A historical geography of central New York: Patterns and processes of colonization on the New Military Tract, 1782-1820

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Don Meinig


Geography, American history, American studies

Subject Categories

Human Geography


This study focuses on the creation, alteration and realignment of a spatial order during the crucial first four decades of Euro-American colonization in central New York. In 1782 the Revolutionary New York legislature optimistically earmarked a large block of Iroquois territory in the central part of the State for future disbursement to New York soldiers in Washington's Continental Army. By 1820, that block had been enlarged to almost two million acres, known colloquially as the "New Military Tract", and had been acquired from the Indians, systematically surveyed and subdivided, balloted and distributed, bought by speculators, and served as the framework for the first effective settlement of the area by Euro-Americans.

Colonization of the Tract was implemented and first orchestrated from places external to the Tract itself, by eastern interests and individuals. Eventually, threshold populations within the Tract itself were able to effect and alter spatial order suitable to local needs and demands. The Euro-American colonization of the Tract was undertaken by people who (1) brought with them regional cultural values and ways of life, especially from New England and Pennsylvania, (2) interacted with and formulated adaptations to a new environment, and (3) continually integrated the newly opened territory with a developing American core region focused primarily on a New York-Philadelphia axis.

The end of the pioneer period in the New Military Tract was formalized through the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. At that time many patterns of the Tract's settlement landscape were virtually indistinguishable from the rest of upstate New York. However, the seemingly ephemeral New Military Tract survey grid is more than simply a convenient framework for historical geographical study. The processes of colonization in the New Military Tract distinguish that part of central New York from surrounding land development schemes and are crucial to a full understanding of the colonization of central New York during an often-overlooked era.


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