Thursday, September 8, 2016

Headright System

I mentioned the headright system in the indentured servant posts. Today, I will detail it a bit more.

A headright was a legal grant of land. It was first used in the British-American colonies in 1618 by the Virginia Company of London. The Plymouth Company also used the system. Maryland, Georgia and the Carolinas would use headrights as well. The headright system helped to resolve a labor shortage on Virginia tobacco plantations and attract new settlers.

The headright range from 1 to 1000 acres. The land was a lure for anyone willing to leave Great Britain to settle in the colonies. It would also apply to anyone willing to pay for the transport of laborers or indentured servants to the colony.

A new arrival to the colony would receive a 50 acre headright for each person he transported  [20 people = 1000 acres]. A person who had lived in the colony for a time would receive two headrights [100 acres] per person transported. As time passed, indentured servants had little chance to acquire land. Early on, however, some servants would work off their indentures, return to England and sponsor new indentured servants themselves. Since headrights were granted to heads of families, entire families might travel together. A family of, say, seven would get a minimum of 350 acres.

Steps in obtaining a headright:
[1] get a certificate validating the transport of each person  from the governor or county court.
[2] select tracts of land
[3] have the land surveyed
[4] take the land description to the colonial secretary
[5] have a patent created and approved by the governor

Headrights served as commodities. They could be kept, bought, sold, traded or saved to be used later.

The cost of transport was about six pounds per person. If a servant/laborer died during passage, the person paying their passage still received a headright.

Until 1699 headrights were granted for slaves. After that, only English citizens counted toward headrights.

Over time, the headright system began to fall apart. The secretary's office grew lax. Both a ships captain and the person paying for the transport might receive a headright for the same servant. Headrights were issued for fictitious people. Too many headrights were being saved up, as well. Tensions grew between Indians and colonists as indentured servants were granted headrights inland, in territory claimed by local tribes.

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