Primary Resource

"An Act declaring tenants of lands or slaves in taille to hold the same in fee simple" (1776)

In "An Act declaring tenants of lands or slaves in taille to hold the same in fee simple," passed in the October 1776 session of the General Assembly, legislators abolish the feudal English property rule of entail, which protected land from answering any debts accumulated by spendthrift offspring. Thomas Jefferson complained in his Autobiography that the result of this and primogeniture, or automatically passing inheritances to the eldest son, was the "accumulation and perpetuation of wealth, in select families." As part of his attempt at a comprehensive legal reform, he authored this bill.

Transcription from Original

I.

WHEREAS the perpetuation of property in certain families, by means of gifts made to them in fee taille, is contrary to good policy, tends to deceive fair traders, who give a credit on the visible possession of such estates, discourages the holder thereof from taking care and improving the same, and sometimes does injury to the morals of youth, by rendering the independent of and disobedient to their parents; and whereas the former method of docking such estates taille by special act of assembly, formed for every particular case, employed very much of the time of the legislature, and the same, as well as the method of defeating such estates, when of small value, was burthensome to the publick, and also to individuals:

II.

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly of the commonwealth of Virginia, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That any person who now hath, or hereafter may have, any estate in fee taille, general or special, in any lands or slaves in possession, or in the use or trust of any lands or slaves in possession, or who now is or hereafter may be entitled to any such estate taille in reversion or remainder, after the determination of any estate for life or lives, or of any lesser estate, whether such estate taille hath been or shall be created by deed, will, act of assembly, or by any other ways or means, shall from henceforth, or from the commencement of such estate taille, stand ipso facto seized, possessed, or entitled of, in, or to such lands or slaves, or use in lands or slaves, so held or to be held as aforesaid, in possession, reversion, or remainder, in full and absolute fee simple, in like manner as if such deed, will, act of assembly, or other instrument, had conveyed the same to him in fee simple; any words, limitations, or conditions, in the said deed, will, act of assembly, or other instrument, to the contrary notwithstanding.

III.

Saving to all and every person and persons, bodies politick and corporate, other than the issue in taille, and those in reversion and remainder, all such right, title, interest, and estate, claim, and demand, as they, every, or any of them, could or might claim if this act had never been made; and saving also to such issue in taille, and to those in reversion and remainder, any right or title which they may have acquired by their own contract for good and valuable consideration actually and bona fide paid or performed.