Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Colonial South Carolina's cadastral pattern evolved as the product of a variety of factors. Foremost was the ability of settlers to choose the sites of their landholdings. This authority was limited, however, by official policies that prevented settlers from determining the size, shape, and quality of land in their grants. Expressed rules for surveying riparian and inland tracts in rectangular shapes resulted in a more regular pattern of landownership than is generally assumed in a metes and bounds survey. Within the guidelines of these and other policies, colonist nonetheless were permitted to occupy land in non-contiguous tracts resulting in a patchwork pattern of land tenure. The metes and bounds survey system used in South Carolina was not haphazard or random. From the earliest settlement in 1670, surveyors used a magnetic compass and chain to mark out boundaries consistent with the intended shape and amount of acreage to which a settle was entitled. Because it was logistically easier for early surveyors to lay out rectangular shapes, their methods likely reinforced the policies for such regularity promoted by colonial officials. As South Carolinians began more often to claim contiguous properties, the weaknesses of the metes and bounds survey system were revealed in increasing numbers of property disputes. Sources of survey errors included poor instruments, inexact techniques, and mistakes or miscalculations made by surveyors. Perhaps the most serious cause of dispute and the one most commonly brought to litigation was the surveyor's failure to survey all boundaries of a tract of land, or to field check previous claims. Another major area of dispute among landowners involved claims on physical features such as swamp or marsh land, rivers, and riverine or coastal submerged land. Most such disputes appeared to result from changing conceptions through time regarding their use. Any cadastral pattern is determined by the settlement type and South Carolina's is no exception. Colonists chose initially to occupy land in isolated non-contiguous tracts, thereby creating oddly shaped parcels in between. The resulting patchwork pattern of landownership supports this fact. It is erroneous to assume, however, that this nonsystematic appearance reflects completely haphazard or helter skelter land apportionment. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.).