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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Land Records
Extract of Early Land Law as it relates to Erie County

Contributed by Susan Smith

The information shown below has been researched, transcribed, and contributed by Susan Smith.     It is extracted from the Pennsylvania State Archives section on Land Records pertaining to Erie County.    Any comments or questions concerning this material should be sent directly to Susan Smith.

The Pennsylvania State Archives section on Land Records gives a full description of the laws and resulting records pertaining to the sale of Commonweath lands at: RG-17

The following from that section deals with the land in Erie County.


Series Descriptions

XIII. Records Relating to Vacant Land Law of 1792

After the individual Depreciation and Donation tracts had been surveyed in the Last Purchase of 1784, the remaining unwarranted land north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, including the Erie Triangle, was opened for settlement in 1792. The new law required purchasers or their representatives to settle, improve, and cultivate vacant land before a patent could be granted. Squatters already living on the land who had made improvements applied directly to the deputy surveyor to make a survey instead of to the Land Office. The deputy surveyor kept a book of completed surveys available for public inspection and a connected draft of all survey plats was forwarded to the Land Office each February. Warrants to accept a survey were then issued to the applicants. Warrantees were required to submit proof of settlement certificates demonstrating five years of residency before patents were issued. Exceptions to the five-year rule were granted for warrantees who were prevented from occupying their land by enemies of the United States.

Speculators of the Pennsylvania Population Company and the Holland Land Company took advantage of this provision to buy up large numbers of warrants directly through the Land Office under fictitious names. Comptroller of the Commonwealth John Nicholson also purchased large numbers of warrants. In 1797 the Board of Property ruled that patents might be granted without settlement if a valid prevention certificate attested by two justices of the peace and signed by the deputy surveyor could be produced.

Most of the resulting prevention certificates were submitted by land companies on behalf of individual settlers and were filed with the particular company's papers in the Land Office collection.

To eliminate collusion between speculators and deputy surveyors, from 1799 county survey districts were redrawn and new deputy surveyors were appointed. The Commonwealth Supreme Court also reversed the Board of Property decision and ruled that the warrantee must show actual proof of settlement within two years of the date that military prevention ceased. From 1804, squatters' applications were given the force of vacating warrants and no fees were required. From 1811, new legislation provided for the settlement of disputes between speculators and squatters that involved the filing of a deed poll in both the county deed office and the Land Office as evidence of such agreements. From 1814, actual settlers were given legal priority over speculators who were required to prove that they or their representatives were individually prevented from settling on the land by enemies of the United States during the two years after the date of the warrant.


Application - a request for a warrant to have a survey made; usually a slip of paper that does NOT bear applicant's signature.

Warrant - certificate authorizing a survey of a tract of land; initiates title of a property and provides the basis for legal settlement, but does not convey all rights to the property.

Survey - sketch of boundaries of tract of land with exact determination of total acreage.

Return - verbal description of property boundaries; working is similar to that of a patent; internal document sent from Surveyor General to Secretary of the Land Office

Patent - final, official deed from the Penns or the commonwealth, which conveys clear title and all rights to the private owner.


From the years of the Penn proprietorship up until 1811-12 tracts were given names to make it easier to track when they later changed ownership.

This page originally posted March 20, 2004.

Last updated on  Sunday, March 13, 2005 .

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2004-2005 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy