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Monday, January 20, 2020

Introduction to Occupant Entry Records

Introduction to Occupant Entry Records 
by Garry Brown

The very first owners of a specific tract of land registered their claim for the land in a Land Office. When West Tennessee was first opened for legitimate settlement, there were five land offices in the region. Later on one was established in each county. The entry into the record at the land office was called an occupant entry. After the entry was made, the surveyor verified the dimensions and the fact that no one else was claiming this tract.

Then a request was made to the State for a grant for the land. When a request was deemed accurate, complete, legitimate, etc. a grant was issued and the individual could record it with the county. I don't know if that office was called the Registrar at that or not. At that time a deed was issued. The Occupant Entry was really the first document of ownership for a given tract. Often, the person for whom the Occupant Entry was made was the first generation settler on the land. 

It is the first part of a lengthy process whereby people gained title to and paid for public land. The process varied widely with region and time. The laws were changed. 

The subject of Occupant Entry is large and complex. It was one of the hottest and most contentious political issues on the frontier. There were several Occupant Entry Laws. 

Again, the Revolutionary War Soldiers received warrants which had to be turned into grants through the process I began to outline earlier. There were also land grants or warrants for service in the North Carolina Militia (although none of these were in West Tennessee), there were huge grants to universities, and there were lots of other kinds of grants as well. Much of the land was settled illegally by squatters and herein lay part of the trouble. (It should be noted that the dispensing of public lands in Tennessee was one of the biggest public scandals in the history of the nation. This corruption was also a big part of the trouble.) There were several different laws enacted at different times in an effort to let those who had settled and improved the land gain legal title to it. These laws allowed an individual to lay claim to and pay 12 1/2 cents/acre for the land he occupied up to about 300 acres. Most Occupant Entries were for 160 to 200 acres in the early years and less as time went on. There were different limits and conditions over time. But he still had to survey it, enter it at the land office, apply for a grant, and then finally get a deed. And if he happened to be living on land that someone else had already entered but didn't live on, this process didn't work. There were many, many law suits and many people simple moved on. 

Weakley County was split between two land offices when the Legislature passed the laws governing the initial settlement of West Tennessee after the Act of Congress allowing the settlement of West Tennessee was passed in ( I think) 1819. This act of the legislature also set up the survey and land offices. The surveyors for the 12th and 13th districts had their offices in Dover at the beginning, 1820. Both offices moved to their districts within a few years. I believe most of these old records and maps  have been lost. I am unaware of any relevant land records for Weakley Co in Stewart Co today but I haven't been there to verify it. The entry deeds and early deed books in Weakley Co are amazingly complete. 


Surname: Overton

This is an English locational surname. It originates from any of the several places called Overton in the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Lancashire, and the North Riding of Yorkshire. Recorded variously as Overtune, Uferantun and Ofaertune in the famous Domesday Book of 1086, it is believed that the name translates as 'The upper farm' although other explanations are possible. It derives from the Olde English pre 7th century word 'ufera' meaning upper, or 'ofer', a riverbank, and 'tun', a farm or settlement; hence the upper farm or perhaps the settlement on a river bank. The surname not surprisingly is amongst the first to be recorded with early examples including John de Overton in the Writs of Parliament for the county of Huntingdonshire, dated 1324, and Sarra de Overtone in the Pipe Rolls of the county of Lancashire, dated 1327. William Overton (1525 - 1609), the canon of Chichester, in Sussex, took a prominent part in the reception of Queen Elizabeth at Oxford in 1564, and was bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, 1579 - 1609. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Geoffrey de Overton. This was dated 1273 in the Hundred Rolls of Shropshire, during the reign of King Edward Ist of England and known to history as the Hammer of the Scots, 1272 - 1307. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

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