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Entries in black text are physical resources found in our Research Library.  Hyperlinks (blue/underline) are online resources, some of which are only available to members. 
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Provincial Land Records (Pre-Revolutionary War)

Understanding Maryland Land Records - MSA Guide

The Land Office


When King Charles I granted the Charter of Maryland to Cecil Calvert on June 20, 1632, he gave him ownership of all land within certain boundaries. Article XVIII of The Charter gave Lord Baltimore full authority to "assign, Alien, grante, demise, or enfeoff" any parcels [of the Province} to any persons willing to purchase the same.  Down to the time of the Revolutionary War, all land grants in Maryland came from the Lords Baltimore, and after the death of Frederick, the 6th Lord Baltimore, from his son, Henry Harford, the Proprietor. It was the custom to date legal documents by the Regnal Year of the British Monarch, and this phraseology gave rise to the unfounded myth that Marylanders had "land grants from the King." Between 1634 and 1680, the Calverts encouraged settlers by promising to grant each settler so many acres (usually 50 acres) for himself and for each other person he or she brought into the Province. In 1680 this "head right" system was abolished, but Charles Calvert, 3rd Lord Baltimore, created the Land Office.

The Patent Process

At the provincial level were the records of transfers of land (warrants, certificates of survey, and patents) from The Proprietor (Lord Baltimore and his successors) to private individuals.  Since all land in Maryland had been given by the King to Lord Baltimore, an individual who wanted a grant of land would have to apply to Lord Baltimore, or to Lord Baltimore's Land Office. Until 1680, the records might read that whereas "John Doe" was due so many acres of land, because he had brought himself, and/or family and or servants into the Province, an order (Warrant) was issued to the county surveyor to lay out so many acres of land and to create a document known as a Certificate of Survey.

Step 1: Obtaining a Warrant. A warrant would be issued which directed that a survey be done of the property.

Step 2: Having the Land Surveyed.  The surveyor would return with a report of his survey.  A Certificate of Survey would be entered in Lord Baltimore’s land records.  The certificates of survey, describing tracts of land give the actual dimensions, or metes and bounds of the survey, and are usually accompanied by a scale drawing of the survey. Boundary trees and rocks, and bodies of water, may be indicated.

Step 3: Patenting the Land. Patents are documents granting ownership rights to some previously unpatented property. It has the nature of a deed and contains a description of the property and conditions of tenure, usually a certain amount due from the patent holder to Lord Baltimore each year. The patent would be recorded in Lord Baltimore’s land books, and a copy would be given to the patent holder.

[The above information taken from the Maryland State Archives Guide to Government Records]

Patent (Land) Records

  • Maryland Patent Index - MSA S1426.  Use this MSA Page to lookup the name of the patent holder, and view the index card(s) for that patent holder.  There may be notation of both warrants and patents.  Note the liber (book), and folio (page) for each record.  Then view the liber (book) you need below.
  • Maryland Patent Records - NSA SE23.  Use this MSA Page to find and view any liber (book) found on the index card.  Find the row with the liber number or name that corresponds to the one found on the index card.  Click on "Links" at the right.  Then click on "View a Multipage PDF on the left.  Scroll to the folio (page) listed on the index card.  Page numbers are handwritten at the top of each page (do not use the PDF page number).

Proprietary Manor Leaseholds

  • 1700 - 1768: Hardcopy Book, Gauis M. Brumbaugh, V2.

Provincial Rent Rolls & Debt Books

Rent rolls and debt books were records in which Lord Baltimore's agents kept track of the quit rents due him by county. The rent rolls listed each tract of patented land, the name of the person for whom it was surveyed, the name of the current possessor(s), the acreage, the quit rent, and sometimes subsequent deed transactions. Inheritances were not noted, but when a new rent roll book was begun, the new possessor of the land was listed. Debt books, which began in 1753, were prepared annually for each county. They listed each land owner and then the tracts of land and the quit rent due on each.

  • Index to Debt Books (1753-1774)  MSA 1430_18/19.  Use CTRL-F to search for owner names or land names.  Be careful of variant spellings.  Number under each year is the page number on which the record will appear in that year's debt book.  
  • Debt Books    

Land Records (Post-Revolutionary War)

Tax Assessment Records

  • 1793-1846 (not inclusive): microfilm and/or index cards. They are also available in a transcribed/indexed hard copy & PDFs.
  • 1798 Federal Direct Tax - Congress enacted legislation to tax every landowner on their buildings, land, and slaves in order to raise two million dollars to finance an expected war with France.  This was the first federal direct taxation.  An amazing resource that gives detailed insight into landowners in 1798.  16 of the 28 forms for St. Mary's County exist, and are viewable here.

Alienation and Transfers:

  • Book compiled by Charles E Fenwick containing abstracts of land, property, and slave transfers from 1786-1829. These records survived the courthouse fire of 1831, and give insight into transfers prior to that date.  Use  the two indexes and/or CTRL-F to search names and properties.  Be aware of variant spellings.
    Book PDF:  

Land Commission Records:

Case files of proceedings to partition or sell inherited land, to perpetuate or restore land boundaries, to lay out or close roads and landings, to ratify sales of land by constables, to hear an ejectment petition, to appoint commissioners to take testimony in equity and civil suits, to contest elections, to extend time for tax collections,  to conduct insanity hearings, to lay out dower rights in land, to establish voting privileges, to hear a request for a writ of mandamus, to establish or annul leases of oysters beds,  to condemn land for a railroad, and to ratify tax sales.

Generally, the primary source material for land records are deed books.  However in 1831, the county courthouse burned, and all deed records from 1637 to 1831 were lost. Except for a volume of re-recorded deeds beginning in the late 1700s, deed records begin in 1831.

Use the deed indexes below to find the grantor or grantee's name.  Lists are alphabetized and show both grantor-to-grantee and grantee-from-grantor.  You can also type "CTRL-F" to search the index.  When you find the deed you want, note the clerk's initials, the book number, and the page. 

STEP 2: Go to to view the deed.  First create a free account.  Then select "St. Mary's County" for your search.  The page will come up on "Instrument Search".  Enter the Clerk's initials, the book number and page number you want to view.

Surveyor's Journals

  • Benjamin Tippett - St. Mary's County Surveyor 1850-1853, but journals entries are seen with dates from 1842 to 1873.
    • Book A (MSA CM 899-1): 
    • Book B (MSA CM 899-2): 
  • George B. Dent's Journals A thru F, ca 1860-1905, microfilm, hard copy & PDFs.
    • Book A
    • Book B
    • Book C
    • Book D
    • Book E
    • Book F
  • Charles A. Heard's Journals, ca 1907-1939
    • Indices  
    • Book A  
    • Book B   
    • Book C   
    • Book D   
    • Book E   
    • Book F   
    • Book GA   
    • Book - no label   
  • Lewis C. Thompson's Journal A, ca 1907-1915, PDF only
    • Book A  Index to properties appears on pages 5-14.

Historic Areas and Towns



  • The Molinography of Maryland - Introduction - 2007 book by John McGrain.  This 26-page introduction provides an overarching history of mills in Maryland.  (Courtesy Maryland State Archives)
  • The Molinography of Maryland - St. Mary's County - This chapter contains a list of all known mills in St. Mary's County.  It was originally compiled in 1976 by Edwin Beitzell and relied on interviews with Charles Fenwick, John Chappelear, and John H. T. Briscoe.  It was updated in 2006 by Dr. Gary Wheeler Stone, archeologist at St. Mary's City from 1971 to 1987.  The number in parentheses after the Mill name refers to the election district where the mill was situated. (Courtesy Maryland State Archives)
  • Mill Memories in St. Mary's County - Article by Charles Fenwick in the November 1970 issue of the Chronicles of St. Mary's.  Includes a five-page list of mills ordered by the owner/operator's name.
  • Dictionary of Molinology - Free 168-page PDF from the International Molinology Society.  Defines terms and gives detailed examples of mill types.