Deed Record from North Carolina, 1786

Dear EE:

I'd love to have an opinion (or some direction about where to go next) about a 1786 deed recorded in Richmond Co., NC between two parties who lived in South Carolina. Here is a link to the first page: Alternatively, here is a link to the film: The images are 37 and 38. I'm most interested in the unusual (in my experience) language at the bottom of page 60 and top of page 61 and how to interpret it. The tract was patented to John Graham (although the date of the patent indicated in the deed is incorrect per the images at NC Land Grants!) Here is a transcription of the language that follows the legal land description:

"Reference being thereunto had may more fully appear with the appurtenances Situate Lying and being aforesaid with Their & Every of Their Rights Members [?] and appurtenances whatsoever and the Reversions and the Reversions Remainder and Remainders of all and the Said Lands Tenements Hereditaments and Premises hereby Granted or Intended to be granted and of Every Part and Parcell thereof and all Rents Issue Servises and Profits Them or any of them or any Part or Parcel of Them or any of These Insident [?] belonging or appertaining and also all and Every the Estate and estates Rights Titles Claims Interested [?] Demands whatsoever of him the Said Wm Pearce . . . [etc.]"

It feels like two things are going on here. The first is that perhaps the grantor (or the grantor's lawyer) had not received the news that North Carolina had abandoned the Rule of Primogeniture, which it had done in 1784 (still leaving daughters out in the cold if there were male heirs). Maybe the language is to ensure that his son (or sons) could not jump in and claim the land, or even John Graham's son(s), for that matter (no record of the exchange of land between Wm. Pearce and John Graham is extant). But, it is hard to know what these folks would have known or not known about their "neighbors" to the north.

The second thing that might be going on is that perhaps there are tenants on the land? None of the surrounding deeds (or earlier/later deeds that I've read -- but I'm only a small ways in on reading the deed books) mention tenements or "Rents Issue Servises and Profits." In that light, the grantor perhaps wanted to make absolutely sure that the tenants or their heirs could not make a claim on the land.

For what it's worth, "Sumrall" (or Summeral) did not pay taxes on the earliest list still extant (1790), but Moses Summeral did (and paid a poll, which suggests he was in the county -- he also attested to the deed in court in April 1787). I have also looked for Summeral at North Carolina Land Grants (and there are grants to a Thomas Sumeral/Summeral in the same vicinity, but it might not be the same person, of course.)

Any thoughts about how to interpret this? Or, thoughts about what direction to go in to get assistance in interpretation?

I've looked at the applicable laws for inheritance, and I think that trying to determine who might be a tenant on the land in this situation could be a fool's errand. The extant tax lists are not all that complete, despite the law requiring that all real property be taxed. For example, the widow of John Pearce did not pay any tax on her dower lands in 1790, or in 1793 on the land grant she received in 1791. The male heir to the majority of John's real property had not reached his majority.

Thank you in advance.

Submitted byEEon Sat, 05/27/2023 - 11:12

Hello, VP.  Interesting document.  There are clearly copying errors in this recorded copy and there is clearly a line of text or at least several words missing from this recorded copy of the deed amid the phrase “may more fully appear with the appurtenances Situate Lying and being.”  There should be other words between “appear” and “with.”

Looking at surrounding deeds is smart, but in this case the language of surrounding deeds won’t hold an answer because the time frame is different. Your deed (if copied into the record book correctly) was drawn up on 20 April 1786 and presented to court in April 1787 by Moses Sumrall, who attested to it, and it was ordered to be recorded at that time. However,

  • the deed recorded before it was drawn up on 1 October 1801, proved in court in December 1805, and “registered” February 1806.
  • the deed recorded after it was drawn up on 17 November 1805, proved in December 1805, and registered in February 1806.
  • Other documents around that were in the same time frame.

Why was there a 20-year delay in registration? (I.e., copying the deed into the deed book.) The first thought might be record destruction, with the personal copy being brought back in for recording. But there's no indication that any record books from Richmond were destroyed about that time. And the court notation of 1787 would not likely appear on the personal copy created in 1786, from which the clerk would have copied it in 1806.

When we go back to the period in which the deed was executed, and read the deeds of that time frame, we learn a lot more—but doing so raises other issues and questions.

  1. With regard to language, In Deed Book B (FSL-IGN 7517661) you’ll find other documents from the mid-1780s that use the “reversion and reversions” and “rents, issues, Services and Profits” language that you ask about. I would hesitate to say that all of those involved the abandonment of primogeniture or “language to ensure that his son (or sons) could not jump in and claim the land.”  (Other specific examples are at images 132 and 133—three different deeds there.) 
  2. The emphasis on reversion and reversions call into question whether a prior deed to the property might have been a deed of lease and release—a two-part transaction in which land (on Day 1) was leased for, say, 99 years in exchange for a peppercorn, after which (on Day 22) the grantor, in exchange for a substantially larger sum of money that was the actual value of the property, released the grantee from the requirement that the land would revert back to him when the lease was up. These lease-and-release conveyances were common in both of the Carolinas before the Revolution, while they were still under English laws; but the practice was dropped post-Revolution.
  3. The possibility that Pearce owned the land under lease-and-release, however is countered by the Graham-to-Pearce deed that’s recorded at Deed Book B: 147 (image 139)—unless Graham had previously executed such a document to someone else.
  4. You will note that Graham sold Pearce the land on 9 March 1785, after which Pearce sold it to Sumrall in April 1786. Both documents were proved in the April 1787 term of court and both were ordered then to be registered. The Graham-to-Pearce document was promptly registered. The Sumrall document was not recorded at that time—seemingly.

That forces the question, Why not? 

  1. The deed book in which the document was recorded has a curious anomaly right at the point we’re focused on. When you examine it, you’ll see

p.147    Graham to Pearce

p.148    missing number

p. 149   (opposite 147) Sneed to McCaskill

  1. We might ask here whether the Pearce-Sumrall deed should have been on p. 148 and whether it might have been torn out, leaving p. 149 opposite p. 147. However, p. 147 also carries the document no. 27 and p. 149 carries the document no. 28.  If the Pearce-Sumrall deed, which was ordered to be recorded at the same time as the Graham-Pearce deed, actually had been recorded on p. 148, and then torn out, that alteration would have been made before the Sneed-McCaskill document was recorded,

All of this leaves you with more questions than you had to start with. I’d also add:

  • If Pearce (who was living in SC) sold the land to Sumrall (who was also living in SC), was the deed drawn up in SC as well? 
  • Did Pearce and Sumrall live in the same SC county? Which one? Have their other documents in SC been studied, for language as well as activities?
  • Did Thomas Sumrall return to NC to live? Did he die there? Is there probate there? 
  • The 1790 census places Moses "Sumerall" 5 houses from Thoroughgood Pate, the land’s adjacent neighbor (and 3 houses from Samuel Pate). There is no other adult male in Moses’ household, eliminating the possibility that Thomas might have been in his household.
  • You say that Thomas Sumrall was not taxed in Richmond Co. in 1790 (that being the first tax roll available) but that Moses was. What was Moses taxed on? Land or just poll?  If land, how much and what description (if any was given)?

From your various statements, it seems that your interest may lie in the Pearces rather than the Sumralls. But it’s likely that your questions won’t be answered until you figure out why, after the Pearce-Sumrall deed was proved and ordered to be recorded in April 1787, the clerk did not actually record it until 1806.

Submitted byV P Stroeheron Sat, 05/27/2023 - 18:43

Hello, EE,

Thank yo so very much for this. Yes, my interests do lie in the Pearces, but the Sumralls/Summeralls/Sumeral (maybe even Sumerlins [?] -- still got to sort that one out) are likely FANs for both John (dec'd) and William, who may or may not be closely related. 

The deed record is quite odd, and a quick glance around that book shows that there seems to be a point in 1805 when the regular clerk at that time (Eli Terry) disappears and the deputy clerk (Wm Leak) takes over. Then another person entirely (W Terry, perhaps) begins recording deeds also. It makes one wonder if W Terry, who recorded the Pearce-Sumrall deed, had little to no experience with legal records, thus rendering an incomplete transcription. I got lost in it several times when I was transcribing.  

At any rate, I see a lot of court minute, probate, and deed record reading in my future in the county, in Anson, and in South Carolina, too, if I can get the Pearce/Sumrall location narrowed down. Some of the land grants on and about "Joes Creek" were near the "province line," so I'll start with St. David Parish which was contiguous to Anson & Richmond. 

To answer your question about Moses Sumerall, he paid a poll tax and taxes on 600 acres, land that I'll need to chase down as well. So, plenty to do to keep me off the streets. ;-)

Submitted byEEon Sat, 05/27/2023 - 19:18

You'll enjoy that court-minute, probate and deed reading, I suspect.  It's also curious that Thomas Sumrall, as a SC resident, bought those 100 acres in NC--and then paid no taxes on it--at the same time that his son owned 600 acres. It would have been unremarkable if he had bought it for a son just starting out; but that definitely seems not to be the case.