Last revision: Andrew Sluyter, 8.30.16, © 2016 Andrew Sluyter, asluyter@lsu.edu.

This prototype website geographically locates eleven documents related to the surveying of colonial land grants dating to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in what is now the state of Louisiana. The ultimate goal is to locate all of the thousands of such land grants that survive in order to use their unique data for analyses that range from personal genealogical research to helping historical social scientists and humanists understand environmental and social patterns and processes.

Many of the survey documents bear the signature of Charles (Carlos) Trudeau, the Royal Surveyor of Louisiana. Trudeau and his deputies, including Vicente Sebastian Pintado, created some two thousand surveys, which became scattered among various archives that include the Historic New Orleans Collection, LSU Libraries Special Collections, and Louisiana State Archives. Each document consists of a map showing the land granted and text describing it, comprising not only boundary information but artistic renditions of landscape elements such as vegetation, water bodies, and land uses as well as the ethnic and genealogical information inherent in documents about named individuals. No other set of documents provides such a comprehensive overview of the patterns of land and life of this part of North America on the eve of its integration into the territory of the United States of America.

The eleven documents used in this prototype are held by the LSU Libraries Special Collections and represent a small sample of those in two of its collections: the Pintado Papers (LSU-PP), with 16 volumes of bound documents, including hundreds of surveys; and the Survey Collection (LSU-SC), with more than 400 unbound surveys organized by parish in boxes and folders. The Survey Collection seems to have come into being through the assembly of surveys that were acquired as parts of other collections, such as family papers; although many similar surveys remain scattered throughout such other collections. The Pintado Papers were donated to LSU by the US General Land Office (GLO) in 1872, during Reconstruction, according to research by the Survey of Federal Archives in Louisiana (1935-43) by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). 

The selection of the eleven documents seeks to capture some of the diversity of those documents. Five come from LSU-PP and six from LSU-SC. They date from 1792 through 1802. Nine are in Spanish, one in French, and one in English. They range from St. Landry, St. Martin, and Iberia parishes in the west to East Baton Rouge, Orleans, Jefferson, and Plaquemines parishes in the east. They involve the surveyors Charles Trudeau, Vicente Pintado, Jack Collins, François Gonsoulin, and William Atchinson. They name French, English, Spanish, black, and white individuals. They occur in floodplain, coastal, and inland environments. They depict swamps, meadows, woodlands, and streams as well as houses and roads. And they use "witness trees" such as oak, elm, dogwood, and cypress to mark boundary lines.

This prototype locates each survey as a polygon that corresponds to one or more numbered sections of the modern Public Land Survey (PLS), created by the GLO in the decades following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The US considered all of Louisiana to be public land except for those tracts individuals had acquired through grants from the antecedent French or Spanish colonial governments or through purchase from native peoples. The GLO, founded in 1812, put much effort into accumulating evidence of colonial land grants and their subsequent subdivision and conveyance through sale, inheritance, exchange, or donation in order to make recommendations to Congress regarding the validity of each claim for a section of private land. The GLO’s commissioners for Louisiana deposed witnesses who had lived there since the mid 1700s, collected originals or copies of grant surveys, and interviewed the surveyors who had worked there. The resulting archive ranges from the fundamental evidence of colonial documents and transcripts of testimony, through case summaries and reports, acts of Congress confirming approved claims, the resulting surveys and patents, and the original plats (cadastral maps) for each township. Much of that documentation is preserved in the archive of the Louisiana Office of State Lands and the American State Papers, Public Lands, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1834-60). Some of the colonial surveys match the PLS sections quite closely while others, whether because of imprecise colonial surveying or because they were never claimed or confirmed as private land claims, match only generally. This prototype includes ten polygons that correspond to PLS sections along that spectrum of precision. Some of the surveys include more than one land grant, and two of the eleven documents pertain to the same group of contiguous sections.
 
Users of this website have three ways to discover page images and transcriptions of specific survey documents, the geographical locations of the land grants, and associated documents:
  1. If you have a reference to a specific document or want to browse by archival location, peruse the list in the left panel and select one of the links.
  2. If you are interested in a particular geographical location, use the below map to zoom in on it and select one of the red sections. 
  3. If you are interested in specific names of people, places, types of trees, and so on, use the "Search this site" box at the top of this page and select from the results.
Each document's dedicated webpage contains the following types of information, as applicable, in the following order:
  • A brief interpretation of when the survey was made, on behalf of whom, and in what general location.
  • A link to the survey's precise location on the below map.
  • A link to the official documentation relevant to the private land claim in the Public Lands volumes of the American State Papers.
  • A link to the documentation underlying the private land claim in the archive of the Louisiana Office of State Lands.
  • A link to the original township plat that shows the location of the confirmed claim in the archive of the Louisiana Office of State Lands.
  • A link to the translation of the documents (those in LSU-PP only) in the archive of Louisiana Office of State Lands, scanned from 11 volumes of typed manuscripts produced by the WPA in 1940; note that LSU Special Collections also holds a copy of the 11 volume WPA set as well as an index.
  • Page images of the document (scanned by Gabe Harrell, LSU Libraries Digital Services, April 2015). Contact LSU Special Collections regarding permission to reproduce these images.
  • A transcription of the document with a link to a rough translation into English by Google Translate.