Tuesday, 29 of September of 2020

Blog Bits

These are excerpts from my blog about the states and their shapes.  Keep watching as I post new bits and pieces.



Maryland’s skinny neck

Maryland surely must have one of the oddest shapes of all of our states.  The ultra skinny panhandle and the split lower wing with a flared end can’t possibly be the way the state was originally planned.  And, in fact, it wasn’t.

The royal charter described the northern border of Maryland as the 40th parallel, which should have been easy to settle because Pennsylvania’s southern border was alsomandated as the 40th parallel.  The problem was that the 40th parallel actually cut just north of Philadelphia which was at that time the capital city of Pennsylvania.  This discrepancy was one of many examples of how hard it is to draw up borders sight unseen from across the ocean.

Pennsylvania wasn’t giving up Philadelphia, and Maryland was sticking to the border as dictated by the royal charter.  The dispute took 100 years to resolve and led to a border conflict that was known as Cresap’s War.  The intervention of King George II in 1738 finally re-located the Maryland/Pennsylvania border to 15 miles south of Philadelphia, which explains how Maryland was stuck with the thin little strip that stands today.


How Pennsylvania was born

William Penn was an English real estate entrepreneur, a philosopher, and a Quaker.   In 1681 King Charles II,  heavily involved in expanding his empire to the New World, handed over present day Pennsylvania to William Penn to pay off an old debt!   It probably sounded like a good deal, but Penn had to accept the pay-off sight unseen – the territory being across the Atlantic Ocean from his home in England. Weeks later Penn sailed to the new country to take a peek at his new asset.  The territory was quite wild with ill-defined borders and in the very early stages of having settlers move in.

Penn’s plan was to name the new colony “Sylvania”, which meant Woods, but the King insisted on the name “Pennsylvania.”   The humble William Penn, influenced by his Quaker upbringing, was embarrassed by the name and worried that people would think he had named it after himself.   But one learns early in life that it doesn’t pay to argue with the King, so the name stood.

Penn brought his religious ideals with him and immediately established his new territory as a Quaker territory.  It wasn’t uncommon in those early days that territories identified themselves with one religious offshoot or another, but as populations grew and people began to relocate and build cities, those designations became harder to enforce.


Is Rhode Island even an island?

At first glance it may seem odd that a state that is not an island has the word “island” in its name.  Even odder is that the full legal name of Rhode Island is:  The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  The smallest state has the longest name.

The explanation comes from the fact that the state that we know today was formed from a merger of two colonies.  Providence Plantations was a colony in the area of the modern city of Providence, established as a site of religious freedom in 1636.  Rhode Island colony was founded two years later on the largest island in the adjacent Narragansett Bay.  At that time the island’s name was Aquidneck, but was later changed to Rhode Island.

By 1647 the two large settlements, along with two other small ones, agreed to unite in order to protect themselves against other colonies.  It was at that time that they united under the “Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” which was the predecessor of the state name.

An interesting sidenote:  In November of 2010 residents of the state were invited to vote on whether to keep the full, long version of their name, or legally change it to simply “Rhode Island.”  By a vote of almost 80%, residents made it clear they wanted to keep the long version.


Michigan trades Toledo for the Upper Peninsula

It’s hard to imagine it now, but two states once fought over Toledo, and a third state lost hundreds of square miles of wilderness because of that spat.  In the early 1800’s, the four territories of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio were getting close to achieving statehood.  At that time the legal threshold to become a state was a population of 60,000 and of the four, Wisconsin was the last to achieve that mark.

Michigan wrangled with Ohio over the location of Michigan’s southern border, and at stake was the determination of which future state would claim Toledo.  As a thriving port city, Toledo was key to Ohio’s movement of commerce.  After much wrangling, during which each side actually armed themselves and prepared for war, a compromise was finally reached and the border was located far enough north that Toledo officially became a part of the new state of Ohio.

Since Michigan had made the concession on its southern border Congress compensated them by giving them the Upper Peninsula.  Wisconsin objected, of course, because that land was attached to their territory, but short of the population numbers necessary to become a state Wisconsin had no say in the matter and the borders were redrawn.


A State Called Franklin

For four years,  settlers in the northeast corner of modern day Tennessee proudly proclaimed themselves residents of the brand new state of Franklin.  At that time (the 1780’s) our new post-revolution Congress had not yet solidified the procedure for statehood, and the settlers who had bought land in the spinoff from North Carolina didn’t all agree on where lines should be drawn.

Franklin had already established its own legislature, elected a Governor, and wrote a state constitution.  But the larger state of Tennessee fought (literally) for the land, and after a bloody battle in 1788 Franklin was absorbed into Tennessee.  But pride in one’s past doesn’t die easily, and if you travel to that part of Tennessee today you may find yourself doing business with The State of Franklin Savings and Loan, or The State of Franklin Real Estate Company.


How about that boot heel?

Some of the interesting border anomalies came about because of strong willed personalities, and the boot heel of Missouri is a good example of that.  At the time that both Arkansas and Missouri were territories eyeing the promise of statehood, a man by the name of John Hardeman Walker owned a rather large tract of land in the northeast corner of Arkansas territory.

He watched with some anxiety as Missouri took a lead in the road to prosperity.   St. Louis was already a thriving gateway city and large amounts of commerce came directly through that Mississippi river town.  In contrast, Arkansas had no comparable hub of commerce and, although he ran a substantial cattle ranch, Walker could see that the value of his land was considerably diminished because of its association with Arkansas rather than Missouri.

In a very bold move, Walker aggressively lobbied members of Congress prior to their vote on statehood and convinced someone there to redraw the lines so that his land was now a part of Missouri.  The creation of the boot heel was a response to a wealthy landowner convincing representatives that his interests would be better served by a tweak of the map.  Back room deals were happening in Congress as far back as the early 1800’s!

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