Land registration in North America began almost as soon as settlers arrived. Towns needed local records of their settlements within land grants from the British proprietors. The first office of a register of deeds on the continent was in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which provided a place to record a land transfer in a book with the names of the parties, terms of sale and payment, and descriptive bounds of the property. A law was passed in 1636 requiring all transfers to be acknowledged and recorded. In 1640, the Massachusetts legislature required all transfers to be recorded within one month or they were to be void against anyone who later acquired a deed to the same property. This is basically the same recording law that today governs real estate conveyances throughout the country. 1
The history of land registration in North Carolina also can be traced to the 1600s. In 1663, King Charles II executed a charter to eight Lords Proprietors authorizing them to establish a colonial government in the region that is now North Carolina and to make land grants to individual settlers. To entice settlers, the Lords Proprietors acknowledged various individual rights. Their Concessions and Agreement of 1665 provided, among other things, for the appointment of “chiefe Registers or Secretarys” to record public business and grants, conveyances, and leases. Though archaic, the language of the Concessions leaves little doubt that a function of the chief registers was to serve as recording officers with many of the same responsibilities as present-day registers:
[A]nd to avoyde deceiptes and lawsuits [the registers] shall record and enter all Graunts of Land from the Lords to the planter and all conveyances of Land howse or howses from man to man, As alsoe leases for Land howse or howses made or to be made by the Landlord to any tennant for more than one yeare which conveyance or Lease shalbe first acknowledged by the Grantr or Leasor or proved by the oath of two witnesses to the conveyance of Lease before the Governor or some Chiefe Judge of a Court for the time being whoe shall … attest the acknowledgement or proofe as aforesaid which shalbe our grant for the Registers to record the same which Conveyance or Lease soe recorded shalbe good and effectuall in Law notwithstanding any other conveyance deede or Lease for the said Land howse or howses or for any part there although dated before the Convey ance deed or Lease soe recorded as aforesaid…. 2
This is essentially the same law as had been adopted in Massachusetts, protecting land transfers that were recorded with the register of deeds. The land registration system was essential for a form of government that protected individual property rights and other liberties. The ability to acquire land that was protected by law enabled citizens to build homes and clear farms.
As far as can be determined, the Lords Proprietors’ register of deeds office was first filled in North Carolina on November 14, 1665, when they appointed Robert Samford as “Secretary and Chiefe Register for our County of Clarendon.” 3 The earliest North Carolina statute dealing with the office of register of deeds was enacted by the Colonial Assembly in 1715. 4 This law provided that the voters of each county should elect three freeholders as nominees for the office, one of whom was then appointed to the office by the governor, acting with the advice of the Lords Proprietors’ deputies. No term of office was established.
During the colonial period, registers of deeds were important officials who represented the British government. One North Carolina register became infamous as a target of resistance at the dawn of the American Revolution. Edmund Fanning, who had studied at Yale and Harvard and was a member of the bar in North Carolina, was loyal to the British government and received appointments from the British Governor at the time, William Tryon. Fanning held court posts as well as the register of deeds office. He wrote to the governor and warned of local anger that was “threatening death and immediate destruction to myself and others.” 5 One ominous threat Fanning was hearing came from a group known as the Regulators, who complained that Fanning was charging more to record a deed than was permitted and that he was using the excess for himself. 6
The Regulators demanded that the colonial government get involved and “Examine the true Cost by Law for Recording and proving Deeds.” 7 In 1770, the rebels took out their anger on Fanning. As a newspaper described it, a crowd confronted him in the county courthouse and “seized him by the heels, dragged him down the steps, his head striking very violently on every step, carried him to the door, and forcing him out, dragged him on the ground over stones and brickbats, struck him with their whips and clubs, kicked him, and spit and spurned at him.” 8 Fanning soon left for New York and built his wealth and influence there, later commanding British troops in the Revolution as a general and becoming governor of Nova Scotia.
Things settled down for North Carolina’s registers after the Revolution. No further significant change in the office was made until after North Carolina became a state. In 1777, the General Assembly provided that the justices who constituted the county court should appoint the register of deeds in each county. By the time of the Revolution, the register was therefore an established public office. 9 after 1777, the register in each county was selected by a majority of the justices of the Court of Pleas and· Quarter Sessions for a four-year term. For many years, the existence and nature of the office was left to the will of the legislature because it was not required by the state constitution. It became a constitutional office after the Civil War, when the Constitution of 1868, Article VII, Section 1, provided for the biennial election of a register of deeds by the voters of each county. The office did not long enjoy constitutional protection from legislative change, however. A state constitutional amendment, Article VII, Section 10, adopted in 1875, empowered the legislature to “modify, change or abrogate” certain constitutional provisions, including those pertaining to the register of deeds. Acting pursuant to this power, in 1935 the General Assembly set the term of office at four years in all but twenty-nine counties. 10 since that time, through local acts, the register’s term has been extended to four years in every county of the state.
The North Carolina Constitution of 1971, in effect today, does not mention the office of register of deeds. Instead, Article VII, Section 1, states that “[t]he General Assembly shall provide for the organization and government … Of counties ….” The effect of this provision is to leave all matters regarding the office and duties of the register of deeds to the General Assembly.
1. Joseph H. Beale, Jr., The Origin of the System of Recording Deeds in America,19 The Green Bag 335, 335-37 (1907).
2. The Colonial Records of North Carolina I (1886-90) 79 (William L. Saunders, ed., 1886-90).
4. 1715 N.C. Laws ch. 38.
5. Letter from Edmund Fanning to William Tryon (Apr.23, 1768), in The Regula tors in North Carolina: A Documentary History 1759-1776, at 84, 84 (William S. Powell, James K. Hurta & Thomas J. Farnham, eds., 1971).
6. Samuel A. Ashe, Edmund Fanning, in 1Biographical History of North Carolina (1905).
7.Articles of Settlement and Oath of Regulators (Apr. 30, 1768),in The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History 1759-1776, at 97, 100 (William S. Powell, James K. Hurta & Thomas J. Farnham, eds., 1971).
8. Elizabeth A. Fenn, The Way We Lived in North Carolina 100 (Joe A. Mobley, ed., 2003).
9. 1777 N.C. Laws ch. 8.
The above excerpt is from the “North Carolina Guidebook For Registers of Deeds” by Charles Szypsazak Tenth Edition 2013
New Hanover County is one of 100 counties located in North Carolina. Though second smallest in area, it is one of the most populated counties in the state. Wilmington is one of the state’s largest cities. The US Census estimates the population to be 213,267 for the year 2013. The county was formed in 1729 as New Hanover Precinct of Bath County, named for the House of Hanover, which was then ruling Great Britain.
In 1734 parts of New Hanover Precinct became Bladen Precinct and Onslow Precinct. In 1739 all precincts became counties.
The earliest recorded documents here in our office date back to 1728 and continue to present time.
Please see the prior Registrars of New Hanover County who walked before me.
Tammy Beasley, Registrar
Born when North Carolina finally ratified the U.S. Constitution, Edward Dudley was the first governor elected by popular vote and the first Whig governor of the Old North State. His administration has received credit for awakening North Carolina from an economic slumber and encouraging it to embrace railroad construction and other internal improvements. The Onslow County native also was the executive of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad—“the longest continuous railroad,” writes historian Milton Ready, “in the world at that time.”
Born near Jacksonville, North Carolina, Edward Dudley was an ambitious and hard working youth. At an early age, he showed interest in business and politics and worked to obtain the formal and practical education needed to be successful in both professions.
Dudley’s political career began in 1811. He first served as a state legislator (1812, 1813) and then a state senator (1814). After the War of 1812, in which he served as a militia colonel, Dudley served as a local politician and borough representative. He later in 1829 was elected to fill a Congressional vacancy.
Dudley was instrumental in the formation and success of the Whig Party in North Carolina. As a state legislator, Dudley was considered a Republican, but he had many Federalist tendencies. As a U.S. Congressman, Dudley disagreed greatly with Andrew Jackson’s economic policies, and in particular, the Wilmingtonian detested Jackson’s opposition to the national bank.
After the democratic changes in the 1835 state constitutional convention, Dudley was elected as governor by popular vote. He served in this position for four years and is known for fostering a political environment that allowed for the expansion of railroads, including the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, “the longest continuous railroad,” writes historian Milton Ready, “in the world at the time.” Three colleges formed during his administration: Davidson, Greensboro Female, and Union Institute (later known as Duke University). Dudley’s administrative goals reflected the overall Whig strategy in North Carolina.
After his gubernatorial terms, Dudley returned to the private sector as an executive of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. In 1836, Dudley had been the first president of the railroad and he helped raise $1.5 million for the project. The railroad’s path went through Goldsboro and bypassed Raleigh because Raleighites snubbed purchasing stock and invested in other ventures. Dudley remembered who had been less than enthusiastic in his project. The capital was therefore separated from the mid-Atlantic region until 1845, when the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad was built.
Dudley died in 1855 and is buried in Wilmington.
Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2007); William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989); Milton Ready, The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Columbia, 2006).
Adrian B. Rhodes (1890-1957) was described in local newspapers as a “popular young businessman” in Wilmington at the outbreak of World War I. A sergeant in the Wilmington Light Infantry, he was activated with his unit and shipped to Fort Caswell in Brunswick County as part of the Coast Artillery.
Apparently seeking more action, however, Rhodes soon volunteered for officer-candidate training at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the 4th (“Ivy”) Infantry Division, shipped to France and was wounded in action in the later stages of the Battle of the Meuse.
Returning to Wilmington after the war, Rhodes worked in the county tax office, which was then part of the Sheriff’s Department. A Democrat, he served as New Hanover County register of deeds from 1922 to 1950. Active in the local American Legion post, he headed up the post’s athletic programs for a number of years.
His son, Adrian B. Rhodes Jr. (born 1923) was a naval aviator in World War II, flying fighters off aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The center at Greenfield Lake was referred to as the “Adrian B. Rhodes Memorial Armory” as early as 1958, when the Cape Fear Garden Club landscaped and beautified the grounds.
The center, at 2144 W. Lake Shore Drive, Wilmington [Map this], is scheduled to be deactivated in 2011 and pass to civilian control. Its future use continues to be a point of considerable debate, with local residents opposing federal proposals to adapt it as housing for the homeless.
But why does one sign refer to it as “Adrian B. Wilmington”? It’s anybody’s guess.