Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Land in Maryland was granted by King Charles I of England to the Calvert family in 1632. Maryland was a proprietary colony, meaning that the Crown granted individuals or companies commercial charters to establish and govern colonies in the name of the Crown. Between 1633 and 1680, the Calvert family allocated land grants to others in the form of headrights. This strategy rewarded those who would pay to import much-needed laborers (indentured servants) into the colony with 50 acres of land for each person brought over. (A headright refers to both the grant of land itself as well as the actual person, or “head,” through whom the land is claimed. The person who has the “right” to claim the land is the one who paid to transport that person to the colony).
Land patents granted to those who imported others into Maryland recorded the names of the persons who were the basis of the claim. For instance, a wealthy plantation owner might import 20 servants into the colony. They would have to work for him for a number of years and in addition he would get 50 acres per head (in this case 2,000 acres) as a headright land patent for importing the 20 servants.
There are three good sources that list these early settlers of Maryland, who first worked out their contract for the wealthy land owners; and then, if they survived those brutal years, were freed to go on and populate the land.
• Early Settlers of Maryland: An Index to Names of Immigrants Compiled from Records of Land Patents, 1633-1680, in the Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland, by Gust Skordas, Geneaological Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 1968.
• A Supplement to The Early Settlers of Maryland Comprising 8,680 Entries Correcting Omissions and Errors in Gust Skordas, by Carson Gibb, Maryland State Archives, 1997.
• Settlers of Maryland (1679-1783), 5 volumes, by Peter Wilson Coldham, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 1995-6. This is a continuation of the first two books.
All of these works are available in book form at the Vigo County Public Library, Special Collections Department. The first two are also part of a free online index operated by the Maryland State Archives at www.msa.md.gov/. The third is indexed on ancestry.com.
Maryland, like the other early colonies that became states, is a “state land state” rather than a “federal land state.” This means that the original land was owned by the state rather than the federal government, and was granted or sold to others by the state. One characteristic of these state land states is that their land was surveyed by the metes and bounds method instead of the township and range method used by the federal government. A unique characteristic of Maryland land is that each tract was given a name.
My own ancestor, Nicholas Gassaway, as a 16-year-old boy, was transported from England to Maryland in 1649 by Richard Owen. Richard Owen received a land grant in 1659 for transporting both himself and Nicholas into Maryland. As a man, Nicholas rose to prominence in the colony and became a landowner, a colonel in the militia, and served as a Justice in the Provincial Court. His tracts of land in Ann Arundel County included Poplar Ridge, Addition to Poplar Ridge, Gassaway’s Ridge, Addition to Gassaway’s Ridge, Hall’s Inheritance, Wrighton, Love’s Neck, and Bessonton. Every Gassaway in the United States, regardless of how they spell their last name, is descended from this Nicholas. Pretty good for an indentured servant.