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Dividing the Land

Early American Beginnings of Our Private Property Mosaic

Many property lines drawn in early America still survive today and continue to shape the landscape and character of the United States. Surprisingly, though, no one until now has thoroughly examined the process by which land was divided into private property and distributed to settlers from the beginning of colonization to early nationhood.

In this unprecedented study, Edward T. Price covers most areas of the United States in which the initial division of land was controlled by colonial governments—the original thirteen colonies, and Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas. By examining different land policies and the irregular pattern of property that resulted from them, Price chronicles the many ways colonies managed land to promote settlement, develop agriculture, defend frontiers, and attract investment. His analysis reveals as much about land planning techiniques carried to America from Europe as innovations spurred by the unique circumstances of the new world.

Price’s analysis draws on his thorough survey of property records from the first land plans in Virginia in 1607 to empresario grants in Texas in the 1820s. This breadth of data allows him to identify regional differences in allocating land, assess the impact of land planning by historical figures like William Penn of Pennsylvania and Lord Baltimore of Maryland, and trace changes in patterns of land division and ownership through transfers of power among Britain, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Mexico, and the Republic of Texas.

432 pages | 19 halftones, 50 line drawings, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1995

University of Chicago Geography Research Papers

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: American History

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
I: Introduction
1: Framework of the Land
II: The New England Region: Dividing Land by Townships
2: Beginnings: Communal Land Division
3: Diffusion of Townships
4: Tradition Recedes: Commercially Founded Towns
III: The South Atlantic Region: Land Division by Individual Choice
5: Colonial Beginnings
6: Control and Disposition of Land
7: Seventeenth-Century Land Division
8: Eighteenth-Century Colonial Land Division
9: Farms and Plantations in the Colonial South
10: The National Period
IV: The Middle Atlantic Region
11: New York: The Dutch Period, 1624-64
12: New York’s English and American Periods: Lordly Estates and Land Developers’ Tracts
13: Land Division in New Jersey, and on the West Bank of the Delaware River up to 1682
14: Pennsylvania and Delaware: The Penn Proprietorship
V: Louisiana and Texas: Land Division Initiated Under France and Spain
15: Louisiana Land Division Patterns
16: The Many Templates of Texas Land Division
VI: Perspective
17: Summary, Conclusion, Aftermath
App. A: Surveying and Property Boundaries
App. B: Land Grant Maps
App. C: Size Distribution Samples of Land Grants and Holdings from Selected Lists
App. D: Geometric Analysis of Sample Properties
Table of Measures

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