Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
By Pat Melville

Much of the land west of Fort Cumberland was allocated to soldiers who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Rather than move to the western limits of the state and in order to obtain ready cash, most of the men sold their rights to these military lots. Others may have ignored or forgotten about their 50 acre or 100 acre lots. Over time land titles became murky and the names of the owners remained unknown. As a result, officials in Allegany and Garrett counties could not collect the property taxes. 

During the latter part of the 19th century, the Board of County Commissioners of Garrett County, where most of the military lots were located, formulated a plan to get unassessed land on the tax rolls. The commissioners had a standing offer of 1/2 the first year's taxes collected on unassessed land to anyone who could locate and trace titles to the unclaimed parcels. Several people tried but no one succeeded. In 1887, Hiram P. Tasker undertook the job, and by January 1888 had found over 100,000 acres of untaxed land, equal to one quarter of the area of the county. Since success seemed probable, the commissioners contracted with Tasker to compile a book of title abstracts for all unassessed land in the county. Later that same year the Allegany County commissioners hired Tasker to do the same work in their county. 

Tasker conducted part of his research at the Land Office in Annapolis in order to use the patent and survey records, and charged the copying fees to
the respective county commissioners.  The 

Commissioner of the Land Office at that time was J. Thomas Scharf, author of a 3-volume History of Maryland and a 2-volume History of Western Maryland. After paying $700 for title work in Annapolis, the Garrett County officials refused to authorize any more expenditures for searches at the Land Office, leaving $900 unpaid. Scharf responded by declining services to Tasker until the bill was satisfied. 

Tasker used his political clout to get around the stalemate by securing passage of legislation in 1890. Chapter 513 was entitled "An Act to provide for the assessment of the unclaimed military lots and tracts of land in Allegany and Garrett Counties, and for the collection of state and county taxes thereon by selling the delinquent lands and turning the net proceeds into the state treasury." Heirs, assignees, devisees, and representatives of officers and soldiers who were awarded military lots were given until April 1, 1891 to legally establish their claims and pay state and county taxes. Failure to do so would result in forfeiture of rights to the state. Those lots not patented or claimed would be sold to the highest bidders.

To facilitate title searches in time for the approaching general assessment, the law gave the county authorities or their agent free access to the records in the Land Office. All fees previously charged to Garrett County for searches made by Tasker were to be remitted in consideration of state taxes to be collected in the future. Proceeds from the sales of unclaimed lands would be used first to cover taxes due, and then to pay the costs of tracing titles and locating and selling the lots. 

(continued on Page 2)

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The Archivists' Bulldog
MILITARY (continued from Page 1)

Scharf, being less than pleased with this new law, deemed it unconstitutional and refused to comply. When Tasker tried to use the provision for free access to the records, Chief Clerk George H. Shafer demanded payment of the usual fees. Tasker applied to the Anne Arundel Circuit Court for a writ of mandamus to compel the Commissioner of the Land Office to comply with the law and it was granted. Scharf appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals on the basis of unconstitutionality of the law in several areas: 

  • It embraced more than one subject. 
  • Its title did not reflect all topics. 
  • It diminished the compensation of the commissioner of the land office, contrary to sec. 35 of Art. III of the Maryland Constitution. 
  • It took away fees already earned by the commissioner. 
  • It released persons from obligations owed the state without recommendation of the governor or treasury department. 

"[I]t would be subversive of the Land Office to allow any person not connected with the office in an official capacity, access to all the records thereof, to use them at his pleasure, free from the control and supervision of the respondent, and he has resisted the attempted invasion of his office by the petitioner under the provisions of the [law] because the right of the Legislature to grant such powers to the petitioner involves its right to grant the same powers to any number of persons...." The same argument was applied to the issue of fees. In addition, it was argued that the General Assembly could not legally declare the forfeiture of military lots in the manner provided in the law. 

The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision and declared Ch. 513, Acts of 1890, invalid and unconstitutional. The legislature had exceeded its authority when it undertook to forfeit title and estate of all unknown owners 

The Archivists' Bulldog 
Page 3
By Robert Barnes

National Intelligencer Newspaper Abstracts, 1840. By Joan M. Dixon. Bowie: Heritage Books. Pp. iii, 471. Index. Paper. $36.00 + $4.00 p/h, and for Maryland residents, 5% sales tax.

Newspapers offer fascinating glimpses into the lives and times of people of the area covered by that paper. Ms Dixon has abstracted vital records, advertisements, petitions, tax lists, government activities, and maritime information that provide clues to locations, ages, activities, and family relationships of many individuals in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere. Because the newspaper was published in our nation's capital, there are many items of news from all over the country. The genealogical abstracts give a more complete account than the one or two line items found in some compilations. The book also includes full summaries of the news stories of the day. The issue of 19 May 1840 gives an account of a dreadful storm that left Natchez in ruins. There are accounts of steamship wrecks, the seizure of a slave ship, fires, and other disasters. The index includes surnames as well as names of vessels and tracts of land.

Copies of the book may be ordered from Willow Bend Books, 65 E. Main Street, Westminster, Md. 21157-5026. 

Russo, Jean Elliott. Interest of the County: 
   Population, Economy and Society in Eighteenth-
   Century Somerset County, Maryland
Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church. Salem 
   Evangelical Lutheran Church: 1960, The
   Diamond Jubilee
Schulze, R. Dennis. Mayo Memorial United 
   Methodist - The First One Hundred Years 
  1878 - 1978
Sharp, Henry K. Patapsco River Valley: Cradle of 
  the Industrial Revolution in Maryland
Silver, John Archer. Provisional Government of 
  Maryland 1774 - 1777

Sparks, Francis Edgar. Causes of the Maryland 
  Revolution of 1689
St. Margaret's Church. St. Margaret's Church Westminster Parish, Episcopal Diocese of 
   Maryland 1692 - 1992, Annapolis, Maryland
St. Mary's Church. St. Mary's Church
Surles, Trish, compl. Caroline County 1930 
   Census Index
_____. Kent County 1930 Census Index
_____. Queen Anne's County 1930 Census Index
_____. Queen Anne's County, Maryland, 
   Marriage Licenses, 1858 - 1897
_____. Queen Anne's County, Maryland, 
   Marriage Licenses, 1902 - 1914
_____. Queen Anne's County, Maryland, 
   Marriage Licenses, Dec. 1914 - Nov. 1926
_____. Talbot County 1930 Census Index
Tacyn, Mark Andrew. "To the End:" The First 
   Maryland Regiment and the American
Tannenbaum, Frank. Slave and Citizen: The 
   Negro in the Americas
Thomas, Thaddeus P. City Government of 
Thon, Robert W., Jr. Mutual Savings Banks
   in Baltimore
Trostel, Michael F. Mount Clare: Being an 
   Account of the Seat Built by Charles Carroll, 
   Barrister, upon his Lands at Patapsco
Walczyk, Frank V., ed. Somerset County, Maryland, Judicial Records, 1711 - 1713
_____. Somerset County, Maryland, Judicial 
   Records, 1713 - 1715
_____. Somerset County, Maryland, Judicial 
   Records, 1717 - 1718
Warner, Mark Steven. Food and the Negotiation 
    of African American Identities in Annapolis, 
   Maryland and the Chesapeake
Weber, Edwin C. People's Water: A History of 
   Water Resources Management in Maryland
Webster, William David et. al. Mammals of the
   Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland
Weeks, Christopher, 1950 -. Building of 
   Westminster in Maryland [computer file]
Wetherhold, Norwood. History of St. Luke's 
   Episcopal Church, Eastport, Maryland

The Archives'
staff said 
farewell to 
Julie Price
and Jamal Booker and wished them well in their