RG-17. RECORDS OF OFFICE OF LAND RECORDS
The Proprietary Land Office began functioning in 1682 with the appointment of Thomas Holme as surveyor general. The agents of the Penn family who were responsible for surveying, receiving purchase money, and selling land were collectively known as the Land Office. After the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1776, the Land Office ceased to function. Ownership of the Proprietary lands, with a few exceptions, was transferred in 1779 to the Commonwealth by an act of the General Assembly. In 1781, a state land office was created by the Revolutionary government, which consisted of a secretary of the Land Office, a receiver general and a surveyor general, who were assigned the records and responsibilities of their Proprietary predecessors of the same title. A Board of Property, similar to one that had functioned under the Penn government, was also created in 1782 to hear and determine cases of controversy arising from the transaction of Land Office business.
In 1809, the offices of receiver general and master of rolls were abolished. Their duties of collecting purchase money and enrolling state laws were assigned respectively to the secretary of the Land Office and the secretary of the Commonwealth. In turn, the functions of the secretary of the Land Office were inherited by the surveyor general in 1843. The Constitution of 1874 transferred the duties of the surveyor general and the Land Office to the secretary of Internal Affairs. The Land Office Bureau, or as it was later designated, the Bureau of Land Records, remained in the Department of Internal Affairs until 1968, when it was assigned to the Department of Community Affairs. In 1981, the Land Office functions were transferred to the Historical and Museum Commission where it continues to serve as the depository of original titles and conveyances, and as the custodian of all deeds and instruments relating to real estate owned by the Commonwealth. The early records are available on microfilm.
Commission Books, 1733-1809. (6 volumes) Arranged chronologically by date commission was recorded. Indexed internally, alphabetically by name or subject. This series contains a record of commissions to office holders in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as oaths of allegiance, lotteries, charters, corporations, proclamations, purchasers of arms, pardons, manumissions, and other items relating to the function of the executive branch of state government.
• Commission Book No. A-4 contains a commission recorded July 26, 1773 to appoint Justices of the Peace George Bryan and James Biddle as justices of the peace in Philadelphia. The commission was issued by "George, the Third of Great Britain, France, and Iceland to . . . be chosen and legally sworn or affirmed to hear, examine, convict, or acquit according to law all and every such Negroe or Negroes in the said City and County as have been or hereafter shall be guilty of committing any murder, manslaughter, bugging, burglary, rapes, . . . and upon due proof and conviction such judgment or sentence in the premises to pronounce as is agreeable to the laws in that case made or provided or other ways to acquit and discharge such Negroe or Negroes in case the Evidence shall not be sufficient for a conviction therein and or this to do or cause to be done all acts and things that may be necessary for the trying, judging and execution of such Negroe or Negroes as by virtue of this Commission and a law of our State Province instituted An Act for the Tryal of Negroes you are required and impowered to do as fully and amply as if the same were herein expressly and particularly mentioned - and all officers of the said City and County are hereby required to give due attendance and obedience . . . Signed, Richard Penn; recorded 26 July 1773."
• Commission Book No. 1 contains the following manumission: "the Negro man Henry Thomas, formerly a slave to Col. Robert Knox, deceased . . . is now a free man" as a result of his master’s last will and testament, witnessed August 12, 1785. The certificate for Henry Thomas to enter the state of Maryland was issued on August 13, 1785. Other examples of Philadelphia manumissions include the following: William Lewis freed a "Negro boy named Caesar," January 1, 1795; Robert Field freed "Negro man named Mirlin"; Lewis Vallette freed his slaves Lewis, Wishesta, John Charles, Franksay, and Maria Theresa; James Cox freed "Negro man Amboy"; Daniel Rundle freed his "Negro man named Charles, who intends from henceforth to go by the name of Charles Rodgers"; William Hamilton freed James and Paul Richmond; Richard Nottingham of Long Island, New York, freed a number of "Negroes on the Island of Tortola in the English West Indies"; the will of Thomas Lawrence, Esquire of Philadelphia provided that his slave Cesar be freed at the end of his eighth year; John Cox freed "Negroe boy Tom"; Mary Hamilton freed Scipio Africanus; and William Gray, born in Barbados and imported into Philadelphia by Robert Gray, was granted his freedom at Pitts Town, New Jersey. Many other manumissions are included in these volumes as well.
• Commission Book No. 2E2 contains a charter for the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Zoar in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia dated December 11th, 1806.
Letters of Attorney, 1685-1812. (22 volumes) Arranged chronologically. Letters of attorney issued most often for the settlement of the estates of deceased persons who died intestate, or to protect the interests of individuals who were unable to act on their own behalf. The letters generally specify the name or names of the person or persons for whom the power of attorney was issued, the name of the person or persons acting as attorney, and the reason the letter was issued. The following is an example from volume 1 of a letter of attorney relating to a contract marriage in 1782 between John Black, a shopkeeper of Philadelphia, and Ruth Leonard, a free mulatto woman of Philadelphia." The contract states that "John Black shall and will within the space of half a year after the said marriage shall be celebrated between them, lay out the sum of five hundred pounds in the purchase of a house in the said city of Philadelphia."
Materials Related to Capitol Buildings and Grounds, 1911-1917, 1956, undated. (14 folders) This series contains information on the Capitol Park Extension Commission, 1911-1917, which acquired additional property for expanding the capitol complex in Harrisburg. Many of the buildings demolished to make way for the expanded capitol complex were owned or rented by African Americans. Included are minutes, photographs, and listings of property owners. Information provided about properties includes location, city valuation, and appraiser’s valuation. Among the properties owned by African Americans were: Old Lincoln School, North Street; Brotherly Love Lodge, 432 South Street; Corona Hotel (former home of the YMCA and the Red Lion Hotel), 644 Broad Street; Fry’s Hotel, North 5th and State Streets; Wesley Union African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, South and Tanner Streets; African Methodist Episcopal Church; and the residence of Dr. Morris H. Layton Sr., 518-520 5th Street.