A Blog Post by Wade Dorsey
The Archives is delighted to report that two of our most important series of land records, the State Plats from both the Charleston and Columbia series, have been scanned and linked to the Online Records Index (www.archivesindex.sc.gov). Comprised of sixty-six volumes for a total of 51,055 images, these records date from 1784-1868. What’s more, the posting of these images represents more than forty years of detailed work by generations of archivists to index, scan, and mount these plats.
From the beginning of the South Carolina colony in 1670, perhaps the primary concern for the Lords Proprietors, the settlers, and the British Crown was land. Who owned it, who could get it, and how it was to be granted were of the utmost importance. Under the Proprietors, land was granted by headright-each settler was entitled to a certain amount. The Proprietors also sold land outside of the headright scheme and the business of granting and selling land was very seriously regarded. When the Proprietors were overthrown in the Revolution of 1719 and land claims finally settled in 1729, South Carolina became a royal colony and the Crown instituted new procedures for the granting of lands. With minor adjustments, these new procedures remained in place until 1775 and the coming of the American Revolution.
When the British evacuated South Carolina in 1783, they left an independent but prostrate state. Having suffered through eight years of war and having experienced more battles and skirmishes than any other state, South Carolina was destitute. Aside from her exhausted population, her only real asset was vacant lands that had not yet been granted. In 1784 the General Assembly passed “An Act for Establishing the Mode and Conditions of Surveying and Granting the Vacant Lands Within this State.” It is important to understand that lands granted by the State were not, for the most part, for military service but were essentially purchases of vacant lands by the grantee. Along with cash payment, one could pay these costs with a promissory note called an indent that had been issued to pay for military service or providing supplies. At first the price was $10.00 per hundred acres, with the price dropping in 1791 to the cost of the office fees and surveying. Out of the many thousands of grants, there were several hundred bounty grants given at no cost to veterans of South Carolina’s Continental Regiments. The plats for these grants are contained within this set of records.
The 1784 law provided for a Commissioner of Locations in each judicial district, with more than one in subdivisions of the larger districts. A citizen would locate some vacant land and apply to the Commissioner of Locations in his district for a warrant of survey. When the Commissioner issued the warrant, the citizen took it to a Deputy Surveyor who surveyed out the land and prepared a plat, a scaled drawing of the metes and bounds of the property. The plat was recorded in a plat book that was kept in the office of the Commissioner of Locations. We hold these Commissioner of Locations plat books for several districts. The plat was then sent to the state Surveyor General. His office was in Charleston, but in 1790 a requirement was put in place that he (along with the Secretary of State) also maintain an office in Columbia. Once the plat came to the Surveyor General’s Office, he recorded it in a book of record. It is these plat books that the Archives has now scanned and indexed on the Online Records Index.
Once the plat had been recorded, the Secretary of State prepared a grant which the Governor signed. A copy of the plat was attached to the grant and given to the grantee, while the recorded copies remained in the Surveyor General’s and Secretary of State’s Offices. A few of the plats are from before the Revolution and represent lands that had been platted but not granted when the war broke out in 1775. Some others don’t really include ungranted lands, but are for grants designed to clear up murky or defective titles. Plats often overlap or have gaps between them, so you should not expect that they will fit together exactly like a puzzle would. These plats are not part of an overall grid platting scheme like you may see in states farther west. Each plat was drawn independently, using markers like trees, stumps, and rocks as boundaries.
These State Plats on the Online Records Index represent forty-three volumes from the Charleston office (S213190) and twenty-three from the Columbia office (S213192). Volumes 1-43 are Charleston and 36-58 are Columbia. There is an overlap of volumes 36-43, so you will find these numbers duplicated. This group of records ends in 1868 when the procedures for granting land changed dramatically. The Online Records Index allows you to search these records by personal name, by date, and by location. Each entry will give the name of the person for whom the plat was prepared, the names of adjoining landowners, the name of the deputy surveyor who drew the plat, and any other name that appears in the document. Locations that appear on the plat such as the judicial district and/or county in which the land lay will also appear in the entry. Creeks, rivers, swamps, and other waterways are indexed. Roads and other natural or man-made features are also indexed if present.
The simplest search is for a name. In the field designated “full name” you may type a personal name, (last name first followed by a comma: ex: Smith, John). As you enter a name, the search box will populate with names that appear in the index. You may select any name that appears by clicking on it. The matching entries will then appear, allowing you to click on a thumbnail to open an image of each plat. Keep in mind that the spelling of names could vary. A search will only pick up that specific spelling. Use the same format to search for places. The State Plats do not contain entries for topics, so searches in that category will not be productive.
These plats can be very useful for the researcher, either historical or genealogical. They can place a person in a certain place at a certain time, be he the grantee or an adjoining landowner. By searching for a location, one can see every plat that has that location on it. For example, if you wanted to see all plats on Sandy Run Creek, you could search just that location without a name and still get results. The same could be said for all plats from a certain date or range of dates. Perhaps most importantly, the State Plats provide some land records for counties that lost all or part of their antebellum records to war, fires, or natural disasters. They are invaluable for counties like Abbeville, Beaufort, Chesterfield, Colleton, Georgetown, Lexington, and Orangeburg that lost part or all of their land deeds in the 19th Century. These plats are frequently used for the proof of title and land boundaries, even after more than a century and a half. Of course, their more frequent use is by the genealogist who is trying to find a location on the ground for a South Carolina ancestor.
We invite you to explore this new addition to our Online Records Index. It is always our hope to make the historical records of the state more accessible to the public, and to that end we are excited to announce the availability of the State Plats in digital format