U.S. States: Virginia: Loudoun County
As I understand it, the Rent Rolls were a list of those who leased land from local landowners. These men who appear on the rent rolls do not own their own land, but entered into an agreement, some formally written down and some with just a handshake, with the owner(s) of the land. Most of these leases extended thru the lifetime of the person who was leasing the land, and under law, the heirs of the owner of this land had to honor these leases. Sometimes the lessee was allowed at a later date to buy the land from the lessor. I believe this system started when the Lords Proprietors granted lands to the upper classes with the stipulation that the person who received this grant of land improve and cultivate the land within a certain period of time or the land would revert back to the grantor. In order to do this, the landowners had to find a way to accomplish this, so they devided up the land into small farms and leased these to men who could not afford to buy land. Those who leased the land had to improve, build certain size structures and cultivate the land. Sometimes the lessee paid a small amount up front to the landowner and then paid a certain amount once a year as long as they lived on the land. These leases usually ran for the lifetime of the lessee, although there were some that were only for 20 years, etc. This system gave men the opportunity to have land on which to live and support their families as well as giving the landowner an annual income from all the lessees who leased portions of his land. This system is somewhat like our tenant farming system of today.