Livery of Seisin – How Our Ancestors Transferred Land

seisin

Buying a house is a stressful process.

You’ll need to sign hundreds of pages of bank paperwork and your attorney will need to ensure that you comply with countless regulations that affect the property.

The process is anything but ceremonious.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Throughout the Middle Ages and up to the mid-1600s real estate was transferred from one owner to the next through a ceremony called the livery of seisin.

In Old English the word livery means “delivery” and the word seisin translates to “possession”.  So the phrase livery of seisin simply means “delivery of possession”.

To perform the ceremony both parties and their witnesses needed to meet on the land that was being sold.

The owner of the land took a symbolic piece of the property (e.g., a fist full of dirt, a twig off a tree, a key to the door, etc.) and handed it to the buyer while declaring his intention to transfer the land:

This turf and twig I give to thee and I hope a loving brother thou wilt be.

The owner and all of his tenants would then symbolically abandon the property by walking off the land and leaving the buyer there alone.

This tradition ended when towns and counties started keeping written records of land ownership and conveyances.

Thus, livery of seisin was abolished first in the American Colonies by Massachusetts in 1652.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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