Guide to Records Relating to Native Americans
The State Archives holds many series of land records which often include documents relating to the conveyance of Native American lands. Described below are selected series of land records most likely to contain information useful for Native American studies.
A0272. Applications For Land Grants, 1643-1803. 63 volumes.
Arrangement: roughly chronological by date of document, but with many exceptions.
This series consists of applications for grants of land by letters patent from New York Colony and State. Along with the applications are related reports, surveys, maps, warrants for surveying lands and drafting of letters patent, objections to title (caveats), and letters.
Volumes 1 through 36 contain colonial-era applications; volumes 37 through 63 are from the early statehood era. Most of the direct references to Native American land conveyances are found in the colonial records. The latter records include a few petitions by Native Americans for land grants for Revolutionary War service.
Most colonial documents concern original grants of unappropriated lands made by the Governor with approval of his Council. Several different types of documents relate to a land grant, as follows:
- The "petition for a license" to purchase land from Native Americans, required by the Duke's Laws of 1665, specifies the acreage and general location of the tract and usually bears a note of approval by the Council committee to which the petition was referred.
- The "license" to purchase land from the Native Americans, signed by the Governor and the Secretary. This document is found infrequently in this series.
- "Indian deeds" take the form of a "bargain and sale" conveyance. These deeds are sometimes marked with the totems of the Native Americans conveying the land. There are few such original deeds in the present series; most are recorded in series A0453, Deeds (see page 10).
- The "warrant of survey" is the Governor's order to the Surveyor General to survey a stated quantity of land in a given location for a petitioner. It is signed by the Governor.
- The "return of survey" gives the metes and bounds and acreage of the tract surveyed, the date of the warrant of survey, and the date of the return. It is signed by the Surveyor General. Occasionally it is accompanied by a map. Surveys are often lacking, especially before 1700.
- The "petition to the Governor for a land grant by letters patent" states the location and acreage of the tract. It is usually signed by the petitioner. Following or accompanying the petition is the report of a Council committee approving the grant. On the back of the petition are found the name of the petitioner, the acreage to be granted, and the date of referral to committee.
- The "warrant to prepare letters patent" is an order from the Governor to the Attorney General or the Solicitor General to prepare a draft of a patent.
The colonial records also contain other types of documents including caveats, or formal objections to granting of letters patent because of a conflicting title (usually because of an overlapping survey under a prior grant); petitions for grants of land under water (often including the right to erect a wharf or pier); descriptions of town boundaries; petitions for licenses to operate ferries; and assorted notices, affidavits, and letters related to petitions for land grants.
The series as presently constituted was created under the direction of the Secretary of State in 1819. It is an amalgam of documents taken from two large and several small series that existed in the Secretary's Office at that time.
Indexing: a published Calendar of N.Y. Colonial Manuscripts Indorsed Land Papers...1643-1803 (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1864) includes an index to personal names and to land tract or geographical location names.
A0448. Indian Deeds and Treaties, 1748-1847. 3 volumes.
This series consists of official copies of deeds conveying Native American lands to the State or to private individuals, and treaties and agreements extinguishing Native American land titles and reserving certain lands for the Indian nations. Only fragments of documents remain for the period 1766-1811, due to damage caused by the 1911 State Capitol fire. One volume contains the published legislative document, Proceedings of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, Appointed by Law for the Extinguishment of Indian Titles. (Albany: 1859.)
These records were originally filed with the Secretary of State.
Indexing: by name of tribal group.
A0453. Deeds, 1640-1884. 45 volumes.
This series is the official file of deeds recorded by the Colonial Secretary and the Secretary of State. Many deeds of Native American lands are included, particularly among the colonial era records. The deed usually contains the names of grantor and grantee, a description of the property, the date, and any conditions of conveyance.
Indexing: by name of grantee and grantor.
A0451. Original Releases to the State, 1782-1929. 15 volumes.
This is an official file, recorded by the Secretary of State, of transfers of land title from private owners to the State. Included are many deeds of land to the State for property that was formerly part of Indian reservations. Each release contains the name of the grantor, a description of the property, the date, and sometimes a map of the property.
Indexing: most volumes contain an alphabetical name index.