Do you have any ancestors who were lucky? Perhaps things always seemed to go their way or perhaps they really did win the lottery. Such was the case with John Royston’s orphan. Not only was this individual lucky in the land draw, but I was also lucky that this record was created because it became a key piece of evidence in linking generations.
The Georgia 1827 Land Lottery
Georgia is a state-land state meaning that the state was responsible for distributing land as it became available through the Creek Nation land treaties. When a land cession occurred, Georgia held a lottery to distribute the land. Land lotteries occurred eight times between 1805 and 1833. The Georgia Archives holds these records and details a general pattern for the lotteries. 1
- The General Assembly passed an act authorizing the lottery and detailed who was eligible and the fees that would be associated with the land grant.
- Surveyors laid out the land in districts and lots and sent these numbers to the governor’s office.
- Eligible citizens would then register their names in their county of residence. The names were sent to the governor’s office where they were copied onto tickets and placed in a large container called a “wheel.” (This started with the second lottery).
- A second wheel held the district and lot numbers. Before 1820, blank tickets were added so the numbers of both wheels would be equal.
- Governor-appointed commissioners then drew a ticket from each wheel. If the ticket was blank, the person received nothing. If the ticket named a district/lot number, the person received that land parcel. This was known as a “fortunate draw.” After 1820 when the blank tickets were not added to the wheel, any person’s ticket remaining in the wheel was considered a blank.
- The fortunate drawers could then pay a fee and take out a grant lot for his land parcel. If the person did not take out the grant, the land reverted back to the state to be sold to the highest bidder.
As in any lottery, not every entry was awarded land, but the land lottery lists of applicants have been preserved and can give important genealogical information when combined with the eligibility requirements.
A fortunate drawer of the 1827 land lottery was “John Royston’s orphan.” Abstracted information from the official land grant dated 21 December 1831 follows:2
Granted unto John Royston’s orphan of Gaines District, Morgan County
202 1/2 acres in the 20th district, 1st section, in Lees County, lot 18
As often happens, the record raises many more questions: Who was John Royston? What was the eligibility requirement for an “orphan” in the 1827 land lottery? Who could be John Royston’s orphan?
The 1827 land lottery was authorized by the Georgia General Assembly by an act of 9 June 1825. Land located in five counties created from the western part of the state known as “Indian Lands” was to be granted. Carroll, Coweta, Lee, Muscogee, and Troup counties were included and each land lot was to be 202 1/2 acres. The fortunate drawers were to pay the grant fee of $18 per land lot.
The 1827 lottery had seventeen categories for a person entitled to a draw and each was very specific such as “Married man with wife or son under 18 years or unmarried daughter, 3-year residence in Georgia, a citizen of United States – 2 draws.”
Single women were not allowed a draw, but a widow or wife and/or child whose husband or father had been absent from the state for three years were entitled to a draw. Physically or mentally disabled males and females were also entitled to a draw.
Several of the categories provided for children under eighteen who were illegitimate or whose father was dead or absent from the state. These generally included the requirement of either birth in the state or a 3-year residence in Georgia.
Military service in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, or Indian War was recognized with veterans, widows, or orphans of veterans named in several of the eligibility requirements.
The Act of 1825 also had exclusions: any fortunate drawer in a previous lottery, anyone who refused service in the War of 1812 or Indian War, anyone who deserted from military service, any tax defaulter, or any convict in the penitentiary.
For the 1827 land lottery, the most applicable requirement for the orphan of John Royston was: “the wife or children of any man who was absent from Georgia for 3 or more years.”3 These were treated as a widow and orphans, and any lots won were vested in them as though the absent husband were deceased.
John Royston’s Identity
Who was John Royston? He first appears in Georgia in the 1800 territorial census taken in Oglethorpe County.4 This is the only county in Georgia with an extant 1800 census. He married Polly Cessna in neighboring Greene County in 1803.5
No 1810 census returns exist so John’s household with Polly can’t be examined. He disappears from the records until 1814 when Polly petitioned the Georgia Assembly for a divorce. 6 What grounds did she list? Desertion of herself and her three children. She also suspected he has another wife in South Carolina. In the petition, Mary “Polly” gives the following key information regarding the family showing that John had abandoned his Greene County family.
- “John hath for the last six years without any kind of just reason or provocation withdrawn himself entirely from the bed & board of your petitioner”
- “Leaving her with three small children to support & educate without any kind of aid or assistance from him”
- “John had another wife living in the state of either North or South Carolina
- Polly swears that “ having made inquiry & caused inquiry to be made by her friends & acquaintances in the different parts of the state of Georgia, she has been entirely unable to learn anything of the said Royston or his residence.”
The state legislature granted the divorce and John doesn’t appear to have contested it. He applied for a land patent in Bulloch County, Georgia, in 1814, so he does seem to have moved from Greene County.7 He doesn’t appear on any census or any other record after 1814 until his name appears on the 1827 Georgia Land Lottery in connection with the orphan of John Royston.
At least ten years before the Royston marriage Polly had married Samuel Cessna of Greene County, Georgia. No marriage record is extant for this marriage, but a key legal record from 21 March 1793 provides indirect evidence for a probable marriage.8 In the document, Samuel Cessna is relinquishing two negro women who were assigned to Polly Baker by the will of Robert Baker, deceased. It reads:
“I Samuel Cessna of Greene Co. for the consideration of one negro boy named Isaac give up all the right and title to a negro woman named Agg and her daugher Hannah which negroes it is presumed I have held in reversion by virtue of the will of Robt. Baker Dec’d. Which negroes in said will was assigned to Polly Baker by said Robert Baker Decd. which right in reversion I do hereby relinquish for myself & my heirs etc. to Thomas Baldwin in consideration of the above negro Isaac. Signed: Saml. Cessna. Wit: James Taylor. Rec’d of Thos. Baldwin on account of his being guardian for Polly Baker now Polly Cessna full satisfaction for bonds bills debts dues & demands from the beginning of the world to this day being the 21 March 1793.”
- Several important details can be pulled from this record.
- Polly Baker is probably the daughter of Robert Baker since she is assigned “two negro women” in his will.
- Thomas Baldwin was appointed the guardian of Polly Baker indicating a close relationship.
- Polly Baker is now Polly Cessna, indirect evidence of a marriage to a Cessna by 1793.
Following the divorce, Polly moved her family west to neighboring Morgan County, Georgia. She reverted to Cessna as her surname and likely resided with or near her children from both the Cessna and Royston marriages. Several tax records show Robert, Samuel, and Mary Cessna.9 Polly is a nickname for Mary so Mary Cessna is likely Mary “Polly” Baker Cessna Royston.
John Royston’s Orphan: Thomas Beverly Royston
Polly’s divorce petition stated he had fathered three children with her so there would be three possibilities as any one of the three could be the “orphan of John Royston.” To date, only two children have emerged from the records as John and Polly’s progeny: Thomas Beverly Royston born 1806 and Sarah Baldwin (Royston) Irwin born 1808. The third sibling perhaps died young, moved away from the area, or married and left no connection to her Royston maiden name.
John Royston’s orphan resided in Gaines District, Morgan County, Georgia, per the land lottery record. Where were Thomas and Sarah residing in 1827? Sarah married David Irwin in Morgan County in 1830.10 Thomas paid taxes in the same county in 1831.11 Morgan County neighbors Greene County and perhaps after the divorce, Polly moved her family to a new area.
Thomas likely moved west because of his fortunate draw in the 1827 land lottery. He probably sold the Lee County land as no record shows his residence in that county. He lived the rest of his life in Alabama, first in DeKalb County then Chambers County where he did in 1868. With his wife, Cynthia Dillard, he had fourteen children, one named Robert Cessna Royston – a tie to his half brother, Robert Cessna.12
Perhaps the luck of the draw enabled Thomas to strike out on his own and establish his own family. Sometimes our ancestors just got lucky. As a researcher, the land lottery record also provided me with a key piece of evidence tying Thomas to his father, John Royston.
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!
- “Land Lottery Records,” Georgia Archives, (https://www.georgiaarchives.org/research/land_lottery : accessed 26 March 2023).
- Miss Martha Lou Houston, Reprint of Official Register of Land Lottery of Georgia 1827, (Columbus, Georgia : Walton-Forbes Company, 1928) entry for John Royston’s orphan of Morgan County; digitized book, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org accessed 6 Sept 2016), image 214. For the original grant see: Georgia, Surveyor General, Land Lottery Grants, 1827-1848, (Atlanta, Georgia : State Dept. of Archives and History, 1967), 20th District, p. 101, FHL microfilm 519,043.
- “1827 Land Lottery,” Georgia Archives (https://www.georgiaarchives.org/research/1827_land_lottery : accessed 26 March 2023)
- 1800 Oglethorpe County, Georgia Territorial Census, John Royston, “Georgia, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1790-1890,” Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 December 2016).
- “Greene County, Georgia, Court of Ordinary, “Marriage Licenses 1786-1810,” p. 10, Royston-Cesna, 6 Jan 1803; “Georgia, County Marriages, 1785-1950, image 22, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 5 October 2016); FHL microfilm 159,052.”
- Polly Royston vs John Royston, Divorce Petition, Greene County, Georgia, Superior Court, September Term 1814, No. 11; photocopy provided by Betty Royston Brooks [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Royston, Georgia, 2016.
- Georgia, Surveyor General Department, “Unbound Headright and Bounty Document Files 1783-1909,” Document # 4139, John Royston, Warrant, Bulloch County, 3 January 1814.
- Silas Emmett Lucas, Some Georgia County Records, (Easley, South Carolina : Southern Historical Press, 1977), vol. 2, p. 236.
- For example Morgan County, Georgia, Superior Court, 1824 Tax Digest, unpaginated, page 1 of microfilm, entry for Robert Cessna as agent for Mary Cessna, FHL microfilm 177,692.
- Morgan County, Georgia, Marriage Book 1822-1836, p. 153, Irwin-Royston, 1830, Morgan County Records Archives; image 261, “Georgia, County Marriages, 1785-1950,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 5 April 2016), FHL microfilm 158906.
- Morgan County, Georgia, Superior Court, 1831 Tax Digest, page 2, entry for Thomas B. Royston.
- Diana Elder, “Research Report for Thomas Beverly Royston 1806-1868,” Memories, Thomas Beverly Royston (KFR2-8KY), FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/37518085 : accessed 26 March 2023).