washington, the Grenada, the Jackson, and the Chickasaw districts, with an office at each of the towns named, there being no separate office for the Chickasaw district.  In 1869, all the offices were consolidated in one at Jackson, with C.L.C. CASS as receiver and Charles W. LOOMIS register.  The receivers since Mr. CASS have been Robert J. ALCORN, A. H. KIMBALL, John T. HULL, Wallace McLAURIN, George C. McKEE, Mrs. A. H. McKEE, R. W. BANKS,
George Edward MATTHEWS, Isaiah T. MONTGOMERY,  and Thomas B. McALLISTER.  The registers in the same period have been R. C. KERR, James D. STEWART, Henry KERNAGAN, Robert E. WILSON, James HILL, F. W. COLLINS, and L. Q. C. LAMAR, Jr.
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