Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Location:   All Over The Map
Year:  Until the 1790s

In the early years of settlement along the eastern seaboard the thirteen colonies had unsettled, and wildly shifting borders and claims to land. With the kind of shrugging arrogance that was to become a New York trademark, New York made more than enough claims on other colonial territories to turn itself literally into an empire state. 

To begin with, New York insisted that its eastern borders lay on the Connecticut River, gifting unto itself about half the colony of Connecticut and a fair-sized portion of Massachusetts. It claimed that lower Ontario was its sovereign territory. It also laid claim to the watersheds of the Delaware River, meaning that northern New Jersey was part of this "greater New York."  After the Revolutionary War, it claimed a vast area of the "Old Northwest" as its own, an area which eventually became the States of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

The other twelve colonies ignored these claims, and eventually they were all resolved by compromise. All except for Vermont, that is, which everybody but the local residents and a few New Hampshireites with delusions of grandeur agreed was an integral part of New York. 

The flinty folk of the Green Mountains never cottoned to being New Yorkers, and in 1777, while New York was busy being invaded and occupied by British troops, the Vermonters, led by Ethan Allen, declared themselves an independent republic. This republic allied itself with the United States, and in 1791 became the fourteenth State of the Union, the first after the original thirteen colonies.

If New York sounds highfalutin' with all its demands, remember that of course, other colonies, particularly Pennsylvania, laid claims to New York's territory. Pennsylvania's position was that New York had no business in the Finger Lakes and in the Niagara region. Quebec wanted the Adirondacks, and Massachusetts wanted a port on the Great Lakes. And the Iroquois and other Native Americans just wanted everybody else to leave.

The history lesson today is that the State boundaries we take for granted have very little to do with reality and everything to do with what somebody ate for breakfast. Different men on different days would have drawn different lines.  

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