BOUNDARIES (with Peter McLean). 2002.


Having land of their own was a new experience for many early colonists. Some emigrating English land-owners, merchants, clergy and agriculturalists brought the rules and traditions of enclosure, survey and deed with them, but not everyone adjusted easily to the new privileges and responsibilities of property ownership. Grants and charters for new settlers expanded quickly. Acreage was given as compensation for military service; it was traded and sold, inherited, and merely appropriated by “squatters’ rights.” Developed and undeveloped land was America’s most prime and desired commodity.

The superimposition of the geometric grid of European land ownership on top of the fluid and organic use of land and its inhabitation by the Indians was the most disastrous source of conflict between the two civilizations. It resulted in three centuries of war and exploitation of all Native Americans.

Granted and chartered property overlapped and conflicted. Boundary lines were far from perfect or accurate in undependable maps, much less on the land itself. With unclear and fragmented surveys, line markings, and boundaries, land disputes were common. Town boundaries overlapped and caused some to be taxed twice. Complex inheritance divisions and distribution of property to widows, sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and many step children from multiple marriages led to illegal use of others’ land, court cases, angry confrontation, physical assaults, jealousy, and animosity. Quite a few of these disputes evolved into persecution and retribution against former friends and neighbors through charges of witchcraft.