The Contribution of the Manor to the Settlement and Growth of Virginia

The manor is a British jurisdiction, common and known to our ancestors who came from the British Isles to settle in Virginia.  The jurisdiction took on an American accent, however, when it was established here.

There is a book in my Virginia collection titled:  Landmarks of Old Prince William:  A Study in Origins in Northern Virginia, by Fairfax Harrison.  2 vols.  1987.  Available Gateway Press, 3600 Copper Mill Rd, Suite 260, Baltimore MD 21211-1953.  Originally published 1921 and 1941, with reprints 1964, 1984.  So lots of copies are available in genealogy libraries.
[With an old Virginia name like Fairfax Harrison, I had to read the book from cover to cover–not once but 4 times over the past several months.  Remember that I am working on a guide to Virginia genealogy jurisdictions that created the records of your ancestors and mine.]

Chapter Eighteen:  The Barrier of the Manors, describes the differences between the manors created in Virginia and those in the British Isles.  What separated the manor essentially from a large estate was court jurisdiction–Court Baron and Court Leet.  And while the early grants of land state that the powers of the manor are the same, there is little or no evidence that these courts were held in Virginia.

The grants did allow for leases for three lives and the collection of quit rents and compositions.  Land was not owned outright, use of the land was acquired by lease.  The right to the use of the land could be inherited, exchanged, and sub-leased.  In England, it could not be sold.   In Virginia, the lease could be transferred to another lessee for payment, unless it was entailed. The transfer was supposed to be okayed by the land owner.

The three lives, during which the lease existed at the specified rent, were named in the grant–usually the eldest son and the wife are included.  When all three named persons have died, the lease came due.  The rent could be changed, usually increased, and  another three lives will be named.   In England, the leases were private documents  until 1922 and were recorded as copyhold documents on the Court Baron Roll.  In Virginia, the leases were quasi-public and were recorded in the public records at the county court.  The rents were collected by the land owner’s agent.  The bigger the piece of land, the bigger the rents collected and the bigger the income of the land owner.

Robert “King” Carter amassed a huge acreage, most of it acquired while he served as agent (1702-1732) to the Northern Neck Proprietor, Lord Fairfax and his heirs (including Denny Martin who was required to assume the Fairfax name when he inherited the Proprietary).  Carter challenged Fairfax for overlapping land boundaries because he had the support of a Virginia that resented such an important and huge landed estate totally in private hands as the Proprietary.  Virginia did not originally receive income from these lands.

Robert Carter’s lands–Richland, and his extensive landholdings in the Northern Neck:

Lands included in Fauquier and Prince William counties, 1724:

__Licking Run tract, 10,227 acres

__Turkey Run tract, 10,610 acres

__Kettle Run tract, 6,166 acres

__Broad Run tract, 12,285 acres

__Bull Run tract, 41,440 acres

__Lower Bull Run tract, 8,989 acres in two parcels

Lands included in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, 1727-28: 

__Goose Creek tract, 25,909 acres

__Frying Pan tract, 27,000 acres

Lands on and beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, 1730-31:

__Shenandoah tract, 50,212 acres

__Pageland tract, 8,007 acres

__Williams Gap tract, 2,941 acres

__Ashby’s Bent tract, 4,207 acres in two parcels

Titles to these lands were issued in the names of the King’s sons, grandsons, sons in law:  Landon Carter, George Carter, John Carter, Charles Carter, Robert Carter Jr, Mann Page of Rosewell, Lewis Burwell, Carter Burwell, Robert Burwell, Carter Page, Robin Page, Robert Carter Nicholas, Robert Carter Jr (son of John), Benjamin Harrison Jr, and Robert Carter Jr (son of Robert Carter).  The records, however, refer to Colonel Carter’s boundaries.

Other manors included:

Nicholas Spencer and Richard Lee–Mt. Vernon

George Brent–Brent Town and Piscataway Neck

William Fitzhugh–Ravensworth

Philip Ludwell

Thomas Lee

Edmund Jennings

Colonel Charles Burgess–Thumb Run, 23,000 acres

Captain James Ball of Bewdley–Horsepen and Great Cove, 10,757 acres

Charles Carter–Manor of Cleve, and Manor of View Mount

Lord Fairfax Proprietary:

__Leeds Manor, 122,852 acres

__Great Falls Manor, 12,588 acres

__Blue Ridge, 26,535 acres, including South Branch manor and Greenway Court

These and other great manors and extensive estates were held intact as units, with tenant farmers leasing the lands as farms.  The lands were largely undeveloped down to the Revolution–rendering these areas “wilderness.”  So settlement does not begin heavily until close to the time of the American Revolution.

Documentation is difficult for some manors–the manorial rent rolls, the quit rent rolls, the leases for three lives, the local court minutes as well as the minutes of the Governor’s Council may not survive.  Best bets–county court records and rent rolls, and the personal papers of the land owner.  I’m working on a beginning list of these.  Fauquier County records are already published and include the loose papers in the court house.

What has survived is loaded with ancestors and their connections.  Deeds that transfer  land ownership between relatives are quite numerous and essential to prove the exact relationship.  Especially valuable are deeds from the eldest son to other family members to equalize inheritance.  Watch for some examples that I will share in this blog–stay tuned for an extended minithon of Virginia relationships.   Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  And watch for announcement of my book on Virginia Genealogy Jurisdictions and their Records later this summer.

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2 Responses to The Contribution of the Manor to the Settlement and Growth of Virginia

  1. Eileen Phelps says:

    I’m very interested in this book you’re working on about Virginia jurisdictions.

    I hope you include information on precincts, as described in the tithables. In those areas that did not have any organized towns these descriptions may be the only location names more specific than county. They are critical for common surnames.

    I wish I had a list of the surviving tithable lists for each county in Virginia and where they might be found. The Family History Library has three volumes of Norfolk County Tithables, from originals that languished in a shed undiscovered for many years. (I would like to buy copies of these books.) Some counties may have tithables online and some counties may not have any records like these that survive.

  2. admin says:

    I received these clarifications on the “lease for three lives” from a genealogy friend of long standing and I would like to share them with you, AE:

    “Having researched extensively in the Northern Neck (Old Prince William) for the last 18 years, I see variations in land laws among the 5 jurisdictions. There’s more to be said about changing the names on the leases, when & why this was done, and how to find the information.

    Leases for lives were not always for 3 lives. I’ve seen 2, and even 5 lives on leases. To say the lives were “usually” the wife and oldest son will lead people astray. I don’t find that to be true. Fauquier folks were much better at recording their leases than those in Loudoun. There are very few original leases recorded in the Loudoun county records.”

    Ms. Marty Hiatt, CG
    Certified Genealogist and CG are proprietary service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists® used by the Board to identify its program of genealogical competency and evaluation and used under license to the Board’s associates.

    This is a good example of what I called English Law with an American Accent. In the British Isles, especially in Ireland, the lease for three lives
    was for three lives for the most part. Sometimes only two lives are specified in writing. I have never seen one for 5 lives–WOW, what a genealogy find that would be. Many thanks to Marty Hiatt for her comments. Arlene Eakle

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