The 1776 Constitution transferred responsibility for land affairs to the newly-created state government. The governor and council appointed a Register of the Land Office for each shore and took measures designed to protect the interests of existing property owners. Confiscation Acts passed in 1780 and 1781 appropriated all lands still held by the proprietor, property that was subsequently divided and sold by the state, with patents issued by the Land Office.
Prior to the Revolution, as the proprietor retained ultimate authority for the operation of the Land Office and as the officials who comprised the office exercised their authority on his behalf, a manual or guide to the operations of the office may have been thought unnecessary. Once the office became a state agency, however, operating under the authority of laws passed by the General Assembly, the need for a such guide became more critical. Alexander Contee Hanson, while chancellor of the state, "had been solicited to prepare a publication on this subject," but had not done so. Kilty himself, on asking for written guidance concerning cases that came before him, was told that there was "no collection of rules or precedents," that the business was "regulated by laws and established usages, and was to be learned by reading and practice." Feeling the need for a more systematic method of learning "the business of my office,"and with the encouragement of members of the bar and other gentlemen, Kilty embarked upon the work that became The Land-holder's Assistant.
As Kilty published his treatise in 1808, it remains to note briefly changes that have taken place in the Land Office since that date. The Eastern Shore office was abolished in 1843, leaving the office of the Western Shore to administer all patents. In 1867, [1867 Constitution, sec. 4] the new state constitution made the office the repository of all patent records (a category that includes warrants and certificates of survey and resurvey as well as patents); it also received the records of the Chancery Court, much of whose business had concerned the ownership or disposition of real property. In 1967, the Hall of Records Commission acquired the functions, records, responsibilities, and employees of the Land Office. The State Archivist assumed the duties of the Commissioner of Land Patents, with responsibility for issuing land patents and conducting court hearings (Chapter 355, Acts of 1967). The land records themselves are housed at the Maryland State Archives and consist of more than one hundred and twenty-five records series, detailed descriptions of which can be found in A Guide to State Agency Records at the Maryland State Archives: State Agency Histories and Series Descriptions (1994). See also the online version of the Guide to Government Records.
The record series most directly related to the land office are the volumes of warrants (directions to surveyors to map tracts of land), certificates of survey (prepared by surveyors when executing a warrant), and patents (documents granting ownership of land). Associated records include rent rolls (proprietary lists of patented tracts of land, giving the individual for whom it was surveyed, subsequent transactions, present owner, acreage, and quit rent) and debt books (organized by county and individual, giving tracts owned, acreage, and quit rent, as well as transfers of title).
Warrants and patents issued while the headright system was in effect contain the names of immigrants to the colony. Approximately 26,500 of these names can be found in The Early Settlers of Maryland, edited by Gust Skordas and published in 1968. The New Early Settlers of Maryland (2005), compiled by Carson Gibb comprises 34,326 entries combining Gust Skordas' Early Settlers of Maryland and Carson Gibb's earlier Supplement to the Early Settlers of Maryland (1997). The Supplement, which was later rolled into the New Early Settlers, contained approximately 8,000 names not included in the Skordas volume or corrected erroneous entries in that work. Dr. Gibb's introduction also clarifies the varied circumstances by which rights could be claimed or assigned to others. The patent records thus document the arrival in Maryland of nearly 80 percent of the settlers estimated to have entered the colony prior to 1684. Claims for surveying or patenting land frequently recount inheritances or assignments that provide further genealogical information.