The Land-Holder's Assistant and Land Office Guide occupies a special place in the history of early Maryland literature, as the first institutional history of any agency of colonial or state government. In writing a work intended to describe the origins, procedures, and practices of the land office, John Kilty addressed a subject that had been of primary importance to the Lords Baltimore and remained, in the early nineteenth century, of vital concern for a people whose primary asset or source of wealth was the land that they owned.
The Land Office
Cecilius Calvert, second Lord Baltimore and first proprietor of Maryland, laid the foundation for the land office a year or more before the first settlers sailed, when he drew up the initial "Conditions of Plantation," setting forth the terms by which colonists could obtain land. Calvert's source of wealth lay in the seven million acres of land granted to him by the charter he received from King Charles I in 1632. Proprietary revenues would be derived from the purchase money settlers paid for land, the annual quit rents owed to the proprietor, and the duties imposed on the tobacco they shipped to England. The principle of an exchange of land in return for transportation of settlers (the headright system) remained in effect for the next fifty years, although the terms of the exchange were revised a number of times during that interval. After 1683, unpatented land could be acquired only by purchase (or, rarely, as a gift from the proprietor, generally in return for services rendered). The customary procedure by either method consisted of a warrant for survey, a certificate of survey, and a patent conveying title to the property described in the survey. The patent set forth the conditions of tenure and the monetary obligations due to the proprietor.
In the early years of the colony's settlement, management of proprietary land remained the responsibility of the governor or the proprietor's secretary, who issued the warrants, surveys, and patents required to establish title and who maintained the records that documented ownership. Only in 1680 did Charles, third Lord Baltimore, create a Land Office and appoint a Register to administer its affairs, naming John Lewellin on 19 April as clerk and register. In 1684, Calvert further established a four-member council (consisting of the agent and receiver general of revenues, the two proprietary secretaries, and a fourth individual) to hear and determine all disputes relating to land in Maryland.
Following the Protestant Revolution of 1688, the Land Office was closed from 1689 to 1694. When it reopened, the provincial government now constituted as a royal colony rather than a proprietary one asserted its right to settle judicial questions relating to land, to maintain custody of the records, and to control the surveying of unpatented land. The proprietor's rights they held to be limited to revenue collection. Until the Lords Baltimore regained full governmental authority over the colony in 1715, they depended on the agent and receiver general in Maryland to defend their claims to the colony's territory.
After the restoration of proprietary authority, administration of land matters became the responsibility of the Judge of the Land Office, who also held the title of Register. The judge appointed a surveyor general for each shore, who in turn appointed deputy surveyors for each county, and in practice deputized another individual to act as register. For a concise but thorough analysis of the history of the office during the colonial period, as well as a civil list of office holders, see Donnell MacClure Owings, His Lordship's Patronage: Offices of Profit in Colonial Maryland, Baltimore, MD: 1953. [Owings also refers the reader to a letter from Gov. Horatio Sharpe to the proprietor, in which Sharp explains the practices of the Land Office in the 1750s. (see IX:403-415)]