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First Families to File for Land Grants in Tennessee

If you have ancestors who lived in eastern Tennessee during the colonial period, you may experience several obstacles, for instance, the availability of records. Believe me; you are not alone. Thousands seek documents to prove their ancestor’s existence in this area. The materials scatter from one entity to another. For example, the Watauga Association and the Washington District both existed during the colonial period but failed to be recognized by the British crown. The bizarre yet fascinating history of Tennessee is super complex. Imagine an extreme and challenging puzzle with thousands of blurry and broken pieces. This image describes the inner depths of Tennessee’s history. Land records are among the best documents to prove your ancestor for this period. While other documents, such as marriage, tax, court, and other materials, are rare: if they exist at all. Families began migrating to eastern Tennessee as early as 1748. Even though the British crown forbade anyone to do this, hundreds of families settled in this area twenty years before Washington County, North Carolina, existed. Understanding the process and tracking down the land grants in Tennessee can be much easier to achieve than you may realize. The key to success is identifying who controls what and when.

The lands known today as Tennessee was once known as North Carolina during the colonial period. For the families who broke the rules and traveled to the area, it meant real struggles and a lack of protection from King George and Great Britain. North Carolina refused to recognize these families as landowners and citizens until after the American Revolutionary War broke out. The year 1777 finally allowed the new county of Washington and a new land office to open in present-day Tennessee. The question is, who applied for land grants in Tennessee between 1770 and 1777? How long did it take for the recipients to receive a clear deed to their property? What was the average acreage for these land grants? Let’s take a closer look at these first land grants in present-day Tennessee.

James BErry

Applied for warrant on October 7, 1771, for land located on the north side of Holston River. The area became known as Carter’s Valley and the northeastern corner of Berry’s property joined David Crockett’s boundary line. It took over twenty years to issue the grant consisting of 200 acres. By December 24, 1791, the area was noted as Hawkins County. Grant# 260 Book 78 page 447. One interesting note concerning this family’s history is that the Berry surname first appears in Virginia during the year 1690. Gowen Berry was one of thirty-five people who sailed to the colonies courtesy of Rev. John Bannister. The group lived near Hatcher’s Run and eventually married and had children of their own. By 1740, the Berry family was living in Augusta County where several members of the family begin migrating west and south during the years 1748 to 1755. We believe the evidence shows that James Berry, listed here, arrived first in North Carolina and later migrated to Tennessee. Several brothers and male cousins migrated to North Carolina and each of these families have sons named James, John, and William. The first William Berry to arrive in the piedmont area traveled in 1763 and resided in the Guilford County area. We have proven that James Berry, listed here, is not the son of this William Berry.

Augustine Brumley

Applied for warrant on September 2, 1773, for land located on the north side of Nolichucky River. The boundary line reached the banks of the river to Henry Earnest’s corner. It took nearly fifteen years to issue the grant consisting of 200 acres. By July 11, 1788, the property was noted in Greene County. Grant# 727 Book 66 page 468. This individual can be found in two colonies before migrating to Tennessee, namely Virginia and Maryland. Augustine marries in Maryland at the age of 21 and after the birth of three children, he migrates directly to present-day Tennessee. We can confirm the family is living in Virginia up to 1768 with an estate settlement paying Augustine Brumley, above, for catching Malcolm Campbell’s horses on September 2nd. His father and mother with other siblings all make the trip together with other families. Further evidence is needed to prove that son, Augustine and father, Augustine, both died the same day during a lower Cherokee tribe attack in 1792.

Joseph Cloud

Applied for warrant on October 5, 1770, for land located south of Holston River. Francis Holt’s property was between Cloud and the river. It took over twelve years to issue the grant consisting of 300 acres. By October 23, 1782, the property was noted as Sullivan County. Grant# 118 Book 43 page 294. We believe Joseph is a relative of Peter Cloud who is documented as driving cattle from Powell’s Valley to Virginia for John Thompson in 1771. Peter Cloud gave testimony that he was familiar with the Cumberland area since 1770. We are still working on the connection between Joseph and Peter, possibly brothers or cousins. Ironically, the elder Mordecai Cloud, who appears in Virginia circa 1750, was close friends with the Berry Family mentioned above, primarily Thomas Berry.

Randall Depreast

Applied for warrant December 30, 1772, for land located on the north side of Watauga River. The north line connected to John Bean’s boundary. It took over eleven years to issue the grant consisting of 100 acres. By November 10, 1784, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 636 Book 69 page 148. Langsdon Depreast(DePriest) owned and operated a mill near present-day Rockfish, Virginia during the 1760 decade. We believe Randall to be his son and his first name was Randolph instead of Randall. We have traced this family to the 1680 decade in Virginia.

Charles Gentry

Applied for warrant December 22, 1772, for land located near Big Limestone Creek. The north boundary joined James Campbell’s line and the east boundary joined John Allison’s line. Alexander Campbell’s property was located at the southeastern corner. It took nearly ten years to issue the grant consisting of 250 acres. By October 23, 1782, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 248 Book 44 page 270. Nicholas Gentry arrives in Virginia during the 1680 decade. The family lives in the Stone Horse Creek precinct. We believe that evidence proves Charles Gentry, listed above, is a direct descendant to Nicholas. John Gentry is living in Augusta County until his death before 1779. His wife, Mary, continues to be mentioned as owning 220 acres up until her death.

Thomas Gillespie

Applied for warrant May 25, 1773, for land located north of Big Limestone Creek. The south boundary joined Deaton’s line and continued west where it joined George Gillespie’s line. It took over thirteen years to issue the grant consisting of 490 acres. By October 26, 1786, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 730 Book 66 page 26. Thomas is the son of Colonel George Gillespie who built one of the first stone houses in Tennessee. The family migrated from Maryland into present-day Tennessee and purchased property from Jacob Brown in the Watauga Settlement area.

Robert Gray, Jr.

Applied for warrant October 7, 1775, for land located in Washington County. The eastern line joined Thomas King’s boundary. It took over twenty years to issue the grant consisting of 200 acres. By December 9, 1795, the property was noted as Sullivan County. Grant# 691 Book 89 page 401. We have traced this family to John Gray who migrated to Virginia from Pennsylvania during 1736. Robert Gray, Sr. was no longer found in Augusta County, Virgina by March 22, 1755. But we did locate a Robert Gray in the area as late as 1774. This individual owned property near the road adjoining James Breedings property. The question seems to ask, is this the same Robert Gray, Jr. appearing here for this land grant? Probably not, as we continue our search, we located an orphan by the name of Robert Gray, living in the same area who is bound to Samuel Harding on July 21, 1789. So, it appears that this generation of the Gray family migrated soon after 1755. Further research leads us to North Carolina and the year of 1758. A small traveling group arrives at the Irish Settlement near the Yadkin River. The group of people are John Russell, Robert Gray, Alpheus Paine and two brothers, James and Samuel Martin. Robert Gray purchases 320 acres from Archibald Hamilton that same year. Book B page 296. We believe this to be the same Gray family that migrates later to Tennessee.

Samuel Harris

Applied for warrant on Tuesday, February 4, 1777, for land located along Lick Creek. The survey was conducted on August 20, 1777, and clearly states 400 acres along Lick Creek aka Camp Creek. The property bordered Goin’s line to the east, and Levi Carter’s line to the south. Apparently, the grant was never issued to Harris. Portions of the surveyed property were later issued to Joseph Bullard. We looked through the files here at the attic and library and were unable to quickly connect to this particular Samuel Harris. The surnames Goin, Bullard and Carter instinctively point us in the direction of North Carolina first. We did find two brothers, James and Samuel Harris, living in Rowan County during the 1750 decade. James purchases property near Rocky River and Samuel is living along the south fork of Fourth Creek near the Yadkin River in 1753. We were able to locate a very interesting land warrant that was submitted by Samuel Harris on September 14, 1778. This warrant was for land located on Knob Lick Branch which ran into Lick Creek and very near the properties of Goin and Bullard. The survey request#65 was handwritten by John Carter requesting that 400 acres be surveyed for Harris including the Knob Lick Branch and the bottom lands below the small creek. The survey was carried out before the land warrant application was even submitted: completed on September 10, 1778, and another interesting thing about all of this is the issue date for the land grant. It took only three months for the grant to be issued, that is lightning speed for this period. Samuel received 400 acres on December 14, 1778. Grant# 5 Book 36 page 5. Our curiosity has risen and now we want to positively identify Samuel Harris and his family. Do you know? Updates are sure to follow on this one.

Joseph Hinds

Applied for warrant on October 27, 1773, for land located along Duck River. The survey begins at James Holland’s boundary line and runs south to Duck River. It took nearly fifteen years to issue the grant consisting of 5,000 acres. By July 10, 1788, the property was known as Tennessee Middle District County. Grant# 83 Book 67 page 451. During the summer of 1770, a Joseph Hinds died peacefully at his home in Guilford County, North Carolina. His will was probated the following year and gives the names of his wife, and children. Susanna, his wife, inherited the estate as long as she remained a widow. The four sons of Joseph are Joseph Jr., Levi, Simon and John. Joseph Jr. receives 5 shillings from his father’s estate. It was customary decades earlier to leave the estate with the eldest son. But times have changed in 1770 and unless Susanna marries again, the estate remains with her. So, it is possible that Joseph Hinds, mentioned in the land grant, migrated to Tennessee soon after his father’s death. The real gem would be to connect his younger brothers in the Tennessee Middle District around the same time. We find Levi, John, and Simon applying for warrants in Tennessee during the year, 1784. In fact, we find the brothers filing one warrant together for 1,000 acres in the Middle District near the Cumberland Valley. Coincidence? Let’s look more closely at these grants. Levi Hinds applied for three warrants in 1784. 200 acres along Beaver Dam Creek, another 200 acres on the same creek, Beaver Dam and 980 acres near Clinch Mountain. One of the 200 acres was issued to Ebenezer Byrum instead. The grant with all three brother’s names on it contains 1,000 acres in the Cumberland Valley. All properties were in the same area as Joseph Hinds. There is one possibility and that is the children of Joseph Hinds. Is it possible that Levi, Simon and John of 1784 are actually Joseph’s children? We’ll let you think about that a little longer. Grant# 137 Book 80 page 188. Grant# 315 Book 80 page 191. Grant# 35 Book 67 page 353.

James Hughs

Applied for warrant on May 18, 1773, for land located on north side of Holston River. The northeast corner joined Thomas Rutledge’s line, and the northwestern corner joined David Hughs property. It took nearly twenty-five years to issue the grant consisting of 200 acres. By November 17, 1797, the property was noted in Sullivan County. Grant# 761 Book 94 page 157. We will have much more on James Hughs and David Hughs in the near future.

Isaac Johnston

Applied for warrant on September 15, 1776, for land located along Lick Creek. The survey points to the location of Horse Stamp Fork which is part of Johnston’s property. It took over seven years to issue the grant consisting of 100 acres. By October 13, 1783, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 354 Book 52 page 245. We are saving this data for another article coming soon, but I urge everyone to research further into this area along Horse Stamp Creek and Stamp Creek Ridge.

Walter King

Applied for warrant April 14, 1772, for land located on the south side of Nolichucky River. The survey listed two names, Walter King and Lewis Newhouse. The property began along a rocky bluff on the north side of Buffalo Mountain near the river and joined Bailey’s property on the western side. It took nearly twenty-one years to issue the grant consisting of 640 acres. By January 14, 1793, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 968 Book 79 page 275. You can access a ton of information online about John Sevier’s son-in-law, Walter King. We have discovered additional clues about his burial location with wife Nancy back in 2020 which we will share in another article. Walter’s father was a well-known merchant and operated an ordinary in Virginia. Updates on this family will be arriving soon as we complete our research.

Aaron Lewis

Applied for warrant December 19, 1772, for land along Lick Creek. The survey points to both sides of Lick Creek with the western edges bordering the property of James English. It took nearly twelve years to issue the grant consisting of 100 acres. By November 10, 1784, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 508 Book 69 page 107.

Aaron Lewis, JR.

Applied for warrant December 19, 1772, for land along Sinking Branch, a tributary of Lick Creek. Survey# 711 dated April 22, 1779, requested that 150 acres to be “layed off” according to law near Sinking Branch. The request mentions property of S. Morris, the C. Tye cabin, and improvements by Nicholas Hawkins signed by John Carter. The actual survey did occur but measured the property as 109 1/2 acres instead of the requested 150. A grant was never issued for the land which at the time of survey was located in Washington County. Aaron Lewis applied for 1,196 acres of land near Lick Creek, Limestone Fork, Cedar Spring, Cherokee Creek, Indian Ridge, and Sinking Branch all within Washington County boundaries. A total of ten warrants and nine grants.

Ezekiel Lyon

Applied for warrant April 24, 1775, for land located near Boons Creek. The property was surveyed August 12, 1795, and crossed the main road in that area during that period. The one hundred acres also connected to the older road on the midwestern side where the property takes the shape of a triangle on this end. It passes through the gap on the southern side before taking a sharp turn running parallel with the northern line. A grant was never issued for the land. Survey#463.

Ephraim McLean

Applied for warrant October 28, 1773, for land located on the north side of Duck River. It took over twenty-one years to issue the grant consisting of 110 acres. By December 17, 1794, the property was noted as Tennessee Middle District County. Grant# 337 Book 84 page 222.

Joseph Mcminn

Applied for warrant November 9, 1774, for land located along the Cumberland River. The property began approx. one mile below Mill Creek along a line to the Cumberland River. The original handwritten survey request did not contain the name of Joseph McMinn but requested the survey to be conducted for James Payne instead. On the back of the handwritten survey request is an entry stating that the survey is to be conducted for Joseph McMinn and has the mark of signature by James Payne. The entire southern section of the tract follows the course of the Cumberland River, and the survey was completed April 8, 1779. It took over nineteen years to issue the grant consisting of 400 acres. By June 12, 1794, the land was noted as Tennessee Middle District County. Grant# 244 Book 82 page 181 Survey# 113.

charles Payne

Applied for warrant May 21, 1777, for land located on the north side of Holston River. The property was located along the road between Robertson’s and William’s tracts near the roadside spring. The survey request was written by John Carter on August 30, 1779, as #1377. Daniel Payne was one of the chain carriers on July 9, 1787, when the survey was actually completed. It took nearly twelve years to issue the grant consisting of 100 acres. By May 18, 1789, the land was noted as Sullivan County. Grant# 504 Book 71 page 13.

john Richardson

Applied for warrant December 20, 1770, for land along Little Doc creek. The property bordered Champ Giving’s line on the eastern side sitting on a large hill before descending and crossing Little Doc creek to the south. It took over twenty-three years to issue the grant consisting of 50 acres. By July 12, 1794, the property was still noted as Washington County. Grant# 1097 Book 81 page 568.

william stubblefield

Applied for warrant January 5, 1773, for land on the south of Holston River. The property began at Honeycutt’s Creek where Stubblefield built his cabin. It took nearly seventeen years to issue the grant consisting of 160 acres. By November 26, 1789, the property was noted as Sullivan County. Grant# 536 Book 73 page 47.

david wade

Applied for warrant September 22, 1770, for land that joined John Bailey’s line. The survey acknowledges Wade’s adjoining property which was surveyed for Stephen Bailey originally. It took twelve years to issue the grant consisting of 100 acres. By October 23, 1782, the property was noted as Sullivan County. Grant# 77 Book 43 page 275.

It’s interesting to learn and research the history surrounding Tennessee before its statehood. So much material to cover and share. We will share much more information with you in the near future. Please note: all spellings are preserved in accordance with the original documents. We may pronounce and spell these words differently today, but to preserve the historical material, we have kept them as we found them. Enjoy your journey today to the past.


  • Chalkley Chronicles Volumes I, II, and III by Lyman Chalkley published by Mary S Lockwood in 1912
  • North Carolina State Archives Mars Database and various notes taken years earlier for personal research. We also accessed North Carolina Land Grant Images and Data.
  • Kegley’s Virginia Frontier by Frederick Bittle Kegley published in Roanoke, Virginia 1938
  • Augusta County, Virginia Court Records, Road Orders, and Estate Files
  • Maryland State Archives Annapolis, Maryland
  • United States Department of Interior National Park Service National Register of Historic Places Form 10-300 dated August 22, 1977.
  • Rowan County Register of Deeds Historic Deed Books Salisbury, North Carolina
  • Guilford County Register of Deeds Wills/Probates Greensboro, North Carolina

2 replies »

  1. Good Morning Carol,

    I can provide only parallel, though possibly connecting, information about Samuel Harris. He shows up in the North Toe River Valley, NC area Land Grant Warrants —- a few years BEFORE Dan Harris, a Minister and one of the first recorded settlers in the lower Toe River Valley, located in what is now, Avery County, NC.

    In the 1700’s, “Burke County” contained what is now Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, part of Watauga Counties and parts of western Tennessee, including several counties, westward toward Asheville, NC

    Was Samuel Harris —- a relative, possibly the father , uncle or brother of Dan Harris? I don’t know, as Dad recorded no additional “family” information about Dan and nothing about Samuel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve not had the chance to really dig into Samuel Harris, but I would love to know more about him. There is little doubt that he most likely expressed his opinions about the way the lands were distributed in eastern TN and that a discrepancy occurred with his initial land warrants. How else could we explain the short time period in which he received his land grant title? He must have been very popular, or he had many friends in high places or both. Receiving a clear deed in 3 months is remarkable in this area is remarkable!! Either way, I feel that a much deeper store dwells in the life of Samuel Harris and many others who settled this region.

      I’ve documented the first Harris family in the piedmont region as descendants of Robert Harris who immigrated from Ireland. The family is living in Essex County, New Jersey during the 1740 decade. The John Abner Harris Papers located at the University of NC would be a great place for me to start. My files have little notes for this family in New Jersey. By 1751, a Harris group arrives in North Carolina and files warrant claims in Anson County. I’ve actually narrowed the timeline to 1748 and 1750 for their arrival. James, Samuel, Tyre, Charles and Robert all acquire lands near present-day Charlotte during this period. The Samuel Harris in this case applies for 355 acres in 1753 on the southern sections of Fourth Creek in Rowan County. Samuel receives his land deed in 1762. By 1763, this Samuel sells his land to Henry Robinson on January 21st: Book 5 page 538. According to my notes, this Samuel is a nephew to Robert Harris mentioned earlier. This Samuel apparently leaves the area or dies soon after selling the property to Robinson. This is what I need to prove before continuing to trace this Samuel any further. Is he the same Samuel Harris that is living in the Tennessee Territory by 1777 or a relative? He could be no relations at all to this specific Harris family.


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