Historic Cases

William Penn mistakenly signs away title to Pennsylvania.

In 1681, William Penn led a group of colonists that settled the region of “Sylvania” in what is now Pennsylvania. Philip Ford, Penn’s business manager, presented him with a deed transferring ownership of this land. Having given it minimal review, with little attention paid to the details, William Penn executed this document, and unknowingly transferred the land to Philip Ford. Ford then demanded Penn pay him exorbitant amounts in rent. Although the land was eventually transferred back to the Penn family, they had to make continued payments to Ford as a condition of the transfer.

How many title searches did it take to put a man on the moon?

When President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that an American would walk on the moon by the end of the 1960s, NASA scrambled to find a suitable site for a new spaceport. 200 square miles on Merritt’s Island, just north of Cape Canaveral, was deemed large enough for a new rocket assembly plant and the vast area needed for safely testing booster rockets. One-by-one, each of the 200 landowners had to be bought out. That’s 200 negotiations and 200 transactions — including 200 title searches — to convey the single tract of land where Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldren and Michael Collins began their historic spaceflight.

This land is your land, this land is my land: David Burnes vs. George Washington.

In 1791, George Washington began to establish his vision for the District of Columbia as the seat of the U.S. Federal Government. First, however, he had to procure the land from the 19 original property owners. One of them, Revolutionary War hero David Burnes refused to vacate his 700 prime acres that included the White House site, the land for the Treasury Building and the Ellipse. Despite receiving numerous letters imploring him to cease farming the property, Burnes continued to grow crops after the government’s purchase; reportedly constructing an illegal fence across Pennsylvania Avenue to protect them. Refusing to vacate his home as well, it remained on the Mall until 1894, more than 100 years later.