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State of Georgia. By His Excellency George Mathews, Captain-General, Governor, and Commander In Chief In And Over The Said State, And Of The Militia Thereof…Do Give And Grant Unto Richmond Dawson…One Thousand Acres…1794.

Printed document, completed in manuscript, measuring approximately 13” x 13”, dated 28 October 1794; with attached smaller printed land warrant, dated 5 June 1793 with small manuscript plat map (tear at fold), this second document measures approximately 7 ½ ” x 12”, includes large (3 ¼” diameter) heavy wax seal of Georgia attached by ribbon; good condition.

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An impressive printed land great, likely one of the fraudulent land grants issued by Georgia for their public domain lands, completed in manuscript for 1000 acres of land in Washington County, Georgia, granted by Gov. George Mathews to one Richmond Dawson. The document is signed by Mathews as well as by the surveyor, George Weatherby, who has included a sketch of the land in question. The land is described as ‘on the waters of Choopee River, bounded SE and NE by said Dawson’s land and on all other sides by “Vacant Lands.”

Governor Mathews had an eventful career, first as a Revolutionary soldier (including a stint as colonel of the Virginia troops in Greene’s Carolina campaign), then as governor of Georgia, and finally as a special agent leading “irregular” activities in attempts to wrest Florida from Spain in 1810-1812. In the end the U.S. Government repudiated Mathew’s Florida actions, and he died in Augusta a bitter old man. “By his demise the authorities at Washington escaped the consequences of his threat that he’d ‘be dam’d if he didn’t blow them all up,’ and he carried to the grave much evidence that might explain his debatable conduct. (DAB).

A handsome Georgia document and unusual early imprint and which is also, likely one of the fraudulent land grants issued by Georgia for their public domain lands (see below).

        Richmond Dawson & the Georgia Public Domain Fraud

Richmond Dawson was the eldest of twelve children born to Brittain Dawson (c1720-1795) and his wife Sarah (c1730-1817). Richmond’s mother Sarah, also seen as Sabra, by her will in 1817, willed her home to a William Arrington Bugg, her grandson, the son of her daughter Mary Margaret Dawson who had married Edmond Bugg. Richmond’s father Brittain Dawson is seen in Georgia as early as 1779 when he was listed on his friend John Walton’s will and six years later, in 1785, he deeded a slave to his grandson William Arrington Bugg. Brittain is found in 1794 in the sale of slaves.

Richmond Dawson appears to have been a large landowner in Georgia and a questionable “land surveyor.” He is found acquiring a total of 130,000 acres of public land from Governor Mathews in two separate grants dated just after the grant offered here.  On 3 November 1794 he acquired 50,000 acres in Franklin County and on 4 November 1794 he acquired another 80,000 acres in Franklin County. In all he appears to have acquired over a million and a half acres of public lands in Georgia located in Augusta, Franklin, Montgomery, Washington Counties in the years 1793 to 1794. Richmond is found selling 114,000 acres on the Canouche and Ogeeche Rivers in Washington County, Georgia in 1794 to John Cobb, late of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who had moved to Augusta, Georgia. Most likely this was one of the fraudulent land deals perpetrated against people from outside the state.

In 1839, Georgia’s Surveyor-General furnished to the state’s Legislature a statement that the 24 counties of Georgia that were in existence in 1796 contained only 8.7 million acres, but the records of the office showed that there were 29 million acres granted in these counties. The 29 million acres embraced all grants, genuine and fraudulent.

These land grabbers of the 1790s completed purely fictitious surveying and platting, in some instances for themselves and some instances for one another. James Shorter, George Weatherby (the surveyor on the present document), Richmond Dawson (the person acquiring the land on this document), and Zadock McGruder were among the most active surveyors, and it was shown that James Shorter did a great deal of surveying for Richmond Dawson in August of 1793.

In all Richmond Dawson held both real and fraudulent land grants in Georgia for over 1.5 million acres of land in the counties of Augusta, Franklin, Montgomery, and Washington. These counties were those where the largest frauds took place, but other counties suffered as well.

None of these fraudulent land grants appear to have ever actually been surveyed as the law required, because it would have been physically impossible to have surveyed them all within the time, and at the time, of their supposed survey as indicated in the records, in addition to the legitimate surveys as well.

Many of the grants were made in separate parcels of one thousand acres each (as is the grant offered here), instead of in great bodies, in order to get, as the swindler thought, within the law limiting grants to one person to one thousand acres. A strange thing about these attempted frauds is found in the fact that Governor Matthews shows, in the Executive Minutes of 1794, that these bogus grants were signed daily along with the genuine grants he signed, and that the Legislature of the State was then in session, that is, the Legislature which met on the first Monday in November and sold the western territory in January 1795.

From 3 November 1794 to 3 January 1795, Governor Matthews signed grants to 2,929,000 acres of land, all of these grants were gratuitous, that is, the grantees had nothing to pay except office fees. In addition to these he made numerous grants of less than one thousand acres.

Many of those who received larger grants, of over 1000 acres, were members of the Georgia legislature, as well as the surveyors of the spurious grants. These grants continued to be issued after Governor Mathews left office by subsequent governors Governor Irwin (elected in 1796) and Governor Jackson (elected in 1798).

There was an attempt in 1798 by the Georgia legislature to make the land owners “procession their lands,” meaning to identify the lands, but since the land grants had no metes & bounds, or tree marks, or other identifying marks to identify them, it was impossible to do this.

The way the fraud scheme worked was as follows: Montgomery County was created about 1793 and comprised a vast pine barren area now consisting of several counties. It was in this extensive domain, contained within the original limits of Franklin and Washington counties, that the pine barren speculation was inaugurated and prosecuted by its projectors. The region was sparsely populated and was little more than a vast solitude. At home the lands were practically valueless. While aware that there was no market for them within the limits of Georgia, parties conceived the idea of making them a convenient base for manipulation and speculation at distant points, notably in Philadelphia (PA) as a focal place. Plans were accordingly laid, and machinery, under the semblance of law, was put in practical operation to secure a paper title to immense tracts in this region which could be utilized in furtherance of the contemplated speculation.

Individuals were selected to act as magistrates, form land courts, and issue the warrants which constituted the preliminary step under the Head Right System then in vogue in Georgia. Other parties were named, who, as convenient and willing tools, were to discharge the duties of surveyors contemplated by the warrants. Everything being thus arranged, these unscrupulous speculators, without hindrance, perfected their plans, put their tools to work, had such warrants issued as they pleased, and placed upon paper the most extravagant surveys when, in most instances, no chain had been stretched, or a single tree had been actually marked. Land forgeries thus compassed, were issued and returned to the Surveyor-General’s office. They involved millions of acres.

Many of the surveys bore upon their faces unmistakable evidence of the utter impossibility of having been actually completed. Most of them were spurious – the offspring of deliberate fraud and forgery –and yet, intermingled with them, were legitimate warrants and surveys which served to infuse a little leaven of genuineness into this great mass of corruption. Streams and water-courses were delineated where none existed. Many of the land grants had boundaries listed as “vacant lands.”

Thus, of the seeming perfectness of the paper title there could be no question. All requisite formalities had been observed. These, to all intents and purposes, were bona fide and solemn grants from the State of Georgia, with the autograph signatures of the Governor and State House Officers, with the Seal appended, and with certified plats of survey attached, and were taken North and offered for sale at commercial centers. Not a few purchasers were found and companies were formed to effect consolidation and negotiate sale of large tracts of these lands. Thus, was the fraud consummated.

Note: Information on fraudulent land grants was taken from:  Samuel Guyton McLendon’s  History of the Public Domain of Georgia. Atlanta: Foote & Davies Co., 1924. Chapter IV “Unsuccessful Individual Efforts to Rob Georgia of a Large Part of Her Public Domain,” Pp. 40-64.