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Fact or Fiction? Jamie Fraser & North Carolina Land Grants

August 16, 2019

Guest post from Traci Thompson

“It has long been the policy both of the Crown and of myself, Mr. Fraser, to encourage the settlement of land in the Colony of North Carolina by intelligent, industrious, and godly families, to the furtherance of the prosperity and security of all.” He lifted his cigar, took a deep lungful and exhaled slowly, pausing to cough. “To this end, sir, there is established a system of land grants whereby a large acreage may be given to a gentleman of means, who will undertake to persuade a number of emigrants to come and settle upon a part of it under his sponsorship. This policy has been blessed with success over the last thirty years; a good many Highlanders and families from the Isles of Scotland have been induced to come and take up residence here. Why, when I arrived, I was astonished to find the banks of the Cape Fear River quite thick with MacNeills, Buchanans, Grahams, and Campbells!”

The Governor tasted his cigar again, but this time the barest nip; he was anxious to make his point.


“Yet there remains a great deal of desirable land to be settled, further inland towards the mountains. It is somewhat remote, and yet, as you say, for men accustomed to the far reaches of the Scottish Highlands – “


“I did hear mentions of such grants, sir,” Jamie interrupted. “Yet is not the wording that persons holding such grants shall be white males, Protestant, and above thirty years of age? And this statement holds the force of law?”


“That is the official wording of the Act, yes.” Mr. Tryon turned so that I saw him now in profile, tapping the ash from his cigar into a small porcelain bowl. The corner of his mouth was turned up in anticipation; the face of a fisherman who feels the first twitch on his line.


“The offer is one of considerable interest,” Jamie said formally. “I must point out, however, that I am not a Protestant, nor are most of my kinsmen.”


The Governor pursed his lips in deprecation, lifting one brow.


“You are neither a Jew nor a Negro. I may speak as one gentleman to another, may I not? In all frankness, Mr. Fraser, there is the law, and then there is what is done.” He raised his glass with a small smile, setting the hook. “And I am convinced that you understand that as well as I do.”


“Possibly better,” Jamie murmured, with a polite smile.

~Drums of Autumn, Chapter 7, “Great Prospects Fraught With Peril.” (Circa 1767)

These paragraphs from Drums of Autumn introduced a long-running source of conflict for the story by giving Governor Tryon a certain leverage over Jamie – if Jamie doesn’t toe the line with Tryon, will Tryon play the religion card, “expose” Jamie as a Catholic, and take his land away from him?

But how much weight does this threat really carry…and are the details historical fact, or historical fiction?

First, as a land grant is central to the story, let’s take a brief look at what a North Carolina land grant was. Although “land grant” is the term often used, the technical term was “land patent.” Land patents transferred vacant land from a granting authority to a private person. North Carolina patents did not convey “free” land; grants were for some kind of service to the colony, or for a required payment of fees. There were two land grant systems in North Carolina: one was headright patents, in which land was granted for the service of bringing settlers into the colony, with a certain number of acres granted per transported person. This system ended by 1754, before Jamie and Claire’s time in NC. The second was purchase patent, land in exchange for fees paid at every step in the process. By the mid-1750’s, this was the only kind of patent granted in North Carolina, and thus the kind of grant Jamie would have received if he were really here in the 1760s.(1)



There were in fact a few, but not many, of enterprises such as Tryon describes: “…a large acreage may be given to a gentleman of means, who will undertake to persuade a number of emigrants to come and settle upon a part of it under his sponsorship.
” These were a type of headright patent, as the stipulation was bringing in emigrants to populate the colony. Harry Merrens states in Colonial North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century, “Grants were generally small…A few persons did manage to obtain large quantities of land either for speculative purposes or for building up large estates. Extensive holdings of land were so rare that neither practice was common…”(2)

The most notable person who engaged in this rare land speculation in NC was Henry McCulloh, a London merchant and colonial official whose family roots were in Scotland. He received two grants in his own name of 60,000 and 72,000 acres, and a third under the names of two of his trustees for 1.2 million acres. The condition of these grants was that quitrents on the lands be paid, and that settlers be installed on the land (3):

“At a Council held at Wilmington [NC] the 24th day September 1741… His Excellency having informed the Board That it was His Majesty’s Pleasure signified in some of his Majesty’s Instructions to Mr. McCulloh, that for the future all persons taking up lands should be obliged to seat the same according to their rights, i.e. with the person in whose right the land shall be taken up; But that such as have already obtained Warrants, shall only be obliged within three years from the date of their respective Grants to put a white man on every Tract 1,000 acres or under And two on a tract of 2,000 or above a thousand…And that the Secretary draw up a proclamation to give publick notice thereof…His Excellency…took notice of the absolute necessity of encouraging white persons to settle in this Province particularly the back parts of the same…” (4)

Pamphlet by Henry McCulloh, which he wrote after returning to England, hoping to impress the King, and get another appointment to the Colonies. (from NCPedia)

Merrens calls McCulloh “the unrivaled leading speculator in North Carolina” and reports that he was “’hawking it [the land] about in small quantities thro’ all the back parts of the Province and quite thro’ America even to Boston’”(5) as well as transporting Ulster Scots and Swiss emigrants into the colony.

But what of the “Protestant” requirement? McCulloh’s petitions for his grants in the 1730s do include wording such as “…Praying for a Grant of Twelve hundred Thousand Acres of Land in North Carolina in Consideration of Settling 6000 Protestants…” (6) and “…praying for a Grant of Lands upon the heads of the Pedee Cape Fear and Neus Rivers in North Carolina, and proposing to make a Settlement thereon of six thousand Swiss Palatines and other Foreign Protestants within the space of Ten years from the Date of {the} Grant…” (7) Other earlier petitions have the same wording, such as a 1679 petition to the British Privy Council to transport “about 80 Protestant families to Carolina aboard the frigate Richmond” and a request from Normandy seeking “sanction and assistance in projected planting of about fourscore Foreign Protestant families, being skilled in the Manufactures of Silks, Oyles, Wines, etc. who are willing to settle in Carolina.” (8) What is the reason for this? The religious situation in Europe was one of many reasons for emigration during this period, especially the desire to seek freedom of worship. Speculators such as Henry McCulloh were aware of the need to transport Protestants – particularly Scots-Irish, Swiss, and Germans – to the colonies. And as the Crown needed settlers and revenue, this was a win-win situation for all involved. (9) Another consideration for the Crown may have been loyalty, as Protestants were less likely to have divided allegiances. The greater number of Protestant settlers in North Carolina led to the statement made by the real Governor Tryon in 1765 that “every sect of religion abounds here except Roman Catholicism.” (10)

What is important to realize is that these references to settlement of Protestants in North Carolina did not refer to land law. In fact, North Carolina, especially as compared to the other colonies, was liberal in regards to religion. While there certainly was anti-Catholic sentiment, the only specific discrimination against them in legal policy regarded holding public office, and instructions given to the Royal Governor in the 1730s to permit “a liberty of conscience to all persons (except papists).” (11) It is likely that such instructions fell under Governor Tryon’s assertion that “there is the law, and then there is what is done,” as many such instructions relating to the Church of England were never able to be enforced in North Carolina. In 1679, the instructions of the Lords Proprietors to the Governor of Albemarle County, NC stated, “You are to take notice that wee doe grant unto all free persons that doe come to plant in Carolina before the 25th day of December, 1684…sixty akers of land…” and makes no mention of religion. (12) And not all of the land speculators’ petitions included the “Protestant” wording – McCulloh’s proposal of 1735/6 mentions sending over workmen and “such people as I intend to send there from Europe” to North Carolina and does not mention religion. (13)

A far more important consideration to the Crown regarding land patents was, as with most enterprises, money. Much of the energy and focus of the government documents relating to land grants of the period revolve around revenue generated or, most notably, the lack thereof. Even money took a back seat at times to the pressing need to simply have people in the colonies; in 1715, by decree from London, even impoverished families that could not pay rent were not to be deprived of their land, and those that had been were to have their property restored. (14) Also, land grants were a clear title in fee simple; the owner could sell or devise land absolutely at his pleasure and without consultation with government officials. (15)

These questions having been discussed, what of the age requirement? The 1679 document mentioned earlier made the specific provision for “sixty akers of land” to any free person who was “above the age of sixteen yeares.” (16) North Carolina, being an English colony, followed English common law; under English law one could buy or be granted land at any age but could not sell it in his own name until he arrived at the age of 21. (17)

As this overview shows, populating the colony and generating revenue were important considerations to North Carolina officials of the colonial period. To purposely attempt to divest a settler of his land would run contrary to the goal and would in fact be illegal; to do this for religious reasons in a tolerant colony would be difficult if not impossible, and there was no legal age restriction on land ownership. Happily, were Jamie actually here in the 1760s, he would not have had these issues to worry about.

The case: Are the details historical fact, or historical fiction?
Verdict: FICTION.

There you have it–straight from a North Carolina genealogist’s pen! Thanks, Traci, for this insight about land grants and the many different cultures that emigrated and settled here to make up this great state!
Traci Thompson is a married mother of two who lives in eastern North Carolina, and is, of course, an avid Outlander fan.  Traci is a Certified Genealogist and Local History & Genealogy Librarian. She is a contributing author for Outlander North Carolina.

Still shots of Jamie/Gov. Tryon are from https://outlander-online.com

Reference notes:
1 Margaret M. Hofmann, “Land Grants,” in Helen F.M. Leary, editor, North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, 2nd edition (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996), chapter 31.
2 Harry Roy Merrens, Colonial North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Historical Geography (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1964), p. 25-26.
3 Mattie Russell, “McCulloh, Henry,” NCPedia (https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/mcculloh-henry : accessed 2019), citing William S. Powell, ed., The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1991.)
4 “Minutes of the North Carolina Governor’s Council, September 21, 1741 – September 29, 1741,” “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr04-0177 : accessed 2019); citing volume 4, p. 597-603
5 Merrens, Colonial North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Historical Geography, p. 26.
6 “Declaration by Murray Crymble and James Huey concerning their actions as agents for Henry McCulloh,” in “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr05-0289 : accessed 2019); citing volume 5, p. 769.
7 “Order of the Privy Council of Great Britain concerning Henry McCulloh’s land grants in North Carolina,” Great Britain, Privy Council, May 19, 1737, in “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr05-0289 : accessed 2019); citing volume 4, p. 253-254.
8 Finding aid to the British Records: Privy Council, citing Office Register, 21 April 1679-29 May 1680, Public Record Office, London, England, P.C. 2/68, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh; digital images (https://files.nc.gov/dncrarchives/documents/files/ffa_br_privycouncil.pdf : accessed 2019).
9 Stewart E. Dunaway, Henry McCulloh & Son Henry Eustace McCulloh: 18th Century Entrepreneurs, Land Speculators of North Carolina (Lulu.com: Dunaway, 2014), p. 16.
10 Anne Russell & Marjorie Megivern, North Carolina Portraits of Faith: A Pictorial History of Religions (Norfolk, VA: The Donning Company, 1986), p. 136.
11 “Instructions to George Burrington concerning the government of North Carolina George II, King of Great Britain, 1683-1760; Great Britain. Board of Trade,” in “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr03-0060 : accessed 2019); citing volume 3, p. 90-118.
12 “Instructions to the Governor of Albemarle County Carolina. Lords Proprietors. February 05, 1679,” in “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr01-0098: accessed 2019); citing volume 1, p. 235-239.
13 “Proposal by Henry McCulloh concerning his efforts to settle people in North Carolina,” in “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr05-0289 : accessed 2019); citing volume 4, p. 156.
14 David Southern and Louis P. Towles, “Land Grants and the Recruitment of Settlers to the Carolina Colony,” NCPedia (https://www.ncpedia.org/land-grants-part-3-land-grants-and : accessed 2019), citing William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2006.)
15 George Stevenson, “Foreword” (Raleigh, NC, June 1982) to Margaret M. Hofmann, Colony of North Carolina, 1735-1764, Abstracts of Land Patents Volume One (Weldon, NC: Roanoke News Company, 1982).
16 “Instructions to the Governor of Albemarle County. Carolina. Lords Proprietors. February 05, 1679,” in “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.php/document/csr01-0098 : accessed 2019); citing volume 1, p. 235-239.
17 Lee Albright & Helen F.M. Leary, “Strategy for Land Records,” p. 43, in Helen F.M. Leary, editor, North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, 2nd edition (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996), chapter 2, “Designing Research Strategies.”

Cape Fear River Cross Creek Diana Gabaldon Outlander North Carolina Pre-Revolutionary War Period Scottish Immigration

From Scotland to North Carolina~Part 2:Why North Carolina?

July 3, 2019

guest post from Traci Thompson

In past blog posts, we’ve looked at the circumstances that led to many Highland Scots emigrating from Scotland. Our next question is, why did they immigrate to North Carolina? 

A major impetus appears to be Gabriel Johnston, a Lowland Scot who served as Governor of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752. “He felt it would be good for the future of the Cape Fear Valley for it to be settled by large numbers of Protestant Highland Scots, so he began writing enthusiastic letters to friends in Scotland, inviting them to come to a land where there were two crops each year…land grants and possible exemption from taxation for time.” [Douglas F. Kelly, Carolina Scots (Dillon, SC: 1739 Publications, 1998), p.82-83.] 

Gabriel Johnston’s Coat of Arms bookplate

Not everyone was enthusiastic about Governor Johnston’s partiality, however. “Among other charges brought against the Governor [in 1748] was his inordinate fondness for his brother Scotchmen, even Scotch rebels. His partiality for this latter class of Scotchmen, it was said, was so great, and his lack of joy at the king’s ‘glorious victory at Culloden’ was so conspicuous, that he was accused of a want of fealty to the House of Hanover…” Nevertheless, “…like other Scotchmen, he was fond of the people of his native country, and sought to better their condition by inducing them to emigrate to North Carolina…” [William L. Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Volume IV, 1734-1752 (Raleigh, NC: P.M. Hale, 1886), prefatory notes, p. ix-x.] 

There were some Scots living in the colony earlier; before 1700, several Lowland Scots were present, and it is believed that Highlanders were living in the Cape Fear area as early as 1725. After Governor Johnston began to promote immigration into the colony, the first large group of Highlanders disembarked in September 1739. A party of 350 from Argyllshire, they made their way up the Cape Fear to settle in the Cross Creek area; the Cape Fear was convenient due to the ports of Brunswick and Wilmington, and the river for transportation farther upstream. In February 1740, two of the leaders of the Argyllshire colony appeared before the Colonial Legislature asking for special consideration for ”themselves and several other Scotch Gentlemen and several poor people brought into this province” and for “substantial encouragement, that they might be able to induce the rest of their friends and acquaintances to come over.” The Upper House responded favorably with tax exemptions and land grants, and the immigration to North Carolina continued. [Saunders, p. viii-ix; Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina (Raleigh, NC: Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission, 1963), chapter III, “Settlement”; R.D.W. Connor, History of North Carolina, Vol. I (Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919); digital transcription, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/North_Carolina/_Tex ts/CBHHNC/1/10*.html : accessed 2018.] 

Names associated with the 1739 party include McNeil, Forbes, Hamilton, Jones, and Campbel. “At a meeting of the council held at Wilmington, June 4, 1740, there were presented petitions for patents of lands, by the following persons, giving acres and location, as granted.” Note the prevalence of Highland names – do you recognize any from Outlander? 

Name. Acres. County.
Thos Clarks 320 N. Hanover
James McLachlan 160 Bladen
Hector McNeil 300
Duncan Campbell 150
James McAlister 640
James McDugald 640
Duncan Campbell 75
Hugh McCraine 500
Duncan Campbell 320
Gilbert Pattison 640
Rich Lovett 855 Tyrrel
Rd Earl 108 N. Hanover
Jno McFerson 320 Bladen
Duncan Campbell 300
Neil McNeil 150
Duncan Campbell 140
Jno Clark 320
Malcolm McNeil 320
Neil McNeil 400
Arch Bug 320
Duncan Campbel 640 Bladen
Jas McLachlen 320
Murdock McBraine 320
Jas Campbel 640
Patric Stewart 320
Arch Campley 320
Dan McNeil 105; 400
Neil McNeil 400
Duncan Campbel 320
Jno Martileer 160
Daniel McNeil 320
Wm Stevens 300
Dan McNeil 400
Jas McLachlen 320
Wm Speir ? Edgecombe
Jno Clayton 100 Bladen
Sam Portevint 640 N. Hanover
Charles Harrison 320
Robt Walker 640
Jas Smalwood 640
Wm Faris 400; 640
Richd Canton 180 Craven
Duncan Campbel 150 Bladen
Neil McNeil 321
Alex McKey 320
Henry Skibley 320
Jno Owen 200
Duncan Campbel 400
Dougal Stewart 640
Arch Douglass 200 N. Hanover
James Murray 320
Robt Clark 200
Duncan Campbel 148 Bladen
James McLachlen 320
Arch McGill 500
Jno Speir 100 Edgecombe
James Fergus 640
Rufus Marsden 640
Hugh Blaning 320 (surplus land) Bladen
Robt Hardy 400 Beaufort
Wm Jones 354; 350

“Occasionally, a list of emigrants has been preserved in the minutes of the official proceedings. Hence it may be read that on November 4, 1767, there landed at Brunswick, from the Isle of Jura, Argyle-shire, Scotland, the following names of families and persons, to whom were allotted vacant lands, clear of all fees, to be taken up in Cumberland or Mecklenburgh counties, at their option: 

Names of land grantees

These names show they were from Argyleshire, and probably from the Isle of Mull, and the immediate vicinity of the present city of Oban.” 

Those who came to Carolina and prospered wrote letters home, and thus word of mouth became a catalyst for emigration. “There was in fact a Carolina mania which was not broken until the beginning of the Revolution. The flame of enthusiasm passed like wildfire through the Highland glens and Western Isles.” [J.P. MacLean, An Historical Account of the Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America… (Glasgow, Scotland: John McKay, 1900), Chapter 5, “Highlanders in North Carolina”; digital transcription, Electric Scotland (https://www.electricscotland.com/history/highlands/chapter5.htm : accessed 2018]. 

Drawing of the port at Charleston, SC, where many Scots first
set foot in the New Land.

As a result, “Shipload after shipload of sturdy Highland settlers sailed for the shores of America, and most of them landing at Charleston and Wilmington found their way to their kinsmen on the Cape Fear. In a few years their settlements were thickly scattered throughout the territory now embraced in the counties of Anson, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Hoke, and Scotland…The Scot’s Magazine, in September, 1769, records that the ship Molly had recently sailed from Islay filled with passengers for North Carolina, and that this was the third emigration from that county within six years. The same journal in a later issue tells us that between April and July, 1770, fifty-four vessels sailed from the Western Isles laden with 1,200 Highlanders all bound for North Carolina. In 1771, the Scot’s Magazine stated that 500 emigrants from Islay and the adjacent islands were preparing to sail for America, and later in the same year Governor Tryon wrote that ‘several ship loads of Scotch families’ had ‘landed in this province within three years past from the Isles of Arran, Durah, Islay, and Gigah, but chief of them from Argyle Shire and are mostly settled in Cumberland County.’ Their number he estimated ‘at 1,600 men, women, and children.’ A year later the ship Adventure brought a cargo of 200 emigrants from the Highlands to the Cape Fear, and in March of the same year Governor Martin wrote to Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies: ‘Near a thousand people have arrived in Cape Fear River from the Scottish Isles since the month of November with a view to settling in this province whose prosperity and strength will receive great augmentation by the accession of such a number of hardy, laborious and thrifty people.’” [Connor, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/North_Carolina/_Tex ts/CBHHNC/1/10*.html: accessed 2018]. 

Such massive immigration to North Carolina has led to claims that the state now has more descendants of Scots than has present-day Scotland. In summary, favorable reports, support of the crown and governor, and financial incentives all conspired to make the ship route of Scotland to the Cape Fear a major migration pattern. As MacLean poetically described the aftermath of Culloden, 

“Left without chief, or protector, clanship broken up, homes destroyed and kindred murdered, dispirited, outlawed, insulted and without hope of palliation or redress, the only ray of light pointed across the Atlantic where peace and rest were to be found in the unbroken forests of North Carolina.”

Traci, thank you so much for this history lesson! Traci is our resident historian and genealogist! Learn more about the Scots heading inland along the Cape Fear River! Do you have ancestors that began in the Cape Fear Region? Tell us about it!

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