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The names are used by professors of law in common law jurisdictions, particularly in the area of real property and occasionally in contracts, to discuss the rights of various parties to a piece of land. A typical law school or bar exam question on real property might say:
Adam, owner of a fee simple in Blackacre, conveyed the property "to Bill for life, remainder to Charles, provided that if any person should consume alcohol on the property before the first born son of Charles turns twenty-one, then the property shall go to Dwight in fee simple." Assume that neither Bill, Charles, or Dwight is an heir of Adam, and that Adam's only heir is his son, Edward. Discuss the ownership interests in Blackacre of Adam, Bill, Charles, Dwight and Edward.
Where more than one estate is needed to demonstrate a point – perhaps relating to a dispute over boundaries, easements or riparian rights – a second estate will usually be called Whiteacre, a third, Greenacre, and a fourth, Brownacre.
Jesse Dukeminier, author of one of the leading series of textbooks on property, traces the use of Blackacre and Whiteacre for this purpose to a 1628 treatise by Sir Edward Coke. Dukeminier suggests that the term might originate with references to colors associated with certain crops ("peas and beans are black, corn and potatoes are white, hay is green"), or with the means by which rents were to be paid, with black rents payable in produce and white rents in silver. A 1790 treatise by Francis Buller similarly uses these placeholder names, stating: "If A. have Black Acre and C. have White Acre, and A. has a way over White Acre to Black Acre, and then purchases White Acre, the way will be extinct; and if A. afterwards enfeoff C. of White Acre without excepting the road, it is gone".
An alternate theory is that the term arises from Civil War policy in which plots of plantation land given to recently emancipated African-American freedmen (freed slaves) during the Reconstruction period under Sherman's "forty acres and a mule" policy. Such plots were colloquially called "Blackacres". Unfortunately, since most of the freed slaves were illiterate, many were cheated out of their land through shady loan contracts with former plantation owners. These disputes, along with questions of the proper contractual entitlement of the slaves to the land in the first place, provided the basis for the development of modern American contract and property law and has come to refer to situations where there exists some contention or ambiguity surrounding the rightful owner or respective rights of the parties.
In various law journals and treatises in Louisiana, which uses a unique form of the civil law influenced by but not identical to the Napoleonic Code, authors have used the term "arpent noir" as a placeholder name for the purpose of discussing rights concerning immovables.
In popular culture
Because of its association with legal education, a number of legal publications and events utilize the name. For example, Blackacre was adopted as the name of the literary journal at the University of Texas School of Law, founded by Matt Matthews, Ben Love, and Meera George. Blackacre is also the name of a journal at the University of Sydney Law School, published annually by the Sydney University Law Society, the name of the open-air courtyard and weekly student social at Vanderbilt Law School, and the name of a William Mitchell College of Law formal.
The Blackacre Nature Preserve and Historic Homestead in Kentucky was so named by the donor of the land, Macauley Smith, who had been a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In July 2010, a legal humor website wrote an article chronicling the foreclosure sale of Blackacre. A group of law students in Indianapolis founded a brewery named Black Acre Brewing Co. in late 2010 as a homage to their legal schooling. Monica Youn's 2016 book of poetry from Graywolf Press is titled Blackacre, in reference to the legal concept (Youn has a law degree from Yale).
- Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, another legal placeholder name
- Black’s Law Dictionary, “blackacre”
- Jesse Dukeminier and James E. Krier. Property, 5th Ed. Aspen Law and Business, 2002, p. 160n.
- Francis Buller, An Introduction to the Law Relative to Trials at Nisi Prius (1790), page 74.
- James M. McPherson The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Vol. 72. Princeton University Press, 1967.
- Paul Collier. On the economic consequences of civil war Oxf. Econ. Pap. 1999. [168–183].
- Blackacre Foundation website Archived February 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Blackacre sold in courthouse foreclosure auction at LawsForAttorneys (via archive.org); published July 22, 2010; archived March 10 2012
- "Blackacre | Graywolf Press". www.graywolfpress.org. Retrieved 2016-09-21.