Maryland is fortunate to have a remarkable collection of records at the State Archives that documents the history of the colony and state. At the heart of this rich archival heritage are the records of the Land Office from which all title to land in Maryland derives and in which are found the headrights upon which many of the original tracts were granted. The Archives has also a group of dedicated volunteers, including Carson Gibb, who not only help the public find and understand records, but also, clearly interested in the records, process collections and improve our indexes.
In 1994, Dr. Gibb told Edward C. Papenfuse, Archivist of the State of Maryland, that he had found in the Land Office records names not in The Early Settlers of Maryland and that he was ready to search the records for more. Dr. Papenfuse invited Dr. Gibb to use a computer in the Archives, arranged for Lynne MacAdam and Betsy Bodziak to guide him through the process of database indexing, and offered to publish his work in both electronic and book form. Dr. Gibb proceeded accordingly and, over a period of several years, found over 8600 omissions and other errors now corrected in A Supplement. In doing so, he helped us not only to understand better the nature of the records but also to think more carefully about designing indexes in the future.
The Conditions of Plantation
In helping us to understand better the records of migration to Maryland, Dr. Gibb has focused our attention on the headright system, not only whether its records are reliable, but also on when and why it ended. It was initiated by Cecilius Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore, as an inducement to those considering emigration to Maryland. The promise of land is a powerful attraction and figures often in the development of America. When and why it was terminated is not widely known. The title page and the entries in Early Settlers imply that it ended in 1680, but Warrants WC4 has warrants issued for headrights as late as spring 1682/83. These questions give a glimpse of the vicissitudes of administering a colonial venture.
Charles Calvert, the Third Lord Baltimore, first suggested that he was going to abolish the headright system in a proclamation issued June 3, 1676. He complained that his agents had not properly returned many of the rights to land proved before them to be entered among the records. Even when this was done, he was not certain that the secretaries had made the appropriate entries. Calvert believed that, as a result, "the titles of divers of the said adventurers to their land are dubious and questionable and may hereafter be questioned to the great prejudice of the inhabitants of this province in after times when things cannot be made appear." Having suggested that the current system was not effective, he stated his intention to cease offering land in return for providing transportation to the province within two years. (LAND OFFICE (Patents) 19:459-460 MSA S11-23)
Despite reiterating his desire to end the system of headrights in 1678 and issuing several further proclamations to that effect, the Proprietor issued two extensions that, in effect, appear to have kept the headright system alive. In June of 1678, he allowed eight more months for rights to land to be proved. The first was an order for the relief of residents in Somerset County dated June 14, 1678. It did not extend the time in which people could immigrate or be transported and claim a headright to land. It merely offered additional time to prove rights to land due to those already in the province. (LAND OFFICE (Patents) 19:636-637 MSA S11-23) The second proclamation, dated June 19, 1678, applied the terms suggested for Somerset County to the whole colony, however, noting that "severall inhabitants of this province have informed me, that by reason of the late troubles with the Indians, and other urgent occasions in their cropps hindering, they could not attend the Secretary's Office for finding out their Patents." It does not forbid the issuance of new headrights for new arrivals. (GOVERNOR AND COUNCIL (Proceedings) RR:164 MSA S1071-7)
Thus, it does not appear that the practice of granting land for immigrants ceased with either of these orders. Another proclamation, dated May 15, 1683, again stated that land would be sold for 100 lbs of tobacco per fifty acres. Lord Baltimore emphasized that "the taking up of land by rights within this our province of Maryland hath proved not only grievous and burthensome to the inhabitants -- for paying for the same extravagant and extortious rates when to be procured but also very injurious and prejudiciall to ourselves by undue and unjust probate made of such rights." (GOVERNOR AND COUNCIL (Proceedings) RR:190 MSA S1071-7)
Lord Baltimore's stated concerns in ending the system are essentially (a) that his agents had not been diligent in performing their duties, thus jeopardizing title to land for those who received grants; (b) the process was very expensive for the prospective landowner; and © he believed the administration of the system had deprived the Proprietor of a great deal of income.
The cause of these concerns was the speculative manipulation of the system. A thriving business had evolved in the rights assigned by those entitled to land. While a number of people appear to have prospered in this trade, Lord Baltimore did not profit. Further, while the market for the headrights was thriving and warrants for land were being bought and sold, the expected surveying and taking up of land did not follow. Lord Baltimore's revenue came from the fees for warrants, certificates of survey, and patents and from the quitrents paid on land once it was patented. So not only had the system not benefited Lord Baltimore, but the speculation that sprang from it may actually have hindered the settlement upon which his income depended.
Further complicating matters was the influence of the people involved in this speculation, most of Lord Baltimore's principal officials. John Llewellin, Clerk of the Council and Vincent Lowe, Surveyor General, received a number of assignments. So did other members of the Provincial Council: Henry Darnall, William Stevens, George Talbot, and William Digges. Their participation certainly is one of the reasons why the end of the headright system was delayed until 1683.
The occasion of the end of the system was probably the fall in the price of tobacco. It reduced the number of new settlers claiming land and thus made speculation in headrights a marginal undertaking. Considering the status of the participants, this must have been a convenient juncture at which to end the practice. Whatever may be learned in the future about the end of the headright system, what we have learned is partly due to Dr. Gibb's work.
How Reliable Are the Records?
Dr. Gibb's work also leads us to a better understanding of the nature of record keeping and the reliability of the records themselves. One such example is on the cover of this publication which is taken from LAND OFFICE (Patents) 1:37 MSA S920-1. It forms the basis of a cautionary tale about where indexes lead us. The entry on the cover is notable in that it is the probate of rights for Father Andrew White and a number of individuals brought to the colony between 1633 and 1638. Ferdinando Pulton, a Jesuit colleague of Father White, is demanding land for the transportation of White and others into the province.
The original record, known as Liber F, is now lost. Patents 1 is a transcript made in 1724. The entries also appear in a transcript made in 1717, LAND OFFICE (Patents) AB&H:65 MSA S920-5, taken from three original record books designated as A, B, and H. The entry for Father White appears to have been entered into the original record Liber B which no longer exists. There are important differences in the way the entries appear in each of the transcripts.
Scholars and casual researchers have assumed that the entries in each of the transcripts were duplicative and no one has ever taken the time to compare them to see if they contained significant differences. In Patents 1, as shown on the cover, it appears that Father Andrew White attempted to bring into the colony at least 21 individuals including "a Smith lost by the way," and "Francisco, a molato" for all of whom Mr. Ferdinando Pulton (by virtue of assignment from Father White) claimed headrights. On the other hand, Patents AB&H suggests that Father White's headrights amounted to no more than 12 and that both "A Smith lost by the way" and "Francisco a Malato" were brought into the colony by Edward and Frederick Wintour.
In addition, there are substantial differences in the rendering of the names between the two transcripts. Is it Henry Bishop, or is it Henry Briscoe? Have we Thomas Mimms or should we be speaking of Thomas Mums? John Borwood or Horwood? There is no doubt that the same people appear in each of the records. The lack of original records to consult and the discrepancies between two transcripts make interpretation conjectural.
The meaning of what is found in any record, no matter how old it might be, can be suspect and should be used with varying degrees of caution, depending upon the means available to evaluate its reliability. In this instance, what is affected is our understanding of not only how people came (that is, who claimed the right of their coming) but also what those claims meant about another important historical question: the role of the Catholic church (in this case the Jesuit order) in the early settlement of the colony and the means by which the Jesuits made their claim to large tracts of land that remained in their possession well into the 20th century. Ferdinando Pulton was making the claim for all of the headrights listed on folios 65-66 of Patents AB&H (ff. 37-38 of Patents 1). He was aided and abetted by assignments from a number of people, some of whom were probably not Jesuits such as Captain Edward Wintour. Does Captain Wintour, who has also left us one of the earliest narrative accounts of the founding of Maryland, and his brother, Frederick, contribute seven headrights shown in Patents 1? Or do the brothers surrender the value of 16 headrights to the Church, including "a Smith lost by the way" who never made it to Maryland at all, yet had land acquired in his name? At times the records are not clear and the reader is left without sufficient guidance as to their meaning.
Dr. Gibb's Supplement is more than the sum of the accuracy with which he reflects the record. It is more than a cautionary tale about taking what is found in the record for granted. It also reminds us that we need to look at records as a reflection of how well or how ill government has served us. In the case of the patent records, later, well-intentioned but often inept or incomplete transcriptions, adversely affect our ability to comprehend the nature and extent of the daily course of government. Those clerks who attempted to create some order out of the chaos of the early record keeping in 1717, and again in 1724, as evidenced by Patents AB&H and Patents 1, and those who in the 19th Century abstracted from the seriatim record to create the printed Archives of Maryland series, provided a distorted and inaccurate picture of the governing of the colony during its first fifty years or so of settlement. As we can see from the earliest extant record book of the colony (Liber Z) and from the original of Liber A (by 1680 missing its first fifty pages), the record of government loses much of its richness, diversity, color, and even accuracy when dissected into separate functions. When, in the case of the Archives' volumes, transcriptions omit huge sections of the business (such as claims for headrights) it even provides a woefully incomplete picture of both the work and the accomplishments of those who labored as the record keepers of the colony.
By paying so much deserved attention to the question of who constituted the immigrants of the first fifty years of Maryland's history, Dr. Gibb has not only put names to thousands more who came (or in the case of Smith, nearly came) but he has also reawakened our interest in the process of recording how well and in what ways they were governed. As the modern keepers of the record, we could ask for no better ally and friend.