Land Grant Terminology

Act of Possession – A ceremony performed after approval of a Mexican land grant in which the new owner and Mexican government officials participated. It occurred on the actual grant property in front of witnesses following the survey by the local alcalde. A brief description of the Acts of Possession for the Rancho Piedra Blanca can be found here.

Alcalde – A local official of the Mexican government roughly equivalent to a mayor or justice of the peace. During the early 1840s, when the three ranchos in the Cambria area were granted, the alcalde of San Luis Obispo was Jose Mariano Bonilla.

Cord or Cordel – A Spanish unit of length equal to 50 varas. When land grants were surveyed by the Mexican government a 50 vara, or one cord rope was used. A description of the method can be found here.

Diseño – A simple, hand-drawn descriptive map of a Mexican land grant. The first step in obtaining a grant was the submission of the diseno to the governor.

Expediente – A complete file or record containing all the documents pertaining to a land grant. Generally, this would include at least the diseno, the grant itself and notes from the survey.

Juridical – Of judicial proceedings, jurisprudence, or law.

League – A Spanish (and Mexican) linear measure equal to about 2.6 miles (5000 varas). Also, a measure of area equal to a square 5000 varas on a side or 25,000,000 square varas. This is equivalent to about 4430 acres or about 6.94 square miles.

Mesne Conveyance – Pronounced “mean”. An intermediate conveyance; one occupying an intermediate position in a chain of title between the first grantee and the present holder.

Patent – An official document issued by the United States government conferring a right or privilege on some person or party. Specifically, a document making a grant and conveyance of public lands to a private party. This is the government’s passing of title to the grantee and cannot occur without an adequate survey by a government surveyor. It is the true beginning of private ownership of the land.

Plat – A drawing which represents the particular area included in a survey, such as a township, private land claim or mineral claim, and the lines surveyed, established, retraced or resurveyed, showing the direction and length of each such line and the relation to the adjoining official surveys.

Vara – A Spanish (and Mexican) unit of length used to measure Mexican Land Grants in California equal to 0.836 meter or 32.9 inches. There are about 1926 varas in one mile. The definition of the vara was not consistent and in Texas it was 33.33 inches. A vara was defined as 100 dedos, the Spanish word for ‘finger’.

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