Printed first by CRUGER & WING, Printers

Austin: 1841

Contains records from the following counties:

Carolyn Reeves Ericson

The first Congress of the Republic enacted legislation establishing the General Land Office. Although this law was vetoed by President Sam Houston because he believed that the business of a land office could not be conducted properly until all of the records from the various empresario colonies had been collected and catalogued, the Congress passed it over his veto. Later, veterans of the Texas Revolution forced through another concession. An act of December 1837, supplementing and supplanting all previous land legislation, provided for the land office to be open to veterans and old settlers on the second Thursday in February, and to all others six months later. Poor crops in the United States, plus the panic of 1837,sent droves of immigrants to Texas at the same time. They arrived on every ship and came by horseback, wagon or muletrain.

The General Land Office opened for business in February as directed. John P. Borden was designated the first Commissioner,his task was an impossible one. There were no definite boundaries to the Republic of Texas and no map existed to show the limits of the various Mexican states. There was no general index to the land which had been granted by the land empresarios and no one knew where vacant land was located. Congress had ordered "all empresarios, political chiefs, alcaldes and other persons to deliver to the general land office all titles,books, surveys, papers, documents, or other things in their possession, or charge", but this was easier said than done. The Republic of Texas had had six seats of government in less than a year.

The Mexicans had captured and burned all except two ayuntamientoseats.
Commissioner Borden sent Darius Gregg to collect the titles of the East Texas colonies with these instructions: "You will proceed to Nacogdoches where you will employ a small wagon and team sufficient to convey the archives of the different land offices east of the Trinity, together with that of Milam's colony now at San Augustine....". Borden also sent George W. Fulton to San Antonio to bring records located there to the land office. Borden reported to Congress on October 7, 1837, that he had succeeded in getting the records of only four of the land offices. Land claimants came whether the land office was ready for them or not. in the span of the Republic's existence a total of some thirty million acres were handed out to claimants, legitimate and otherwise.

Grants of land were given numerous names, depending upon the purpose of the grant. HEADRIGHTS were to encourage immigration and reward native citizens. There were four classes of HEADRIGHTS: The first was granted by the delegates who adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Texas in March of 1834 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. It provided "all persons except Africans and their descendents, and Indians, living in Texas on the day of the Declaration of Independence, are entitled to headright grants, if they be heads of families, one league and one labor, and if a single man, 17 years or older, one-third league" (League & Labor = 4,605 acres; 1/3 League = 1,476 acres) To qualify for a first-class headright certificate, the applicant was required to take the following oath:

"I do solemnly swear, that I was a resident citizen of Texas at the date of the declaration of independence, that I did not leave the country during the campaigns of the spring of 1836, to avoid a participation in the struggle, that I did not refuse to participate In the war, and that I did not aid or assist the enemy, that I have not previously received a title to any quantum of land, and that I conceive myself justly entitled, under the Constitution and Laws to the quantity of land for which I now apply."

In addition, it was necessary to prove by two creditable witnesses that the applicant was in Texas on March 2, 1836 and to prove his marital status. He then paid $5.00 for his certificate, half going to the clerk and the rest being divided between the board members present.
Second Class Headright Certificates went to heads of families and single men who arrived in Texas as immigrants after the Declaration of Independence and prior to October 1, 1837, provided they remained in the Republic three years and perform ed the duties of citizenship. Heads of families were to re ceive certificates for 1280 acres and single men a certificate for 640 acres.

The Third Class Headright Certificates were granted to heads of families and single men who immigrated to Texas after October 1, 1837, and before January 1, 1842. Heads of families under this class were entitled to 640 acres of land and single men to 320 acres.

Land was issued in the following manner: a board of land commissioners was appointed for each county by the combined houses of Congress. Headright claimants appeared before this board, and, if they produced satisfactory evidence of their eligibility, they were given certificates calling for the amount of land they were eligible to receive. Applicants engaged a surveyor who was authorized to locate and survey the land out of the unappropriated public domain. The surveyor usually received one-third of the land for his services and some of the early land barons amassed a fortune in this manner.

The surveyor's field notes were then approved by the county or district surveyor and certified to the Commissioner of the General Land Office,who issued patents. Land certificates for military service were granted through the Secretary of War  instead of by a county commission, with the same necessary surveys and filings. The Board of Land Commissioners met at the courthouse every other Thursday, and it was deluged with applicants. The county commissioners bore the brunt of the burden because they had to pass upon the validity of all land claims. The land law was not very clear and in Commissioner Borden's report of April 10,1838, he stated that "claims are presented in many different ways and 80 very complex in their nature, that no two ordinary men are capable of deciding justly upon them." Many of the claims were fraudulent. In an effort to prevent fraud, Congress passed a law imposing a punishment of thirty-nine lashes on the bare back and a jail sentence of several months upon all persons convicted of fraudulent schemes to obtain land. So many fraudulent headright certificates were issued that it was said that all of Santa Anna's soldiers had crossed the Rio Grande and obtained headrights as veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto.

It was not on the frontier that land squabbles reached the proportions of a small war; it was in Shelby County, in East Texas. Immigrants from the notorious Neutral Ground poured in to East Texas and, operating with their usual efficiency soon had control of the county governments. Judges and sheriffs as well as local land commissioners paid homage to these ruffians and the land thieves found them receptive to offers of collusion. The cooperation between the land pirates and local officialdom was so effective that the security of titles in several East Texas counties became very questionable. By 1839 the county was embroiled in a bloody feud. In August 1844, President Houston proclaimed martial law and sent six hundred militiamen into Shelby County to restore law and order. Both factions yielded quickly to the militia and a peaceful settlement was worked out at Shelbyville. Ill-feeling cropped up again and again over the vagueness of land titles in that county.

Approximately thirty-eight thousand land claimants, asking for over fifty million acres of the public domain, petitioned the county commissioners in a span of two years. The land law was inadequate and perhaps its worst fault was that no residence requirements were attached to certificates issued to old settiers and to soldiers. Speculators and men who made a business of locating lands went into the Indian country, far ahead of the settlements and surveyed and secured lands along the streams. The choicest tracts had passed into private ownership from ten to thirty years before the country was actually settled.

Commissioner John P. Borden resigned his office on December 12, 1839. His office was in turmoil. Thomas William Ward, his successor, reported that "we are in greater confusion than when the land offices were first opened."

The Texas Congress felt compelled to act to keep the public domain from being depleted by fraud. An act approved on January 29, 1840, was entitled "an Act to Detect Fraudulent Warrants" It set up what was styled "the travelling board of land commissioners" Three commissioners were appointed by Congress to examine all county land records in counties east of the Brazos River and three more were chosen to do the same for the counties west of the Brazos. In addition three more special commissioners in each county were selected to work with the traveling commissioners. They were to take testimony and care fully examine each certificate that had been issued. They were then instructed to prepare a list of all certificates which they believed to be genuine and deserved, and forward this list to the Commissioner of the General Land Office in Austin. These reports were returned to the General Land Office in spring of 1840. Land granting was stopped during the several months that this examination Was taking place. The grants included in this book are those that were approved by the traveling Board of Land Commissioners. The persons listed were granted land certificates in their county of original residence. Some had paused only long enough to obtain a land grant.
The following commissioners were appointed under the law to detect fraudulent land claims:

Richard Roman,
Alex. Somerville,) Gen'l Comm'rs West of Brazos
Jesse Billingsley)

P. O. Lumpkin,
L. V. Greer, Gen'l Comm'rs East of the Brazos
E. B. Noble,

Seth Swist,
Brittin Hall, County Comm'rs for Jasper County
Gideon J. Goode, )

A. D. Kinnard,
A. Gallatin, County Comm'rs for Montgomery
A. Harper

J. W. Jones,
Doctor Bernard, County Com'rs for Port Bend
Jno. V. Morton,

S. O. McMahan,
Isaac Lowe, ) County Com'rs for Sabine
M. Parker

(from Pages 37 and 47)

No. Names Lgs.   Lbr. Acres Date Remarks
  First Class Headright          
83 Heskew,William A. 1/3        
  Second Class          
8 Heskew, Moses     670 5/11/1838  

Return to Heskew,William A.