Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 6: Private Land Claims 1813-191

Chapter 6. Records of the Claims Committees

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Committees discussed in this chapter:
Committee on Private Land Claims (1813-1911)

History and Jurisdiction

6.96 The committee was established on April 29, 1816, on the motion of Thomas B. Robertson of Louisiana, with jurisdiction over matters relating to private land claims. The committee reported general as well as special legislation relating to the settlement of individual claims to public lands. It has reported bills to establish a land court and to provide for the judicial investigation and settlement of private land claims in certain States and Territories. The committee was abolished in 1911 along with several other committees that had suffered from diminished legislative activity.

Records of the Comm. on Private Land Claims, 14th-62d Congresses (1816-1911)

Record TypeVolumeCongress (dates)
Minute Books16 vols.44th-61st (1875-1911)
Docket Books28 vols.24th-27th (1835-43), 34th-61st (1855-1911)
Bound Reports1 vol.14th-22nd (1815-33)
Petitions & Memorials9 ft.14th-38th (1815-65), 42nd (1871-73), 49th-50th (1885-89), 58th-59th (1903-07)
Committee Papers7 ft.14th-37th (1815-63), 43rd-47th (1873-83), 56th (1899-1901), 59th-61st (1905-11)
Bill Files6 in.58th-61st (1903-11)
TOTAL:17 ft. and 44 vols. (4 ft.) 
Committee Records Summary Tables


6.97 Minute books document the attendance, order of business, referral of papers to subcommittees, and the subjects of discussion at committee meetings. The docket books list, in chronological order, the receipt and disposition of petitions, memorials, bills and resolutions, and executive communications. One bound volume of transcribed committee reports from 1815 to 1833 documents early committee work.

6.98 The petition and memorial files before the 39th Congress (1865-67) contain original petitions and memorials along with supporting documents. The petitions and memorials are arranged alphabetically by name of the claimant. In some cases the claimants from particular geographical areas were grouped together and relief measures were indexed under the name of the State, Territory or city. Many of the petitions included supplemental documentation offered in support of the claim. After the 37th Congress (1861-63) the petition and memorial files are almost non-existent: the documents having been filed in the accompanying papers file from 1865 to 1905 and after that date in the committee bill files. The major exception to this is the petitions to confirm patents issued by the Governor of the Colony of New York in 1666-67 for lands on and adjacent to Manhattan Island (49A-H19.1, 3 in.).

6.99 The committee papers from 1816 through 1863 consist almost entirely of the original committee reports. Most of the committee reports are on private claims and are arranged in alphabetical order by name of claimant. In a few cases groups of reports relating to claims in particular geographical areas are filed together, such as claims for lands in Louisiana (35A-D17.2), Missouri (35A-D17.3), and New Mexico (35A-D17.4). Other geographical categories in the committee papers are land claims between the Perdido and Mississippi Rivers (25A-D19.2) and claims handled at the land office in Natchitoces Parish, Louisiana (27A-D16.2).

6.100 After the 37th Congress (1863) the committee papers files are spotty because most of the records relating to private claims are filed in the accompanying papers file. The only sizable collections of committee papers after this period are those in the 43d through 47th Congresses (1873- 83) relating to individual claims in several geographical areas: Louisiana claims (43A-F22.1) and New Mexico Territory claims (43A-F22.1); the claim of the Mission of St. James, Vancouver, Washington Territory and the Santillion Grant in California (44A-F28.1); New Mexico and Arizona claims such as the Pueblo of Zuni Grant and the Uno de Gato Grant (46A-F28.1), the Rancho San Ignacio de la Canoa (47A-F23.1); and the John Rice Jones' claims in the State of Illinois (45A-F27.1).

6.101 These claim files sometimes contain a substantial amount of legal arguments and evidence, including documentation of the origin of the claim, examination of claims and townsites, maps, testimony, notarized affidavits, decisions of the General Land Office, decisions of the Surveyor General, and, copies of House and Senate bills, committee reports, and printed documents.

6.102 Some of these private land claims involved enormously valuable parcels of land, and the claimants invested heavily in attempting to prove their claims. The New Madrid Grant of Jacques Clamorgan is an example of an arduously fought battle. Clamorgan received grants for 536,904 arpens and 448,000 arpens of land in the Louisiana Territory from the Spanish Government in 1796 and 1797, respectively. He claimed that the treaties with Spain and France in 1800 and 1803 provided protection for the lands granted him under the previous government, but his claims were never satisfied. He and his heirs petitioned Congress at least 17 times between 1817 and 1911 (59A-H22.1), but the claim was still unsettled at the end of the 61st Congress.

6.103 There are thin bill files for the 58th through 61st Congresses, but by this time the workload of the committee had deteriorated substantially. The bill files consist of little more than printed copies of the bills and resolutions.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.