Front Page Titles (by Subject) a bill concerning escheats and forfeitures from british subjects 2 - The Works, vol. 2 (1771-1779)
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a bill concerning escheats and forfeitures from british subjects 2 - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 2 (1771-1779) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 2.
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a bill concerning escheats and forfeitures from british subjects2
v. s. a.
[May 27, 1779.]
Whereas during the connection which subsisted between the now United States of America and the other parts of the British empire, & their subjection to one common prince the inhabitants of either part had all the rights of natural born subjects in the other, & so might lawfully take & hold real property, and transmit the same by descent to their heirs in fee simple, which could not be done by mere aliens; and the inhabitants on each part had accordingly acquired real property in the other: and in like manner had acquired personal property which by their common laws might be possessed by any other than an alien enemy & transmitted to executors & administrators: but when by the tyrannies of that prince, & the open hostilities committed by his armies & subjects inhabitants of the other parts of his dominions on the good people of the sd United States they are obliged to wage war in defense of their rights & finally to separate themselves from the rest of the British empire, to renounce all subjection to their common prince, and to become sovereign & independent states, the sd inhabitants of the other parts of the British empire become aliens & enemies to the sd states, & as such, incapable of holding the property real or personal so acquired therein & so much thereof as was within this commonwealth became by the laws vested in the commonwealth.
Nevertheless the General assembly, tho’ provoked by the example of their enemies to a departure from that generosity which so honourably distinguishes the civilized nations of the present age, yet desirous to conduct themselves with moderation & temper, by an act passed at their session in the year 1777 took measures for preventing what had been the property of British subjects within this commonwealth from waste & destruction, by putting the same into the hands & under the management of commissioners appointed for that purpose, that so it might be in their power, if reasonable at a future day, to restore to the former proprietors the full value thereof:
And whereas it is found that the sd property is liable to be lost, wasted & impaired without greater attention in the officers of government than is consistent with the discharge of their public duties and that from the advanced price at which the same would now sell, it may be most for the benefit of the former owners if the same should be restored to them hereafter, or to the public if not so restored, that the sale thereof should take place at this time, & the proceeds be lodged in the public treasury.
Be it therefore enacted by the General assembly that so much of the act before mentioned as may be supposed to have suspended the operation of the law of escheats & forfeitures shall be hereby repealed & that all the property, real & personal within this commonwealth belonging at this time to any British subject, or which did belong to any British subject at the time such escheat or forfeiture may have taken place, shall be deemed to be vested in the commonwealth, the sd real estate by way of escheat & the said personal estate by forfeiture.
The Governor with the advice of council so far as their information will enable them, & the commissioners of the tax within their several counties aided by their assessors shall forthwith institute proper proceedings of escheat & forfeiture for all such property real & personal in which they shall be advised and assisted by the several attornies for the commonwealth.
Where any office in the cases before mentioned shall be found for the commonwealth & returned to the General court, it shall remain there but one month for the claim of any pretending right to the estate, and if within that time no such claim be made, or being made if it be found & discussed for the commonwealth, the title of the owner to such estate real or personal shall be forever barred, but may be afterwards asserted as to the money proceeding from the sale thereof with equal force & advantage as might have been to the thing itself; and such further proceedings shall be had for making sale, of the lands so found, in parcels not greater than 400 acres (to be described by the commissioners hereafter mentioned and measured & marked by metes & bounds by a surveyor where they shall think necessary) and of the other property, as in the cases of escheat & forfeiture; save only that the Governor with advice of council, for every such sale shall appoint two commissioners to superintend & control the proceedings of the sd escheators, which commissioners shall be sworn to use their best endeavors to have the estate to which their trust extends sold to the best advantage. The sd sales shall be for ready money to be paid to the Escheator, who shall retain thereof five per centum for his trouble. His certificate of such paiment in the case of lands, and of the person purchasing, to the register of the land office, shall entitle the purchaser to a grant of the sd lands, if the sd Escheator shall fail to pay the sd money into the hands of the Treasurer within a reasonable time after any such sale (which reasonable time shall be accounted one day for every 20 miles such sale was distant from the public treasury and days of grace in addition thereto) he shall pay interest thereon from the time of the sd sale at the rate of 20 per centum per annum; & moreover it shall be lawful for the Auditors on the last day but one of any General court, or at any court to be held for the county wherein such property was sold, after the expiration of the time allowed for paiment to obtain judgment on motion against such Escheator his heirs executors & administrators for the principal sum and such interest, together with costs. And for the information of the Auditors, the commissioners of the sale shall immediately on such sale certify to whom & for how much such sale was made & transmit such certificate by some safe & early conveyance to the Auditors; which certificate shall be legal evidence against such Escheator. The Auditors shall allow the commissioners so appointed the expences of the surveys by them directed & made, & other their reasonable expenses; and such compensation for their trouble as to them shall seem proper. Where the commissioners shall be of opinion that it will be more to the interest of the owner or public that possession of such property real or personal should be retained for finishing & removing a crop or other purpose, it shall be lawful for them to stay the possession as it is now until the day of next, giving notice of such their intentions at the time of sale.
And for preventing doubt who shall be deemed British subjects within the meaning of this act, it is hereby declared & enacted that (1) all persons, subjects of his Britannic majesty, who on the day of April in the year 1775, when hostilities were commenced at Lexington between the United States of America & the other parts of the British empire, were resident or following their vocations in any part of the world other than the sd United states, and have not since either entered into public employment of the sd states, or joined the same and by overt act adhered to them; and (2.) all such subjects inhabitants of any of the sd United States, as were out of the sd states on the same day, & have since by overt act adhered to the enemies of the sd states; and (3) all inhabitants of the sd states who after the sd day and before the commencement of the act of the General assembly intituled ‘an act declaring what shall be treason’ departed from the sd states & joined the subjects of his Britannic majesty of their own free will, or who by any county court within this commonwealth were declared to be British subjects within the meaning & operation of the resolution of the General assembly of and the Governor’s proclamation founded thereon; shall be deemed British subjects within the intention of this act.
But this act shall not extend to debts due to British subjects & paiable into the loan office according to the act of General assembly for sequestering British property; nor take effect on the property of such British subjects as are infants, femes covertes, or insane mind, who within one year after their disability removed and hostilities suspended between his Britannic majesty and the United states shall become citizens of any of the sd states; nor on any lots of land within the town of Richmond as the limits of sd town now are, or shall be at the time of the inquest found, which by the directors of the public buildings shall be included within the squares appropriated for such buildings further than that an office shall be found as to such lots of land and the estimated value thereof be disposed of hereafter as the price would have been by this act had they been exposed to public sale; nor on any other such lots within the same town as shall by the sd directors be declared proper for the public use until buildings be erected on the squares before mentioned, & so long as they shall be applied to such public use.
[2 ]On May 27, 1779, Jefferson was appointed to prepare this bill, and reported it the same day, when it was read for the first time. On the next day, it was read for a second time, and committed to the Committee of the Courts of Justice. They reported it back with amendments on June 11th, when it was ordered engrossed, and passed. This is printed from the draft in Jefferson’s handwriting, the act as adopted being in the Sessions Acts for May, 1779, and in Hening, x., 66. Another bill dealing with this matter is in the Report of the Revisors, p.22.