120 - Hip to Be Square: the Land Ordinance of 1785
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
The United States expanded westward in ever more rectangular fashion, leading to states out west that are so square, they’re only recognisable in their geographical context.
This map dates from the beginning of that expansion of ‘square-ness’, and provides an insight into the method of surveying, claiming and taking possession of new territories, as it was done in the US of that day.\n
In 1785, the US Congress adopted the Land Ordinance Act in order to raise money: under the Articles of Confederation, Congress couldn’t tax US citizens directly, but could raise money by selling land in the recently acquired Northwest Territory.\n
The Land Ordinance also provided for the division and organisation of the land to be sold, provisions that remained central to US land policy until the Homestead Act (1862). Those provisions were:
\n• Surveyed land was to be divided into square townships
\n• Each side of such township squares was to be 6 miles long (or 480 ‘chains’: 80 ‘chains’ to the mile)
\n• Each township was to be subdivided into 36 sections of 1 square mile (640 acres; 259 hectares) each
\n• Section #1 would be the northeasternmost one, the numbers then adding up westward. In the second row, the numbers would then again run west to east, zigzagging like this all the way down
\n• Each section could be further subdivided for sale to settlers and speculators
\n• Some sections were reserved for specific purposes. Public schools were often established in section #16 of each township. Sections #8, 11, 26 and 29 were at least in theory reserved as compensation for veterans of the Revolutionary War.
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