Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Alston Quarter or Porter Tract

Some readers of this blog recently bought a copy of the map Old Land Claims of the Saxapahaw Quadrangle. They wrote to say that they live near Saxapahaw and enjoy going for walks in the area including near the Alston Quarter. I've written a little about the Alston Quarter before, but having learned a bit more in the last few years, I figured now would be a good time to post some information here about the origins of the Alston Quarter.

The Alston Quarter or Austin Quarter is a large area just east of Saxapahaw in Alamance County along Austin Quarter Road, and occupying the area north and west of the confluence of the Haw River and Little Cane Creek - part of the Saxapahaw Old Fields. It was a part of a larger tract of 3,025 acres which was one of the first European land grants anywhere within 75+ miles of here.

The 3,025 acre tract was granted to John Porter by patent bearing the date 12 Nov 1728 , although it may well have been granted a little later, but back dated. It seems that after the Lords Proprietors of Carolina sold 7/8ths of Carolina to the King of England in 1729, but before the King's new Governor arrived in early 1731, the out-going colonial administrators issued themselves and their cronies huge land grants all over North Carolina. These grants were issued in 1729 and 1730, but back-dated to look as though they had happened before the King bought the colony back, so that the King's new agents would never collect the payments for those grants - presumably the colonial officials were pocketing the money - if there was even any payment made for these grants at all. It's not clear whether the Porter Tract (i.e. the Alston Quarter) was among those that were obtained fraudulently or not, but it may well have been.

John Porter apparently sold this land to Roger Moore in the 1730's or 40's. Roger Moore’s 1751 will (NHDB C, pg 288) left to his son George Moore “all that Tract of Land I bought of Mr. John Porter, Decd., on the No. West [Cape Fear] River at or Near the Saxapahaw Old fields, being Three Thousand & Twenty five Acres.”

The property passed to George Moore’s sons who leased all 3,025 acres to one Thomas Davis shortly after the Revolution. Governor Samuel Ashe purchased the shares of several of George Moore’s sons, assembling for himself over 1,350 contiguous acres along Cane Creek and the Haw River, about 45% of the original Porter Tract.

One of Gov. Ashe’s deeds gives us a glimpse of how the Ashes were using the Porter Tract in the early 19th century, mentioning that the property was conveyed “with all the Rents Except the wheat and the Rent from John Smart and the Oats sewed by the said Ashe and others.”

Thomas S. and Richard D. Ashe subsequently sold this 1,350 acres to Samuel S. Jackson and Jackson sold the property to Joseph John Alston in the early 19th Century. The Alston name is the one that has stuck to this land, the area still being known as the Alston Quarter – or Austin Quarter - today.

In 1779 John Elliott, Mary Taylor and others obtained state land grants, which were in direct conflict with the 1728 Porter grant. For example, Elliott’s state grant NC387 would have included about 1/3 of the 1,000+ acres that Richard D. Ashe sold to Samuel Jackson. The state grantees were no doubt the families that the Ashe family considered their tenants, but at that time there were many Hawfields residents who were contesting the validity of the These claims must have been invalidated at some point, though I have found no record of any actual litigation over the Porter Tract.

The Cameron Trust of Wilmington, NC still owns about 1,000 acres at the confluence of the Haw River and Cane Creek – over 2/3 of the old Alston Quarter - almost 1/3 of the original Porter Tract, perhaps the single largest privately held lot in Alamance County today. But the chain of title to the Alston Quarter (indeed to all parts of the Porter Tract) involves no deed from Elliott, Taylor or any other state land grantees. Thus it appears that all modern land titles within the Porter Tract draw their authority from Porter’s Proprietary grant of 1728.