Andersons of Colonial N. Carolina

meant what they said, said what they meant

Assignment… as in say, a deed

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My friend David Gammon and I were ruminating about some property that a person had acquired and we could not find a source for where he had gotten it… David speculated he may have inherited it via primogeniture and there simply was no record. Then we further speculated he may have been assigned the property… all of which got me curious about the machinations of “assignment”. I looked around a bit but was disappointed… way too much legalese presented itself, much like an irksome rash. I thought of consulting my trusty sidekick Jennifer from California but rethought that because well…her mind has been “washed” by her having attended law school. Yes indeed, I figured, better not open that Pandora’d Box unless I have to.

So I consulted the calm and studied Traci the Librarian… she promptly responded with this:

“ASSIGNMENT – A transfer in writing of all or any part of an interest in property.” 

Helen F.M. Leary, editor, North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, 2nd edition (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996), Appendix A, “Selected Terms and Abbreviations,”, p. 571.

Traci is a Certified Genealogist…therefore she slings footnotes around as if they were confetti at a parade… can’t help herself. But then, in her thoroughness, she just has to go that extra mile…

“ASSIGNMENT – A transfer or making over to another of the whole of any property, real or personal, in possession or in action, or of any estate or right therein…The transfer of the interest one has in lands and tenements…It includes transfers of all kinds of property, but is ordinarily limited to transfers of choses in action and to rights in or connected with property, as distinguished from the particular item of property…The transfer of interest one has in lands and tenements, more particularly applied to the unexpired residue of a term or estate for life or years…The distinction between an ‘assignment’ and a ‘sublease’ is that an assignment transfers the entire unexpired term…The deed by which the transfer is made.”  (Under this are many subtopics for more specific situation, such as “assignment for the benefit of creditors,” etc.)

Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, rev. 4th Ed. (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1968), p. 153.

My understanding is that the 4th edition was the last one that included historic terms – “Editions of Black’s Law Dictionary more recent than the Fourth are much less useful to genealogists than earlier ones. To make room for new material, more modern editions have dropped the very words the genealogist may need to interpret old documents–the archaic and obsolete terms that haven’t been used for a century or more.” Donn Devine, CG, CGI”


But as is my want, I simply could not resist running this by Jennifer from California… she replied surprisingly in agreement with Traci’s first inclination:

From a historical view, in the most simple explanation of use;

A transfer in writing of all or any part of an interest in property. Aha! I thought, there can be a simple answer!

But then and there she lost control and just HAD to opine …


The first thing that came to mind (modernly) was in the context of Secured Transactions.

There are scholarly papers that address Secured Transactions in Colonial times (i.e. Harvard Law Review).

Interpreting the use of a word (Assignment) takes into consideration the time and place (jurisdiction) it was written and the context in which it was used.

Example; 1647, Upon her husband’s death, her estate was to be assigned to her by her husband’s heir or other person interested [records of Mass. 169-170 (1854).

Or, in the context of a Secured Transaction (Colonial)

A suit of debt may have been brought for the sole purpose of publishing a transaction or memorializing a transactional event. Property of 100 ac is sold by Marc to David. David promises to make a payment or payments on said property to Marc. Marc files suit against David stating David must pay him $100 on a certain future date (condition of the obligation) and when payment is made (or a final payment made) the said property will be deeded to David (David is likely living on said property during this time). Now Marc, who is in need of money to buy beaver skins from Traci, assigns to Traci the right to receive said future payment/payments.

This transaction is secured because Marc gave notice in a court of law of the debt.

The transfer of the interest

What is the interest being transferred? It may be the transfer of ownership to a particular property. Personal or Real. (PP personal property, RP real property). It may be the transfer of a debt.


An obligation is a legal transaction in which parties bind themselves to either act or refrain from acting. An obligation is a legal relationship between two or more persons. An obligation exists when: (1) an obligor (debtor) owes a performance in favor of an obligee (creditor); and (2) the performance or duty is legally enforceable.

The obligee is entitled to judicial enforcement of the obligor’s duty to perform, and to recover damages if the obligor fails to perform

“ASSIGNMENT – A transfer in writing of all or any part of an interest in property.”

Note: this is where the law school comes out… old coots like me know weasel words when we hear them… no offense… again, she just kaint help herself…

Stated broadly, yes. But in the world of Contracts, the word “Legal” interest might be inserted.

I cannot legally assign my interest to Marc if I owe David money on the purchase of said property. I would need to secure the written permission from David.

‘Course if I run in to a problem with David… who do you think I’m gonna call?


Shame on law schools! and damn them to hell! A perfectly good mind twisted and turned beyond all reasonableness. This is her Cliff Notes version… can you imagine if I cut her loose…

I’m kidding of course… this just goes to show the complexities that are involved. But in the sense that I was looking for, I think that an “assignment” in colonial times (which was very much English Common Law) can be viewed by way of an analogy to the title of a car. You sell Joe your car and sign over the title…he goes on a drunken binge, gets waylayed and thrown into jail for two years… he emerges from jail and needs a car… but! he must jump thru hoops and get the damn car “registered” by the state.

Similarly an assignment of property had to be recognized by a court to be further dealt with… my point being this can explain the delays seen in some property transactions. Joe may have been living on his property and all of a sudden (twenty years later, he runs in to court and registers the property).

I think this also explains the occasional “and written on the back of the deed” was shazam! an assignment.

It all depends on what the meaning of IS is…

Good Lord… I do go on incessantly… here is a recent example of what I am talking about with “assignments”… this patent was assigned “on the back of the patent” in 1695 (but it did not really “ripen” until 1735)… 40 years…

Now I am trying to figure out where the other half of the Scott patent went… I think it was perhaps assigned to Richard Barefield… now to prove it.

Written by anderson1951

April 20, 2023 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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