Thursday, January 12, 2012

Determining No. of Acres of a Land Grant in the State Land States

There are two types of land descriptions in the United States:

1) Metes and Bounds
2) Public Land Survey System

The original thirteen colonies were considered State Land States and were described using the metes and bounds survey system which was historically used in England. “Metes” refers to the measurement of the land in terms of distance and direction. “Bounds” refers to the waterways, lands, buildings, etc that “bound” the land being described or are adjacent to it. Most land descriptions have a starting point, or “beginning” and an ending point which reverts back to the “beginning.”

The metes and bounds survey system is measured in chains and poles. A chain is 66 feet and a pole is 16.5 feet.[1]

This is a photo of Gunter’s chains held at the Campus Martius Museum. From (

This contrasts sharply with the rest of the country which uses the Public Land Survey System, or rectangular survey system. This system uses parallel lines, or baselines on which a grid is designed. Further section, township, and range maps are designed and from them land is surveyed off using chains and links. I will cover this survey system in another blog post.

Let’s look at a Land Grant from the State of North Carolina:

In 1756, Patrick Mullen received a land grant from the Earl of Granville for 375 acres in what was then present day Orange County, North Carolina.[2] It was a square piece of land that bordered the north and south sides of the Dan River.

Survey Description:
“This plan represents a tract of land surveyed for Patrick Mullen lying on both sides of Dan River Beginning at a Black Walnut tree on Walnut Island below Snow Creek then running South 63 Chains to a pine then East 60 Chains to a pine; Then N. 63 chains to a Spanish oak. Then West 60 chains to the first station. Surveyed the 30th day of May 1753.”[3]

If we were to map this out from chains to feet to miles then we could determine exactly how many acres were contained in this survey. Because the survey describes 63 chains to the South and 63 chains to the North, and 60 chains to the East and 60 chains to the West, we can assume it is a square plat because the distance in each direction corresponds to the same distance in the opposite direction. Also, because the description says the survey runs South then East, we can assume the starting point or “beginning” is in the upper left hand corner of the plat.

There are 66 ft/chain, so if we go South 63 chains, then that distance is 4158 feet (66x63=4158). Going East 60 chains results in 3960 feet (66x60=3960). Now we have a plat that is 4158 ft by 3960 ft.

So how many MILES is that?

There are 5280 feet / mile.
Therefore, 3960 ft x 1 mile / 5280 ft = 0.75 miles
And 4158 ft x 1 mile / 5280 ft = 0.78 miles

Our plat is now (0.75 mi x 0.78 mi) = 0.59 sq mi big

How many ACRES is that?

There are 640 acres in a square mile of land. Our plat contains 0.59 sq mi of land.
640 acres x 0.59 sq mi = 378 A. This survey contains approximately 378 acres of land.
What did the original survey say? “Containing Three Hundred and Seventy Five Acres.”

This is what the original survey (1756) looks like:[4]

This land passed through several hands and became of interest to me when a couple pieces of it came into the hands of a John Dunlap in Stokes County in 1803. By that time, the land’s named boundaries had changed from Orange to Rowan to Surry and then finally to Stokes County, North Carolina, all in the course of just 50 years. This land is located in the current day town of Walnut Cove, however it actually covers most of the county of Stokes.

If you would like to learn more about the measurement of land with Gunter’s Chains, check out these websites:

Metes, Bounds and Meanders by Kimberly Powell of

If you would like more information on Patrick Mullins, feel free to visit Bill Murray's genealogy page. I have not been able to find any connection to Patrick Mullins (yet). I just used his land grant here as an example. 

[1], Metes and Bounds.
[2] The land grants says Orange County on it, but this land would have been in Rowan County at the time it was entered.
[3] North Carolina Office of Secretary of State, Granville Proprietary Land Office, Granville Land Grants, Box 96-M, File Nos. 160 & 161, Patrick Mullen, 15 March 1756, Orange County; North Carolina State Archives microfilm, Secretary of State, Granville Land Grants, reel no. S.108.252; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
[4] North Carolina Office of Secretary of State, Granville Proprietary Land Office, Granville Land Grants, Box 96-M, File Nos. 160 & 161, Patrick Mullen, 15 March 1756, Orange County.


  1. Thanks for another terrific post. I'm going to post it at my "In Deeds" blog so I can use it as a reference.

  2. Hi Palms, you are welcome, thanks so much for reading and including it on your blog. I think it's cool you have a blog dedicated to deeds. I hope to get more deeds posted to this blog.

  3. Thank you Ginger for such a great post - so useful!! And the links are wonderful. Cheers!

  4. You are welcome Celia! Thanks for reading and I'm glad the posts are helpful.

  5. This looks like what I need! I need to save and reread again and again! :) Thanks for posting!

    1. Hi Jenna, I'm glad you found this post helpful. You are very welcome!

  6. This is quite an interesting post, and like Jenna, I'll need to save. I clicked on Bill Murray's link, and see that he and I are related, through Matthew Griswold!

    1. Wow, Barbara, that's pretty neat that you and Bill are related! I thought he did a pretty good write-up on his site (and well sourced) . I thought he and I were related on a couple of lines as well, but after checking I couldn't find the connection.

  7. Bookmarking!!! Lots of answers here to stuff I have wondered about. Thanks.

  8. Land surveying is the science of determining the positions of points on the landscape and the distances between them. Land surveying plays a vital part in the beginning of a construction project, especially the construction of new roadways. Land Surveyors are qualified professionals who use sophisticated instruments to make precise measurements to determine the boundaries of your property or a construction site