Guide to African American History

French & Spanish Land Grants

At various times between the 1680s and 1803, French and Spanish governments controlled the land of the upper Mississippi from which the state of Missouri would later be created. During that time, many land grants were issued to settlers in the area. Oral concessions were common; unfortunately, many were never committed to writing. This failure to record land titles, coupled with inadequate surveys and incomplete titles, created bitter and contentious struggles over actual ownership of land after the United States purchased the Louisiana territory in 1803 and Congress attempted to confirm legitimate claims and prevent fraudulent speculation.

The French and Spanish land records, many still untranslated, date from 1770, with the appointment of Martin Duralde as surveyor for St. Louis. The French & Spanish land grants collection document the ownership of land received through grants, as well as the legal and historical complexities in securing and confirming the land titles after the Louisiana Purchase.

Congress created a board of land commissioners, consisting of the U.S. Recorder of Land Titles and two other commissioners, to reject or confirm grants. Confirmations of land grants continued through the 1830s, with congressional acts to adjust individual private claims passed until 1860.

Claims to land by free Negroes can be found in the French & Spanish land grant records. Free Negro women are included, as in the case of Jeanette Fourchet, who claimed eighty arpents of land in the District of St. Louis in 1793. References to Jeanette Fourchet are found in the Livre Terrains, the land books of St. Louis' French inhabitants. Her claim is also noted in the Record Book of Land Titles, as well as in surveys and maps.

Record Group 951: U.S. Recorder of Land Titles for Missouri, 1796-1867.

The Archives' holdings include a variety of records. The Exhibit of Private Land Claims (1808-1867) is a register of private land claims that were confirmed. Information varies but generally includes the number and date of confirmation certificate, names of confirmee and of original claimant, nature of claim, quantity, confirmatory act of Congress, references to records in the recorder's office, location of the claim, and date of survey. This series is the starting point for all investigations of private claims.

Surveys made by Antoine Soulard or his deputies are found in the Registre d'Arpentage (1796-1806). The Papers of Original Claimants (1805-1876) are original certificates of land claims, Spanish grants, concessions, orders of survey, and original surveys. The papers also include affidavits, transfers, testimonies, contracts, depositions, and correspondence. Some claims date prior to 1770. Records cover the period up to the closing of the Recorder's Office in 1876, and are arranged alphabetically by name of claimant. The Record Book of Land Titles (1805-1813) is a compilation that began in accordance with the congressional act of March 2, 1805. It includes the formal petition of confirmation, copies of grants, surveys, and concessions.

The minutes of the first Board of Land Commissioners (1805-1812) are included in a series of the same name. The minutes include the date of the meeting, appointment of administrative officers, name of claimant, nature of claim, number of acres, date of claim, confirmation of claim made by the Board, references to record books pertaining to original concession of claimant, evidence of claimant presented to the Board by witnesses, and names of the Board members. Commissioners Certificates (1808-1812) are the original certificates issued to claimants under the congressional act of March 3, 1807. Each certificate gives the name of the original claimant, extent and location of land, and reference to records in the Recorder's Office. They are arranged chronologically.

Record Group 952: U.S. Surveyor General for Missouri, 1815-1863.

Additional records regarding French and Spanish land grants can be found in the records of the U.S. Surveyor General for Missouri; the office was located in St. Louis. Incoming Correspondence (1816-1863) is a significant collection. It contains copies, and some originals, of letters primarily from the Commissioner of the General Land Office, registrars of land district offices in Missouri and Illinois, and private citizens. Topics include land claims and surveys, adjustment of conflicting claims, lists of claimants, Negro land claims, and Indian lands. Outgoing Correspondence, covering the same time frame and similar topics, includes references to a "free mulatto woman's claim" of land. Field Notes (1815-1862, on microfilm) offer detailed information as to location, date of survey, description of land, market boundary lines, and surveyor's name.