Land Surveying in Early Pennsylvania

A Case Study in a Global Context

in Journal of Early American History
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By the end of the seventeenth century, Anglo-Americans on both sides of the Atlantic accepted the importance of surveying to any system of land ownership. Most historians of colonial British have similarly taken colonial surveying practices as a given. This article complicates these assumptions through an examination of Pennsylvania in a wider context. In fact, land policy in colonial Anglo-America differed significantly from practices elsewhere in the early modern world. English colonizers embraced a model of settler colonialism that created a market for land, thus encouraging the proliferation of modern surveying practices.

Land Surveying in Early Pennsylvania

A Case Study in a Global Context

in Journal of Early American History



James C. ScottSeeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press1999) 11–52 quotation at 39; see also Roger J. P. Kain and Elizabeth Baigent The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State: A History of Property Mapping (Chicago Ill.: University of Chicago Press 1992). On surveying in colonial America see Sarah S. Hughes Surveyors and Statesmen: Land Measuring in Colonial Virginia (Richmond Va.: Virginia Surveyors Foundation 1979); J. Barry Love The Colonial Surveyor in Pennsylvania (Harrisburg Pa.: Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors 2000).


ScottSeeing Like a State49.


E. G. R. Taylor“The Surveyor,” Economic History Review 17 no. 2 (1947): 121–133; D. Chilton “Land Measurement in the Sixteenth Century” Transactions of the Newcomen Society 31 no. 1 (1957–58 and 1958–59): 111–129 at 112; Carol Rawcliffe and Susan Flower “English Noblemen and Their Advisers: Consultation and Collaboration in the Later Middle Ages” Journal of British Studies 25 no. 2 (April 1986): 157–177 at 160. On perambulation see E. P. Thompson Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture (New York: New York Press 1993) 99; John R. Stilgoe “Jack-o’-lanterns to Surveyors: The Secularization of Landscape Boundaries” Environmental Review 1 no. 1 (1976): 14–30; Silvio A. Bedini Thinkers and Tinkers: Early American Men of Science (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1975) 56. For perambulation in colonial Brazil see Stuart B. Schwartz Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia 1550–1835 (New York: Cambridge University Press 1985) 291.


J. H. ElliottEmpires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492–1830 (New Haven: Yale University Press2006) 35–41.


ElliottEmpires of the Atlantic World42–48. Robert C. Smith “Colonial Towns of Spanish and Portuguese America” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 14 no. 4 (December 1955): 3–12 at 3. On the 1573 order see Karl W. Butzer “From Columbus to Acosta: Science Geography and the New World” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82 no. 3 (September 1992): 543–565 at 554–557. On Philip’s questions see Howard F. Cline “The Relaciones Geográficas of the Spanish Indies 1577–1586” Hispanic American Historical Review 44 no. 3 (August 1964): 341–374. On land grants see Thomas R. Ford Man and Land in Peru (Gainesville Fla.: University Press of Florida 1955) 35–36.


Lorena S. WalshMotives of Honor Pleasure & Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake 1607–1763 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press2010) 1 25–39.


Sarah S. HughesSurveyors and Statesmen: Land Measuring in Colonial Virginia (Richmond, Va.: The Virginia Surveyors Foundation and the Virginia Association of Surveyors1979) 4–5.


John Frederick MartinProfits in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press1991) especially 294–304. Over time the pre-allocation of townships broke down in New England.


Stilgoe“Jack-o’-lanterns to Surveyors” 23–29.


William J. SmythMap-making Landscapes and Memory: A Geography of Colonial and Early Modern Ireland c. 1530–1750 (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press2006) 165–188.


SoderlundWilliam Penn72; Price Dividing the Land 257–283; Irma Corcoran Thomas Holme 1624–1695: Surveyor General of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Pa.: Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society 1992) 89–282; Love Colonial Surveyor in Pennsylvania 114.


Ned C. LandsmanCrossroads of Empire: The Middle Colonies in British North America (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press2010) 41–44 71–72. Penn communicated with the Lenapes (later known as Delawares) prior to arriving in America in order to shore up his land claims against Maryland. Daniel Richter however points out Penn’s belief that “divine and civil authority alike made Pennsylvania legitimately his to enjoy” Richter Trade Land Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2013) 136–154 at 141. On peace with the Indian nations see David L. Preston The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia 1667–1783 (Lincoln Neb.: University of Nebraska Press 2009) 117–146; James H. Merrell Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York: W. W. Norton & Company 1999) 19–224.


Veront M. SatchellHope Transformed: A Historical Sketch of the Hope Landscape St. Andrew Jamaica 1660–1960 (Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press2012) 44–48.


Ian J. BarrowSurveying and Mapping in Colonial Sri Lanka (Oxford: Oxford University Press2008) 24–28; Ian Jeffrey Barrow “Surveying in Ceylon during the Nineteenth Century” Imago Mundi 55 no. 1 (2003): 81–96 at 81–83; Geoffrey Parker Global Crisis: War Climate and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press 2013) 489–499; Mary Elizabeth Berry Hideyoshi (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1982) 111–129; Jonathan K. Ocko and David Gilmartin “State Sovereignty and the People: A Comparison of the “Rule of Law in China and India” Journal of Asian Studies 68 no. 1 (February 2009): 55–100 at 75–76.


Donna Bingham MungerPennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, Inc.1991) frontispiece; Richter Trade Land Power 155–169; Merrell Into the American Woods.


JenningsThe Ambiguous Iroquois Empire (New York: W. W. Norton & Co.1984) 318–324; A. D. Chidsey Jr. “Easton Before the French and Indian War” Pennsylvania History 2 no. 3 (April 1935): 156–171 at 157–158.


Steven Craig HarperPromised Land: Penn’s Holy Experiment the Walking Purchase and the Dispossession of Delawares 1600–1763 (Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press2006) 46–71.


James T. LemonThe Best Poor Man’s Country: A Geographical Study of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press1972) 23 42–51 218–228; Mary M. Schweitzer Custom and Contract: Household Government and the Economy in Colonial Pennsylvania (New York: Columbia University Press 1987) 114–167. German speakers came from a variety of property regimes that differed from the Pennsylvania system; Kain and Baigent The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State 120–173.


MungerPennsylvania Land Records40 104; Schweitzer Custom and Contract 97–101.


Isabel de MadariagaCatherine the Great: A Short History (New Haven: Yale University Press1990) 134–135 179; Givens “To Measure and to Encroach” 537–547.


Givens“To Measure and to Encroach” 534–543.


RichesonEnglish Land Measuring109; Love Colonial Surveyor in Pennsylvania 30–35.


[John Lukens] Survey Book 1760John Lukens Papers American Philosophical Society Philadelphia Pa.


KonkleThomas Smith32–33. On proprietary manors see Price Dividing the Land 266; Schweitzer Custom and Contract 89–96 102–109.


SchweitzerCustom and Contract89–96 102–109; William H. Kain “The Penn Manorial System and the Manors of Springetsbury and Maske” Pennsylvania History 10 no. 4 (October 1943): 225–242; and Price Dividing the Land 266–267. On Conestoga Manor see Willis L. Shirk Jr. “Wright’s Ferry: A Glimpse into the Susquehanna Backcountry” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 120 no. 1/2 (January/April 1996): 61–88 at 66–67; Charles Desmond Dutrizac “Local Identity and Authority in a Disputed Hinterland: The Pennsylvania-Maryland Border in the 1730s” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 115 no. 1 (January 1991): 35–61 at 37; Egle Draughts of the Proprietary Manors preface.


KonkleThomas Smith32–34; Bartram Galbraith to John Lukens 9 September 1763 Box 1 John Lukens Papers University of Delaware Special Collections Morris Library (hereinafter “jlud”) Newark Del.


LoveColonial Surveyor in Pennsylvania114.


KonkleThomas Smith32–35.


KonkleThomas Smith35.


SchweitzerCustom and Contract199; Matthew C. Ward “The Peaceable Kingdom” Destroyed: The Seven Years’ War and the Pennsylvania Backcountry” Pennsylvania History 74 no. 3 (July 2007): 247–279.


Michael KhodarkovskyRussia’s Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire 1500–1800 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press2002) 146 161; Steven Seegel Mapping Europe’s Borderlands: Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2012) 67–73; Willard Sunderland Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2004) 93–94.


Yingcong DaiThe Sichuan Frontier and Tibet: Imperial Strategy in the Early Qing (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press2009) 69–73 152–58 190–96 289. Wensheng Wang White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 2014) 72.


NeedhamScience and Civilisation in China3:577 585; Laura Hostetler “Qing Connections to the Early Modern Word: Ethnography and Cartography in Eighteenth-Century China” Modern Asian Studies 34 no. 3 (July 2000): 623–662; Perdue China Marches West 336–341; Benjamin A. Elman On Their Own Terms: Science in China 1550–1900 (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 2005) 131 200–203. Nicola Di Cosmo “Qing Colonial Administration in Inner Asia” International History Review 20 no. 2 (June 1998): 287–309 at 304.


 On Logan see Francis Jennings“The Indian Trade of the Susquehanna Valley,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 110 no. 6 (December 1966): 406–424. Edmund Physick was especially vociferous in his criticism of deputy surveyors whom he believed were in the pocket of “Gentlemen” and derelict in their duties. Among those interested in the officers’ tract were Samuel and William Maclay Maclay’s father-in-law William Plunkett and Turbutt Francis the brother-in-law of James Tilghman the Secretary of the Land Office; The Susquehannah Company Papers 4 vols. ed. Julian P. Boyd (1930; repr. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1962) 3:xiii–xx 185.


Farris W. CadleGeorgia Land Surveying History and Law (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press1991) 8–59.


ElliottEmpires of the Atlantic World302 353; Terry G. Jordan “Antecedents of the Long-Lot in Texas” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 64 no. 1 (March 1974): 70–86; Alvar W. Carlson “Long-Lots in the Rio Arriba” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 65 no. 1 (March 1975): 48–57; John R. Hébert “Vicente Sebastián Pintado Surveyor General of Spanish West Florida 1805–17: The Man and His Maps” Imago Mundi 39 (1987): 50–72.


Smith“Colonial Towns” 6–11; Warren Dean “Latifundia and Land Policy in Nineteenth-Century Brazil” Hispanic American Historical Review 51 no. 4 (November 1971): 606–625 at 607–616; Marcia Maria Menendes Motta “The Sesmarias in Brazil: Colonial Land Policies in the Late Eighteenth-Century” e-Journal of Portuguese History 3 no. 2 (2005): 1–12; Hal Langfur The Forbidden Lands: Colonial Identity Frontier Violence and the Persistence of Brazil’s Eastern Indians 1750–1830 (Stanford Cal.: Stanford University Press 2006) 97–105; John Charles Chasteen “Background to Civil War: The Process of Land Tenure in Brazil’s Southern Borderland 1801–1893” Hispanic American Historical Review 71 no. 4 (November 1991): 737–760 at 738–745; Alston et. al. Titles Conflict and Land Use 34–35.


Ruth Kark“Mamluk and Ottoman Cadastral Surveys and Early Mapping of Landed Properties in Palestine,” Agricultural History 71 no. 1 (Winter 1997): 46–70 at 48–54; A. W. Richeson English Land Measuring to 1800: Instruments and Practice (Cambridge Mass.: mit Press 1966).


Jeremy BlackThe Power of Knowledge: How Information and Technology Made the Modern World (New Haven: Yale University Press2014) 206–207.


  • View in gallery

    Two proprietary manors that disregarded the normal rules for surveying bottomlands. Above: the Forks of the Ohio, surveyed in 1769 (5,760 acres). Below: Penn’s Lodge, surveyed in 1770 (5,568 acres along Sewickley Creek; Draughts of the Proprietary Manors in the Province of Pennsylvania, as Preserved in the Land Department of the Commonwealth, ed. William Henry Egle (Harrisburg, 1895).

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