TABLE OF CONTENTS
RG 075, Boundary Commissions
Inventory of Records
Finding aid prepared by Connecticut State Library staff.
Copyright © 2008 by the Connecticut State Library
Boundary commissions, in Connecticut history, have ordinarily consisted of 2 or 3 engineers or surveyors appointed by the General Assembly to survey and mark (or "monument") a boundary line with one of 3 of the adjoining states. Their responsibility has usually been limited to a specific task, outlined either by the General Assembly - in the case of an ex parte survey - or by agreement with another state when a joint commission has been established. While commissions have always been appointed for a single job and there has thus never been a continuing agency, individual commissioners, such as Henry R. Buck, have provided continuity by serving on a number of commissions over the years.
The boundaries of Connecticut have been objects of controversy, litigation and even armed violence from the time of the first settlements up to the 20th century. Both the Dutch and the English claimed the territory on the eastern seaboard which later formed Connecticut; the English claim was based on exploratory voyages by the Cabots and the Dutch on voyages of Henry Hudson. The original English grants, on which all later grants depend, were made in 1606 when King James I deeded Virginia (New Jersey to South Carolina) to London merchants and New England (New Jersey to the St. Lawrence River) to merchants of Plymouth. The Pilgrims made their landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and in the same year the Crown established the "Council of Plymouth for the Affaires of New England" to administer the newly settled lands.
John Endicott and others bought a tract of land from the Council of Plymouth in 1627. It was known as the Massachusetts Patent, and was to extend from a point 3 miles north of the Merrimack River to a point 3 miles south of the Charles River, and from sea to sea.
The Council of Plymouth in 1630 sold to the Earl of Warwick a tract known as the Old Connecticut Patent or the Warwick Patent. In the following year he sold this land to Lord Saye & Sele, Lord Brooke, Sir Richard Saltonstall and others. The tract comprised land reaching from the southern boundary of Massachusetts to the sea, and from Narragansett Bay to the western sea. This grant was a title to land only, which made the owners joint tenants; it conferred no governmental powers and created no corporation.
Land at Hartford already belonged to the Dutch as they had purchased it from the Pequot Indians and established a trading fort there. When William Holmes founded an English settlement at Windsor in 1633, a long series of conflicts with the Dutch began.
The holders of the Warwick Patent built Fort Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River in 1635. At about the same time, settlements were made by Massachusetts citizens at Springfield, Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield. A controversy over the legal jurisdiction of these towns ensued, as they were outside the chartered limits of Massachusetts, and the Warwick Patent holders had no governmental or legal authority. The towns set up their own de facto governments, which were of dubious value but functioned adequately. In fact there were 2 colonies, one at New Haven (est. 1637) and one consisting of the Connecticut River towns, including Springfield. Springfield was a point of controversy for many years, joining the Connecticut alliance for several years, then Massachusetts, and refusing to pay taxes to support the fort at Saybrook.
In 1644 the Connecticut River towns bought the Warwick Patent from George Fenwick. They tried at this time to form a United Colonial Federation to aid each other in disputes with the Dutch and the Indians. Due to quarrels over the jurisdiction of Springfield and Westfield the attempt failed.
Massachusetts decided to resolve the dispute and in 1642 commissioned Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffery to lay out the boundary line. Their survey methods were inaccurate and produced a colony line 7 or 8 miles south of where it should have been. This inaccuracy was the basis for many later border incidents. Connecticut protested against the Woodward-Saffery line at a meeting of Commissioners of the United Colonies in 1649. Several other surveys were run but produced no mutually acceptable results. As population along the border increased, so did local skirmishes. Connecticut felt the need of a royal charter to protect her rights; John Winthrop obtained it from the Crown in 1662. By the terms of the charter, Connecticut was to include the territory granted by the Warwick Patent - from the Mass. boundary to the sea, from Narragansett Bay to the Pacific, and all islands adjoining the coast.
But the charter did not solve the disputes. Apparently much territory had been granted 2 or even 3 times to different parties by the Council of Plymouth, and this was the case with Connecticut. At this point it would be well to mention the intra-territorial conflicts which ensued. The Duke of Hamilton had received land from the Council in 1635, just before its dissolution, comprising a large piece of eastern Connecticut. His heirs petitioned the King in 1664, saying that the charter included some of their lands. After much litigation it was held that the Duke's claim was void since he had made no effort to colonize the territory. New Haven also protested the terms of several other towns. In addition, the Mohegan Indians claimed the eastern part of the colony; litigation over this claim did not cease until 1771. Long Island was another trouble spot. It belonged first partly to the Dutch and partly to Conn., then to the Duke of York, to Conn. again, and finally to New York.
Indeed, quarrels with neighboring states increased after the charter was granted. Disputes with Massachusetts became more and more heated over the jurisdiction of Windsor. There were many complaints that each colony was encroaching on the other's territory. Connecticut ran an ex parte survey in 1695. It began at the same point as Woodward and Saffery's line but had very different results. Massachusetts objected; Connecticut ignored here objections and continued to settle Enfield and Suffield. Connecticut offered to run a joint survey and Massachusetts refused. Accusations of theft, insult and violence increased and appeal was to be made to the Crown. Connecticut again offered to run a joint survey (1708) and Massachusetts once more refused. An agreement made in 1713 allowed Mass. to retain the border towns she had claimed, which were actually in Conn., and to substitute for them undeveloped lands in western Mass. and New Hampshire. These "Equivalent Lands" were sold in 1716 to benefit Yale College. The survey was continued in 1717 from Westfield to the New York line.
Border towns continued to be a problem as Enfield and Suffield petitioned in 1724 to come under Connecticut's jurisdiction. The General Assembly held that the 1713 agreement was binding - but this was not to be the end of the matter. In 1732-33 both colonies established a joint commission to perambulate the boundary. The commission discovered a mistake at Woodstock. This town asked in 1747 to be admitted to Connecticut, claiming that the 1713 agreement was made without her citizens' consent, and that Connecticut had no authority to give away territory chartered to her. Much violence followed Connecticut's acceptance of the several seceding border towns. A 1752 report to the Crown claimed that Woodward and Saffery's first station had been 7 miles south of the Charles River instead of 3, so that Mass. held a strip of territory which did not belong to her. A resurvey did not settle the quarrel. Both colonies continued to claim jurisdiction over the border towns until the end of the century. The dispute was particularly intense in Woodstock, centering on a strip of land known as the "Middlesex Gore". In 1794 the Gore was annexed to Dudley and Sturbridge. Another source of trouble was a 2 ½ mile square of Southwick which Massachusetts wanted as compensation fro her lost border towns. An 1803 survey running the line from the Conn. River to New York settled the question. The portion of Southwick west of the ponds was to go to Massachusetts; Massachusetts retains this "Notch" to this date.
Another commission appointed in 1810 was to run the line east of the Conn. River, but made no report until 1822. The commission agreed upon all points except the "Middlesex Gore", where they adopted a compromise line. From this time disputes cease. In 1906 the line was re-monumented, and it was re-described in 1953-54.
The hottest boundary disputes were with Rhode Island. Mass., Conn., and R.I. all claimed the Narragansett country, between the Mystic and Pawcatuck Rivers. Massachusetts claimed it as compensation for her aid to Connecticut in the Pequot War. Both Connecticut and Rhode Island were entitled to the territory by the terms of their charters. Towns in this area frequently changed jurisdiction as their would-be governments exchanged bitter correspondence. Confrontations centered in Wickford and Stonington. In 1664, 1668 and 1669 the colonies appointed commissions to resolve the disputes, but they were unsuccessful. In 1665 the King's Commissioners declared the disputed territory "King's Province" until such time as the quarrels should be resolved, all revenues and jurisdiction to go to the Crown. Harvard College made a formal complaint of trespass on her lands against citizens of Westerly in 1670. The New London Conference met to discuss boundaries in 1670, but failed since both sides were unwilling to compromise. Disputes continued: each state gave refuge to criminals from the other, imprisoned each other's constables and officials, and broke up the other's courts. In 1683 the King's Commissioners met at Wickford but Rhode Island forbade the meeting, and they had to reconvene in Boston. The Commissioners decided in favor of Connecticut. As the Privy Council took no action on the Commissioners' report, Rhode Island refused to consider it binding.
Both colonies appealed to the Crown in 1699 as violent incidents increased over the collection of taxes. Fearing that the King would appropriate the territory in question for himself, the colonies made and agreement in 1703 establishing the location of the line. It was not surveyed until 1720. This commission failed to accomplish anything due to quarrels, so Rhode Island made an ex parte survey and appealed to the Crown. The Board of Trade suggested that the Privy Council revoke both charters and make the colonies part of New Hampshire. The King's final decision was that the 1703 agreement was binding and that the line should be surveyed. Part of the 1720 line is still the boundary. The rest of the line was resurveyed jointly from the Ashaway River to the Mass.line. Monuments were erected in 1742. There was a resurvey in 1839-1840. The line was crooked and the commissioners straightened it from town corner to town corner, erecting monuments at these points. Further surveys included one in 1887 fixing the boundary in Long Island Sound, a re-monumenting in 1923, a 1941 confirmation of the 1931 line, and a re-description in 1955-1958.
Quarrels with New York dated back to those already mentioned with the Dutch, both especially alarming to Connecticut was the grant made in 1664 to the Duke of York under which he received all lands west of the Conn. River to Delaware Bay and all of Long Island. He fitted out a fleet to gain possession of his territory, taking New Amsterdam from the Dutch and renaming it New York. The Conn. General Assembly thought it prudent at this time to send a delegation to New York to reach a compromise on boundaries. A tentative agreement was made, but it was not signed, and the line was not surveyed. Connecticut asked New York to join her in a survey in 1670, and ran the line ex parte in 1674. The Duke was eager to press his claims to the utmost and declared Conn. "in rebellion" for refusal to abide by the terms of his Charter. In 1683 a joint commission was established to survey the line. The agreement reached allowed Conn. to retain Greenwich and other towns on Long Island Sound. In exchange New York received land parallel to and 20 miles east of the Hudson River, known as the Oblong or Equivalent Tract. The survey was made as far as Ridgefield.
The town of Rye was the scene of many disturbances. In 1650 it was Dutch, in 1662 it was taken by Connecticut, in 1683 it was unwillingly appropriated by the Duke of York, and it revolted to Connecticut in 1697, remaining part of that state until 1700. Neither Conn. nor the people of Rye wanted to give jurisdiction to New York but they had no alternative. There were also disturbances in Bedford. At one point Connecticut sent 50 armed men to protect the town from New York forces.
Connecticut asked New York to join her in a survey in 1700, and again in 1719 and 1720. In 1725 New York concurred, but the attempt proved abortive and went no further than the Sound. A joint survey in 1731 seemed to mark the end of controversy, but a mistake was made in determining the Oblong which gave New York extra territory.
By making an agreement with New York, Connecticut did not mean to give up claims to the western lands included in her Charter. She later claimed land in the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, in Ohio on Lake Erie, and the "Connecticut Gore" in southwest New York. Controversy also focused on territory in Long Island Sound, particularly Fisher's Island, the Great and Little Captain's Islands and Goose Island. In 1855 a new joint Boundary Commission was established. They discovered the mistake in the oblong, and the New York Commissioners protested against changing the incorrect line. In 1860 New York ran an ex parte survey. The states reached an agreement in 1878-79 whereby Connecticut yielded the strip of land along the oblong in exchange for land on the Sound. The line was re-monumented in 1909, a resurvey made in 1922, and re-described in 1955-1958.
The records include bi-state agreements, field notes, commission reports, and maps, photographs, plans and sketches showing the location of boundary markers. Much of the material has been published.
Arranged into four series: Historical Summary; Massachusetts-Connecticut Line; New York-Connecticut Line; and Rhode Island-Connecticut Line.
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RG 001, Connecticut Archives, Colonial Boundaries, Series I, 1662-1827
Buck, Henry R
Buck, Henry W
Buck, W. Robinson
Connecticut -- Boundaries
Connecticut -- Boundaries -- Massachusetts
Connecticut -- Boundaries -- New York (State)
Connecticut -- Boundaries -- Rhode Island
Connecticut. Commissioners on Boundary Line Between Rhode Island and Connecticut
Connecticut. Commissioners on the Mass.-Conn. Boundary Line
Connecticut. Commissioners on the N.Y.-Conn. Boundary Line
Massachusetts -- Boundaries -- Connecticut
New York (State) -- Boundaries -- Connecticut
Rhode Island -- Boundaries -- Connecticut
This record group includes materials deposited at various times by persons who served as Connecticut's agents on the bi-state commissions which established and maintained the boundary lines between Connecticut and her neighbor states. Three civil engineers, Henry R. Buck, Henry W. Buck, and W. Robinson Buck, served on the commission over a long period, and many of the records were accumulated by them.
Baldwin, Simon E. "Boundary Line Between Connecticut and New York." Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society 3 (1882): 271-291. [CSL call number F 98 N49]
Bowen, Clarence Winthrop. The Boundary Disputes of Connecticut. Boston: J. R. Osgood and Company, 1882. [CSL call number F 102 B7 B7]
Buck, Henry W. "Connecticut Boundary Line Surveys." Annual Report of Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers (1938): 209-228. [CSL call number TA 1 C76]
Buck, Henry W. Connecticut-Rhode Island Boundary : Joint Report of the State Agents Henry Wolcott Buck for the State of Connecticut, [and] Willis W. Daniels, for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, March 7, 1941. Hartford, Conn.: Connecticut State Library, 1944 [CSL call number Conn Doc St292 corh 1944]
Chandler, John and Samuel Thaxter. The Chandler and Thaxter Survey of 1713. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co., 1882. [CSL call number History Ref Map Case G 3781 F1 1713 C45 1882]
Connecticut. Commissioners on the Boundary Line Between Connecticut and New York. Report of the Commissioners on the Boundary Line Between Connecticut and New York, to the General Assembly, May Session, 1860. New Haven, Conn.: Carrington & Hotchkiss, 1860. [CSL call number F 127 B7 C6 1860]
Connecticut. Commissioners on the Boundary Line Between Rhode Island and Connecticut. Report of the Commissioners on the Boundary Line Between Rhode Island and Connecticut. Middletown, Conn.: Pelton & King, 1888. [CSL call number Conn Doc Bo66r re]
Connecticut. Committee to Study Feasibility of Purchase of Fishers Island. Minutes and Letters of Appointment, Oct. 9-24, 1967. Hartford, Conn., 1967. [CSL call number Conn Doc G251fi]
Connecticut. State Highway Dept. State Line Perambulation, 1965-1966: Photographs, Maps and Descriptions of Bounds. Hartford, Conn., 1966. [CSL call number Conn Doc H533per]
Eno, J. N. "The Conquest for Land." Connecticut Magazine 10.3 (1906) [CSL call number F 91 C625]
Fox, Dixon Ryan. Yankees and Yorkers. New York: University Press, 1940 [CSL call number F 122 F78]
Hoadly, Charles J. The Warwick Patent. Hartford, Conn.: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1902 [CSL call number Special Collections F 97 H67]
Hooker, Roland Mather. Boundaries of Connecticut. Tercentenary Commission, Tercentenary Pamphlet Series 11. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1902 [CSL call number Special Collections F 97 H67]
Montgomery M. H. "The Oblong Otherwise Known as the Equivalent Tract." The New Canaan Historical Society Annual (1951): 24-32. [CSL call number F 104 N53 N55]
New York (State). Commissioners on the New York and Connecticut Boundary. Report of the Commissioners to Ascertain the Boundary Between New York and Connecticut: Transmitted to the Legislature, January 28, 1860. Albany, N.Y.: Charles Van Benthuysen, 1860. [CSL call number F 127 B7 N265]
New York (State). Commissioners on the New York and Connecticut Boundary. Report of the Commissioners to Ascertain and Settle the Boundary Line Between the States of New York and Connecticut: Transmitted to the Legislature, February 8, 1861. Albany, N.Y.: Charles Van Benthuysen, 1861. [CSL call number F 127 B7 N26]
New York (State). Legislature. Senate. Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Ascertain the Boundary Line Between the States of New-York and Connecticut, Appointed April 9, 1956. Albany, N.Y., 1857. [CSL call number F 126 B7 N5 1857]
Perry, C. M. "The Southwest Corner of the Shawomet Purchase." Rhode Island History 10.3 (1951). [CSL call number F 76 R472]
Waller, Henry D. "Trouble with Connecticut - Captain John Scott." History of the Town of Flushing, Long Island, New York. Flushing, N.Y.: J. H. Ridenour, 1899. 48-58. [CSL call number F 129 F6 W35 1899]