One thing that is always fun in genealogy is the interesting history facts one runs across while doing research. When I researched my family tree, I always wondered why families would move from one state to another, especially after they seemed to be settling in an area for a few years.
Many of my ancestors were in Tennessee around 1800, then left after only five or six years and moved to Alabama. The following story is probably why some left Tennessee.
Occasionally, I uncovered very interesting bits of history and the following is one I discovered that took place in North Carolina and Tennessee in the 1790’s. It was so interesting that I thought I’d share it with you.
Massive Land Fraud in Tennessee
In 1789, large land tracts of land in Tennessee were held in reserve to be given to NC Revolutionary War veterans for their service. Around 1796, Andrew Jackson, a young Congressman at the time in Tennessee, discovered some suspicious business taking place in the Nashville surveyor’s office.
This led to the revelation of a massive Land Fraud, later termed the Glasgow Land Fraud, that implicated leaders in both the State Houses in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Land was sold to speculators
Land granted to Revolutionary War Veterans in Tennessee was of little use to them until it was surveyed and since Indians were living on the land and the land had not been purchased from the Native Americans, the new owners had difficulty claiming their grants. Often, they just sold their land grants to speculators at a low price.
The investigation in 1797-98, initiated by Andrew Jackson’s discovery, revealed that deeds were executed for dead veterans for more land than service records justified. The invalid deeds were then sold to unsuspecting buyers at a good profit to the sellers.
Veteran received illegal grant
These same unscrupulous speculators sought commanders in the Revolutionary War who after plying the commander with liquor to the point of inebriation; the speculators could pull in a willing participant and then they had the commanders sign an affidavit that the ‘willing participant’ had served in the Revolutionary War under his command. This allowed the now declared veteran to receive an illegal grant which the speculator immediately bought for little money. A few speculators acquired large tracts of land this way then sell portions of the land to unsuspecting buyers moving into Tennessee.
Many families lost property
When this was discovered by Andrew Jackson, a commission was set up to investigate and validate the deeds. They had so much trouble sorting through the transaction records that they finally decided that the only way validates a deed was to follow the chain of ownership. If a qualified Revolutionary War veteran was not listed in the chain then the last owner lost the property even if he could prove he purchased it legally. Many families were innocent victims of the fraud and lost their property in the process.
State House almost burned
The commission involved in validating the deeds was under constant threat and there were at least two plans thwarted to burn the State House where the documents were located as revealed in the incident below which occurred on January 1798.
On January 18, 1798, men accused of the conspiracy attempted to break into the State House and destroy the records. Between the hours of nine and ten o’clock, that night, three men broke into the comptroller’s office and carried off a trunk that was said to be the property of William Terrell. The thieves also threw a large chest belonging to Glasgow from the window. Peter Bird, a slave of Treasurer John Haywood, came by the capitol during the robbery. He confronted the robbers, but they replied only by throwing bricks and stones. Fearing for his life, Bird fled and quickly notified a group of men celebrating the second marriage of Treasurer Haywood at Mr. Cassos’ inn at the corner of Fayetteville and Morgan Streets.
The men quickly returned to the State House, and the robbers fled. Phil, or Philemon, a slave of William Terrell, was the only perpetrator caught, and both Terrell’s trunk and Glasgow’s chest were recovered. After a trial in the Wake County courts in which Phil was found guilty, Governor Ashe consulted the council of state to determine if the sentence should be executed. Ashe hoped that Phil would admit the name of his accomplices. The council, however, felt that the sentence should be carried through and Phil was hanged. After this attempt to destroy the records, Governor Ashe ordered the hiring of a guard to protect the State House.
Fraud led to establishing the Supreme Court
The scandal was termed the Glasgow Land Fraud and since several high-ranking government officials were found to be involved, an independent body was necessary to try the men.
When the court law expired in 1801, it was extended for three additional years and named the Court of Conference. Next, in 1804, the court became a permanent court of record.
In 1805 it was renamed the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Additional changes to the court’s structure and composition occurred in 1806 with the addition of another judge, and in 1810 with the creation of the office of Chief Justice. Finally, in 1818, in an attempt to correct all the problems in the existing judicial system, the Supreme Court was established as an independent body.
Trouble with the Native Americans in Tennessee and North Carolina as well as the Land Fraud problems may well have been the reasons many people traveled south to Alabama after the Creek and Indian War.
This story and more can be found in ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS: Settlement: Lost & Forgotten Stories is a collection of lost and forgotten stories of the first surveyors, traders, and early settlements of what would become the future state of Alabama.
- A Russian princess settling in early Alabama
- How the early settlers traveled to Alabama and the risks they took
- A ruse that saved immigrants lives while traveling through Native American Territory
- Alliances formed with the Native Americans
- How an independent republic, separate from the United States was almost formed in Alabama