When Carolyn Nelson’s uncle spotted a large handwritten parchment at a yard sale, he wasn’t exactly sure what he had found. He purchased the five-page document and took it home before discovering it was an English property deed from 1829

The deed passed between the Nelson families until coming into the possession of Bryon and Carolyn Nelson, two retired West Virginia University English professors. In the interest of educating students about historical property transactions, the Nelsons have donated the deed to the WVU College of Law.

The English legal document now joins an American deed from 1793 in the College of Law’s special collections. It will be used in property classes as an actual representative of the British property system, which was very different from the simpler American system of recording deeds.

“When used in comparison with the 1793 American deed, our students will be able to examine the different processes used in the Old World of England and the New World of the emerging United States for the recording of property,” said Special Collections Librarian Stewart Plein.

The English document transferred ownership of the Barton Farm in the town of Newton Abbot, England, from Silas Winter to Rev. Kendrick. It measures 24-inches wide by 31-inches high, the deed is completely hand written, stamped with official seals, and signed by all parties. It was ruled by hand with red ink in preparation for a scribe to write down the legal requirements, a description of the property, and the names of the parties involved.

The top edge of the final page of the deed has been cut with an uneven pattern called an indenture, which serves as a security measure. The cut from the copy of the deed in the court house would match exactly the cut of the owner’s deed.

The deed parchment itself is made from calf, sheep or goat skin. Historically, parchment was used for books, government documents, and legal codes. The process for making parchment involves “liming” the animal skin, rather than tanning it as in leather making. As a result, parchments are extremely sensitive to moisture and humidity.

The document is available for public viewing by appointment. Contact Plein at 304-293-6786 or Stewart.Plein@mail.wvu.edu.



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CONTACT: Kristin Brumley, WVU College of Law