Where's My Acre?, A Vintage Vignette

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Where's My Acre?
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
August 12, 2009

A few weeks ago, while looking through the G. W. Jones index to landowners of Madison County (1800s through 1919), I noticed a very unusual entry in the log for Section 9 of Township 4 South, Range 2 West. It got my attention for two reasons. One, I live in that section. Two, I have never before seen a deed recorded by someone to sell property to “the inhabitants” of a township and range designation. The entry showed that in 1853 Daniel Whitworth deeded land in Section 9 to “the inhabitants of Township 4, Range 2 West.” There was no entry for that parcel being subsequently sold by “the inhabitants” through the 1919 listings, but it may have been sold after 1919. I didn’t look at the later sales records, but I did ask some Probate Court records personnel if they had ever before seen such a sale to unnamed inhabitants. I figured that I should enquire, since my own experience is somewhat limited in reviewing land records. However, nobody I talked with had ever before seen such a deed.

Being intrigued with this unusual stipulation, I checked the referenced deed book. On pages 161 and 162 of Madison County Deed Book Z, the sale of just over one acre of land for $20 by Daniel and his wife Elizabeth Whitworth is fully documented. The sale was entered into on the 12th day of April, 1853. The town of Madison was not yet established, as that would happen in February of 1857. The sales amount was low, even for those days. Such low-value transactions normally would indicate land ownership being legally transferred within the family or for “love and affection” or to others for civic purposes. Commonly encountered civic purposes were for use as a burying ground, school, or campground (brush arbor meeting places for loosely formed churches). Sometimes such transactions were designated as being for the purpose of the establishment of a church meeting place. That was the case in 1816 when David Bailey “for love and good will” deeded land to the deacons of the Salem Baptist Church on the west bank of “Funnel Creek” (now called the Dry Fork of Indian Creek, running through the Providence development north of Highway 72).

The problem is that there have been no records encountered for a school, cemetery, church meetinghouse, or campground at the location specified by Daniel Whitworth. Using the Spring 2004 Huntsville – Madison County map from the Chamber of Commerce, the location within accuracy of that map is in Cottonwood Estates, immediately south of Horseshoe Bend, on the east side of Wall-Triana Highway. Daniel’s deed specified that he sold “one acre more or less, beginning 32 poles south of the northwest corner of Section 9, then running east 13 poles to a stake, then running south 13 poles to a stake, then running west 13 poles to a stake, then running north 13 poles to the place of beginning. Since the pole measurement used in surveying was 16.5 feet in length, that places the beginning corner of the parcel 528 feet (0.1 mile) south of the northwest corner of the section. It then ran along the east side of today’s Wall-Triana Highway to make a square that was 214 feet (just over the width of two house lots on the average) on each side. The total number of square feet included was 45,903, while an acre is 43,560 square feet, so the parcel was slightly over one acre in size.

Daniel was among the earliest of pioneers of the area, but why he sold the parcel to his neighbors without naming any of them is unknown. While the intended use is not known, neither is the subsequent disposition of the property. That leaves questions for those of us who today live in Township 4, Range 2W. If the parcel was never later sold by those unnamed inhabitants, then do today’s inhabitants of Township 4, Range 2W, own the parcel? Or, did the deed apply only to the inhabitants of April 1853? I don’t really want to know, since back taxes may be long overdue.

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