Deed and Plat Map from Georgia Pine Barrens Speculation 1795
In this deed of March 31, 1795, Georgia Governor George Mathews grants 1,000 acres of land in Montgomery County, Georgia, to surveyor William Neil. Located in south-central Georgia between Macon and Savannah, Montgomery County at the time was a vast pine barrens, scarcely settled. Despite a limit on grants of 1,000 acres per person, on the same day, Mathews granted at least 1,000 additional acres to Neil in Montgomery County in a separate deed.
[GEORGIA.] George Mathews, Partially Printed Document Signed, Deed to William Neil, March 31, 1795, [Milledgeville?], Georgia, 1 p., 12.5ʺ x 12.25ʺ. Several small holes or tears on folds, partially repaired; stain spots; loss above Mathews’s signature where seal was removed, slightly affecting signature;
With: Thomas McCall, Partially Printed Document Signed, Plat, August 20, 1794, Montgomery County, Georgia. 1 p., 8.25ʺ x 11.75ʺ. Stain spots; small loss at bottom.
“Know Ye, That, in Pursuance of the Act for opening the LAND-OFFICE, and by Virtue of the Powers in me vested, I HAVE, given and granted, and, by these Presents, in the Name and Behalf of the said State, DO give and grant unto William Neil, his Heirs and Assigns forever, ALL that Tract or Parcel of Land, containing one Thousand Acres, situate, lying, and being in the County of Montgomery in the said State, and butting and bounding on all sides by said Neils Land having such Shape, Form, and Marks as appear by a Plat of the same hereunto annexed....”
The Pine Barrens speculation is often conflated with the Yazoo Land Scandal, which occurred at about the same time, but it is distinct. From 1789 to 1796, Georgia governors George Walton, Edward Telfair, and George Mathews made gifts of land grants covering more than three times as much land as Georgia then contained. They made grants of more than 29 million acres of land in counties that consisted of only 8.7 million acres.
Montgomery County was created from the lower part of Washington County in December 1793 and became the arena for the organized corruption that followed. The collaborators included justices of the peace and county surveyors, who were familiar with how to manipulate the granting process. They conspired to gain control of the land courts and elect their members as county surveyors. They favored areas that were sparsely settled, where few grants issued to unsuspecting settlers would interfere with their larger surveys.
The conspirators were primarily active from May 1793 to November 1794, during which they mass produced warrants and plats and sent them to the surveyor general for grants. In many cases, they laid out large grants for speculation purposes, and they were often inaccurate. A resurvey in 1799 of four large tracts in Montgomery County granted to Thomas Dawson in 1794 found that although three were said to contain 45,000 acres and the fourth 64,000 acres, the first three contained only 17,578; 17,578; and 22,281 acres respectively, and the fourth contained only 27,224 acres.
County surveyors Richmond Dawson and James Shorter made surveys for each other and themselves, receiving 1,412,000 acres and 1,219,000 acres respectively in Montgomery and Washington counties. Neil’s grants in Montgomery County placed him among a group of nineteen persons who each received from 250,000 to 500,000 acres.
In Montgomery County alone, which had an area of 407,680 acres, three men, including Dawson and Shorter, received grants totaling 2,664,000 acres. All of the grants given in Montgomery County, including this one, totaled 7,436,995 acres. Although single grants were limited to a maximum of 1,000 acres per person, multiple 1,000-acre grants were given to individuals, including surveyor William Neil. The fact that this grant of 1,000 acres is bounded on all sides by Neil’s land suggests the extent of the grants he received. Ultimately, Neil received grants for 320,000 acres of land in Montgomery County, more than 78 percent of the size of the actual county at the time. The fact that Neil’s name is printed as the recipient on the plat suggests the extent of the fraud. On January 3, 1795, the day the Yazoo Act passed the legislature, Governor Mathews signed grants for more than 450,000 acres of land in Montgomery County alone.
On March 23, 1795, Surveyor-General McCall sent a memorandum to the governor with the observation that he was “induced to believe the quantity of Land” that had passed through his office for Montgomery, Glynn, and Camden counties exceeded the amount of land in those counties but he was daily receiving more plats for signature. Despite this rather lukewarm warning, Governor Mathews signed this grant eight days later.
In 1794-1795, Georgia Governor George Mathews and the Georgia legislature approved the sale of more than forty million acres of Georgia’s western lands (modern Alabama and Mississippi) for $490,000 to four companies at approximately 1½ cents per acre. In exchange for their cooperation, the companies offered Georgia officials shares in these companies or bribes. After initially vetoing a similar bill, Governor Mathews signed the bill authorizing the sale into law, known as the Yazoo Act, on January 7, 1795. When the details of this wholesale legislative corruption became known, there was widespread public outrage and protests to the federal government. Reformer Jared Irwin was elected Governor of Georgia and in February 1796 signed a bill nullifying the Yazoo Act. Another reformer, U.S. Senator James Jackson succeeded Irwin as governor from 1798 to 1801. The state refunded money to many people who purchased land, but others refused the refund, preferring to keep the land. When the state did not recognize their claims, the matter ended up in the courts, eventually reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 1810. In the landmark decision of Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a state law by deciding that the land sales were binding contracts and could not be retroactively invalidated by legislation. In 1802, because of the controversy, Georgia ceded all of its claims to lands west of its modern border to the federal government.
When the convention called for in the 1789 Constitution convened in May 1795, outrage over the Yazoo Land Scandal was at its height, and the convention met for only two weeks and made a few changes in representation and terms for state senators. It also made provision for another convention to meet in Louisville, Georgia, in May 1798. When the Constitutional Convention of 1798 assembled in Louisville, Governor and former and future U.S. Senator James Jackson (1757-1806) quickly became the leading force. He insisted on establishing a definition of Georgia’s boundaries in the Constitution, securing a declaration that the Yazoo sale was void, and a guarantee against future sales of public lands to speculators.
Thomas Mathews (1739-1812) was born in Virginia and became a merchant and planter. He served as an officer in the colonial militia and gained fame in Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, he served as colonel of the 9th Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army. He was captured with his regiment at the Battle of Germantown in October 1777 and spent the next four years as a prisoner of war. After the war, he moved to Georgia, where he served as governor of Georgia (1787-1788), a Congressman from Georgia (1789-1791), and again as governor of Georgia (1793-1796). His second term as governor was overshadowed by his involvement in the Yazoo Land Fraud, which ruined him politically. He relocated to the Mississippi Territory, from which in 1810, President James Madison sent him as a secret agent to attempt to annex East Florida from Spain. When Mathews failed to negotiate the annexation, he captured Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island by force in the Patriot War, but Madison disavowed his actions. Mathews died on his way to Washington, D.C., to protest the government’s response.
Thomas McCall (1765-1840) was born in North Carolina and moved with his family as a child to South Carolina. In the Revolutionary War, he served as a private in a South Carolina cavalry troop. For his service, he received a land grant in Washington County, Georgia. He served as Surveyor-General of Georgia from 1787 to 1796. In the three years before his term, while serving as a deputy to Surveyor-General Richard Call, McCall passed surveys of more than 60,000 acres to himself. After his tenure as Surveyor-General, McCall lived in coastal counties before moving to Laurens County, where he cultivated grapes for wine.
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