Question about land purchases by freedmen

Sally Greene's picture

I'm researching a Black man in Franklin County, North Carolina, who at his death in 1899 owned a farm, according to court records that settled his estate a couple of years later. However, the farm was not formally deeded to him during his lifetime. In 1900, his heirs received the deed to the property, upon paying several hundred dollars. I am guessing that this was a final installment payment on a contract that the man had negotiated with the sellers some years earlier. I have searched the earlier grantor-grantee indexes and cannot find a recorded deed of trust, which would indicated a conventional mortgage (where you get the title conditionally on maintaining your scheduled payments). Could it have been, rather, a private contract that was not recorded in deed books? a contract between the Black farmer and the sellers that was essentially a rent-to-own contract, or a lease contract? We know this type of contract was common (and subject to abuse) in the mid-twentieth century, but I've not seen any mention of it in the late nineteenth.

Thanks for any help!

Sally Greene

Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Ms Greene, I do not have a direct response to your question, but there is at least one indirect way to find clues about land ownership.
(1) Look at the annual county tax digests for what taxes the person paid each year when alive, and any taxes paid by the estate's executor or administrator after the person's death (also what taxes the grantee of the deed paid up so 1900). Note the value of all categories of property on which taxes were paid, especially land. How did the taxed value of the land compare to price paid in 1900? Note whether the land lot numbers are specified in the tax digest (some tax digests do, some do not).
(2) If the grantor-grantee indexes you consulted are 20th-century compiled typed indexes, they often omit documents not deemed by the indexer to have current legal relevance. Ask to see the original deed book indexes for each book (probably hand-written) and rerun your search for any documents related to your target people that were omitted. Also, some jurisdictions have preserved folders of loose unrecorded documents. If Franklin Co. has such, recommend review.
Very respectfully,
David E Paterson,
Millington, TN