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Old map of Pennsylvania shows land conflict with Connecticut that led to wars between two colonies

A hand-drawn map showing the colonial-era border conflict between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, two states currently separated by about 100 miles of land belonging to New York, was sold at auction for $ 15,300 earlier this month.

The map, formerly owned by the Independence Seaport Museum, was created around 1774, possibly by William Smith – an early provost of the University of Pennsylvania who helped the Penn family defend their claim to the modern territory of the Keystone States.

It was found in the museum’s archives several years ago, according to chief curator Craig Bruns. The board of the Independence Seaport Museum voted to sell the card because it did not fit into the museum’s collection, he said. The profits will be used to care for or expand their current library, which is generally dependent on items being donated.

Bruns said he had not been sure how much the card would get at auction, but was pleasantly surprised by the final sale price when it was sold at Bonham’s auction house in New York on December 15.

The winning bidder remains anonymous, but one of the candidates for the card was the American Philosophical Society. Patrick Spero, the organization’s librarian, said it would have fitted in well with the community’s large collection of other historical documents.

The map is a snapshot of the formative years of American history, where the original 13 colonies jockeyed ashore and would eventually fight three violent conflicts to expand their borders or just hold on to territory they thought was theirs. The documents show what most people today would recognize as Pennsylvania, but it also illustrates the claim Yankee settlers from Connecticut made to the northern third of the state, beginning with the area around Wilkes-Barre.

That’s right: Connecticut and Pennsylvania, two states that do not share a border, fought three wars for control of Wilkes-Barre?

“It’s just crazy. Isn’t it?” said Bruns. “(Connecticut) is so far away.”

The short answer, Spero said, is that early land charters for the two colonies overlapped.

Territorial disputes were common in the colonies

Pennsylvania Connecticut border mapWikimedia / Creative Commons

When the original boundaries of the 13 colonies were set over the course of two centuries by Europeans with little knowledge of the terrain of North America or the other existing charters, there were many conflicting land claims.

This led to armed territorial disputes up and down the east coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts, Spero said.

“There’s generally a kind of protectionist mood (between colonies and later states) bubbling to the surface over land, money, and trade,” said Emma Hart, a professor of American history at the University of Pennsylvania.

The dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania was one of the bloodiest conflicts of its kind, Spero said.

Connecticut claimed the entire northern third of Pennsylvania until 1786. Like many of the early British colonies in North America, Connecticut’s earliest charter gave the colony the right to the entire country between its northern and southern borders, stretching west all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The earliest settlers of the Connecticut colony had no idea how far it was, but that did not prevent their descendants from claiming land outside the state’s modern western border until as late as 1800.

Few of these requirements were coherent as both New York and Pennsylvania were chartered immediately west of Connecticut.

In the second half of the 18th century, Spero said this had become a problem for Connecticut. The state’s culture and economy were based on small, independent family farms, as was the case throughout New England. With a rapidly growing population, Connecticut and the rest of New England were running out of land to subdivide.

In large states like New York or Pennsylvania, settlers would simply move west. Although the British tried in vain to keep Euro-American settlements on the east side of the Appalachians, thousands of settlers flocked to the hinterland to set up homesteads and fight with Indians.

But Connecticut had a limited amount of undisputed territory, and as its settlers moved further west to seek more land, they moved outside the colony’s borders. As a result, Connecticut leaders were interested in claiming the western territories outlined in the colony’s original charter to stop losing population to its western neighbors.

Connecticut’s Susquehanna Company purchased the land from the Iroquois Confederacy in 1754, but the tribe rejected this agreement and sold the same land to the Penn family in 1768.

Settlers from Connecticut founded Wilkes-Barre

Still, in 1769, the Yankees moved to Pennsylvania territory founded by Wilkes-Barre and four other cities. Pennsylvania’s leaders responded by sending troops, and a confrontation ensued that became known as the First Pennamite-Yankee War. The Pennsylvania forces failed, and the Yankee settlers in Wilkes-Barre remained.

The Yankees engaged in a distinct New England pattern of settlement that differed from the way other parts of the U.S. border were populated by Europeans at the time.

Although New England’s lifestyles were as rural and agrarian as settlers from any of the other 13 colonies, Spero said they were unique in that they anchored their farms in counties, towns, and villages, whereas Pennsylvania settlers created isolated houses and serviced. for them selves.

He added that the Yankees were mostly of an English Puritan tribe and had ancestors who came into the world generations ago, but the Pennamites were more ethnically and religiously diverse and tended to have newer migrant origins.

An ethnic group stood out in the Pennsylvania military. The Scottish Irish, or the descendants of the mostly ethnic Scottish and Presbyterian migrants who settled in modern Northern Ireland in the 17th century.

This group was at that time well represented up and down the entire border. Hart said they were “a people on the move who were used to living on the edge of society.”

Still, Spero noted that Philadelphia elites were the ones in charge of the Pennsylvania military. As was the case across the colonies, Hart said the collaboration between the coastal elite and the Scottish-Irish settlers in the hinterland was a sensible marriage.

The elite had a contempt for what they saw as the backward, clinical culture of these Western settlers, who could not afford the security and convenience of land closer to established population centers. But they desperately needed these settlers to fight for their interests at the western border.

Britain joins Connecticut

Pennsylvania Connecticut Border Map 2Wikimedia / Creative Commons

King George III confirmed Connecticut’s claim in 1771, and in 1773 several settlers came from there and founded Westmoreland in Northumberland counties. This led to the Second Pennamite-Yankee War in 1774, in which the Yankees again successfully defended their land claims amid the growing tensions with Britain that led to the War of Independence.

Everyone knows who won that war, and in the 1780s the Continental Congress was the governing body responsible for the colonies, not the British Crown.

In 1782, Congress voted to repeal George III’s ultimatum and returned the country to Pennsylvania. This was the only intergovernmental conflict resolved by Congress under the statutes that governed the union until the Constitution was signed in 1788.

But this ruling led to a third conflict in 1784, when Pennamite forces again tried to expel the Yankees from their settlements.

Spero said the failure of the British Empire to both deter settlers from claiming the Western border, which was technically illegal but extremely common, and administer a peaceful solution to these conflicting allegations are good examples of how Britain failed effectively manage its North American colonies. in the run-up to the War of Independence.

“One of the biggest challenges that this new government had to deal with was this conflict between states,” he said.

Tensions remained for years, but the conflict slowly disappeared, and by 1799, all Yankee settlers owned their land and were officially recognized as Pennsylvania residents.

Hart said the hand-drawn map, formerly owned by the Independence Seaport Museum, is emblematic of the kind of “wishful thinking” that defined Euro-American cartography. Maps of this vintage show the kind of control colonial leaders wanted they had over the landscape, not what land was actually under the control of any colony.

The Pennsylvania colony had other border disputes

Connecticut was not the only state with which Pennsylvania had territorial disputes during colonial times.

Maryland had claimed that its northern boundary extended far enough north to include Philadelphia until 1767, when the Mason-Dixon line was surveyed to resolve the dispute.

It was not until 1780 that Virginia, which had not yet lost its northwestern counties, abandoned its claim to the area around Pittsburgh.

Until the 1780s, Pennsylvania claimed a huge chunk of present-day New York, stretching from Syracuse to Buffalo. It also controlled what became of Delaware until it broke off in 1776.

In 1792, Pennsylvania purchased much of Erie County from New York, giving the state access to the Great Lakes trade and completing its modern territory.

Although Connecticut abandoned its claims to Pennsylvania in the 1780s, it continued to claim and send settlers to its western reservation – the part of Ohio around modern-day Cleveland that stretched from Lake Erie to the latitude of Connecticut’s southernmost border. to Westchester County, New York – until 1800.

That was when Connecticut finally accepted its fate as a small state on the U.S. East Coast.

But that does not mean the Yankee settlers or their culture disappeared from northeastern Pennsylvania. Spero said, “… if you travel there, it will feel much more like New York or New England than Lancaster,” because of the “persistence of Yankee culture” in the region.


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