Our Research

Prior to creating our Google Earth visual case studies of British sovereignty in the colonial era, we read both primary and secondary sources to educate ourselves about the various aspects of British colonial sovereignty in general. This gave us background knowledge about how the British went about expanding their empire, and why they did it the way they did. The first set of primary sources we studied for this project was a collection of British colonial charters and grants related to the American colonies that have been collected in a database called the Avalon Project by Yale Law School. This concentration of primary documents served as a jumping-off point for us to begin our research gathering charters from other British colonies, and ultimately gave us the documents around which several of our case studies were built. Charters and other primary sources such as legal cases, demographic and settlement records, other types of Crown grants, travelogues, treatises, maps, local government documents such as council minutes, and events such as rebellions are a great starting place for learning about how Britain sought to exercise power. These sources contain both familiar elements that are still present in American culture and daily life and alien elements that bear little resemblance to modern legal and economic structures, and reveal both manifestations of sovereign power and, in many cases, the absence of it. These elements and revelations prompted us to ask questions about what it means to rule and be ruled such as: what constitutes sovereignty? How did the British define it in the different locales of their empire? What social and legal norms underpinned notions of sovereignty? How did those ideas evolve over time?

Secondary sources allowed us to learn about the different types of British colonies, how the British as well as their competitors conceived of property ownership and went about claiming land, cartography, the layers of British law and government in the colonies, and hybridity in charters. In his book Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865, Christopher Tomlins identifies four “essential configurations of colonizing:” physical, economic, political, and civic.[1] We found that charters seek to address all of these issues, from who can colonize what land, to how government will be set up, and specific trade rights. However, in reality these systems and physical settlements were often more ambiguous and varied. An important concept in English colonization is that of Terra Nullius, or vacant land, and what constitutes vacancy. Thanks to the enclosure movement, which was roughly contemporary and emphasized the private, rather than public, ownership of land, the English believed strongly that land had to be improved in some capacity in order to be claimed. As Patricia Seed has posited, the English carried their emphasis on surveying and marking property boundaries at the local level to the colonies, and fences became critical to the claiming of new lands for the English crown.[2] Because of this sovereignty was not uniform. Lauren Benton emphasizes that “political geographies…were uneven, disaggregated, and oddly shaped.” “Corridors of control” connected “enclaves such as missions, trading posts, towns, and garrisons.”[3] This reality is what we tried to capture in our visual case studies. However, the nuances of sovereignty were extremely complex and varied across colonies, which is why we have included our full bibliography to those seeking greater background knowledge on these issues.

Further reading on these topics will offer a more in depth understanding of what our Google Earth projects represent about charters and colonization. “Resources” lists helpful sources about British colonization and charters in general as well as additional readings pertaining to each of the case studies, all authored by respected historians. Also included in “Resources” is an essay, entitled “Sovereignty Research Guide” written by members of our group that serves as a more expansive version of this introduction, giving an overview of British sovereignty based upon the recommended readings, as well as the link to the Yale Avalon database of American colonial charters.



[1] Christopher Tomlins, Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 162.

[2] Seed,19-25.

[3] Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 2, 110.





American Colonial Charters:

Yale Avalon Database

Essay on British Colonization:

Sovereignty Research Guide

Secondary Sources on British Sovereignty:

Adrian, John M. “Tudor Centralization and Gentry Visions of Local Order in Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent.” English Literary Renaissance 36, No. 3   (Sept. 2006): 307-334.

Armitage, David. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Auber, Peter. An Analysis of the Constitution of the East-India Company. New York: Burt Franklin, 1826, reprinted 1970.

Benton, Lauren. A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Bilder, Mary Sarah. “English Settlement and Local Governance.” In The Cambridge History of Law in America, edited by Michael Grossberg and Christopher   Tomlins, 63-103. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

̶—̶̶—̶̶ . The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

“The History and Determination of the Line of Demarcation Established by Pope Alexander VI, Between the Spanish and Portuguese Fields of Discovery and Colonization.”Bourne, Edward G. “The History and Determination of the Line of Demarcation Established by Pope Alexander VI, Between the Spanish and Portuguese Fields of Discovery and Colonization.” In The Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1891, 101-130. Washington: Government Printing Press, 1892.

Buchan, P. Bruce. “The East India Company 1749-1800: The Evolution of a   Territorial Strategy and the Changing Role of the Directors.” Business and   Economic History 23, no.1 (Fall 1994): 52-61.

Colley, Linda. Captives. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

Cotter, Charles H. A History of Nautical Astronomy. London: Hollis and Carter, 1968.

Craven, Wesley Frank. Dissolution of the Virginia Company: The Failure of a Colonial Experiment. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964.

Fitzmaurice, Andrew. “The geneology of Terra Nullius.” Australian Historical Studies 38 (2007): 1-15. DOI: 10.1080/10314610708601228.

Grant, Robert D. Representations of British Emigration, Colonization and Settlement: Imagining Empire, 1800-1860. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Greene, Jack P. Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607-1788. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Harrington, Matthew P. “The Legacy of Colonial Vice-Admiralty Courts (Part II).” Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce 27, No. 2 (April 1996): 323-352. JSTOR

Harris, Nathaniel. Mapping the World: Maps and Their History. San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2002.

Hewson, J.B. A History of the Practice of Navigation. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1951.

Hsueh, Vicki. Hybrid Constitutions: Challenging Legacies of Law, Privilege, and Culture in Colonial America. Duke University Press: Durham, NC, 2010.

Illick, Joseph E. Colonial Pennsylvania: A History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976.

Jacobs, Frank and Fritz Kessler. Mapping America: Exploring the Continent. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2010.

Janiskee, Brian P. Local Government in Early America: The Colonial Experience and Lessons from the Founders. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.

Konig, David Thomas. “Regionalism in Early American Law.” In The Cambridge History of Law in America, edited by Michael Grossberg and Christopher Tomlins: 144-177. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Kupperman, Karen Ordahl, ed. Major Problems in American Colonial History. Boston: Wadsworth, 2007.

̶—̶̶—̶̶ .“The Legal Cartography of Colonization, the Legal Polyphony of Settlement: English Intrusions on the American Mainland in the Seventeenth Century.” Law & Social Inquiry 26, no. 2 (Spring, 2001): 315-372. JSTOR

Lister, Raymond. Antique Maps and Their Cartographers. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1970.

Macmillan, Ken. Sovereignty and Possession in the English New World: The Legal Foundations of Empire, 1576-1640. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Quinn, David B. European Approaches to North America, 1450-1640. Brookfield, USA: Ashgate Variorum, 1998.

Schwartz, Seymour I. The Mismapping of America. Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2003.

Seed, Patricia. Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-  1640. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Short, John Rennie. Representing the Republic: Mapping the United States 1600-1900. London: Reaktion Books, 2001.

Smith, Joseph Henry. Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Plantations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950.

Stein, Tristan. “Tangier in the Restoration Empire.” The Historical Journal 54, no. 4 (2011): 985-1011.   9cf8f415584175.

Stern, Philip. The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Stock, Leo Francis, ed. Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments respecting North  America Vol. I 1542-1688. Washington D.C.: The Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1924.

Tomlins, Christopher. Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Tooley, R.V. Maps and Map-Makers. New York: Crown, 1952.

Tully, James. Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Waterhouse, Richard. “The Structure and Functioning of Local Government in South Carolina.” In Local Government in European Overseas Empires, 1450-1800, edited by A.J.R. Russell-Wood. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999.

Waters, D.W. The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958.

Weinbaum, Martin, ed. British Borough Charters 1307 – 1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943.

Wroth, L. Kinvin. “The Massachusetts Vice Admiralty Court and the Federal   Admiralty Jurisdiction.” The American Journal of Legal History 6, no. 3 (July,   1962): 250-268. JSTOR


Further Reading on Connecticut:

Baldwin, Thomas W. Vital Records of Wrentham Massachusetts; To the Year 1850. Volume 1 – Births. Boston: 1910.

Barnhill, Georgia B. and Martha J. McNamara, editors. New Views of New England: Studies in Material and Visual Culture, 1680-1830. Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2012.

Bowen, C.W. The Boundary Disputes of Connecticut. Boston: J.R. Osgood and Company, 1882.;view=1up;seq=38.

Buck, Henry Wolcott. “Connecticut Boundary Line Surveys.” 1938.

Chase, Levi Badger. “Interpretation of Woodward and Saffery’s Map of 1642 or the Earliest Bay Path.” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 55. (1901), pp. 155-161. Google Books.

——-. The Bay Path and Along the Way. 1919. The Open Library.

Cumming, William P. British Maps of Colonial America.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Dillman, Jefferson. “Defending the ‘New England Way’: Cotton Mather’s ‘exact map of New England and New York’.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 38.1 (2010): 110.

Dwight, Theodore. The History of Connecticut : From the First Settlement to the Present Time. New York: 1855. Sabin Americana.           servlet/Sabin?af=RN&ae=CY3801392639&srchtp=a&ste=14.

Great Britain Public Record Office. Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies, 1661-1668 : Preserved in Her Majesty’s Public Record Office. London: 1880. Sabin Americana.   servlet/Sabin?af=RN&ae=CY101500811&srchtp=a&ste=14.

Hammond, John. The practical surveyor: containing the most approved methods for surveying of  lands and waters, by the several instruments now in use: particularly exemplified with the common and new Theodolites. The 3rd ed. London: 1750. The Making of the ModernWorld.      /

Hollister, G.H. The History of Connecticut, From the First Settlement of the Colony to the Adoption of the Present Constitution. Hartford: Case, Tiffany, and Co., 1857.

Hughes, Arthur H. and Morse S. Allen. Connecticut Place Names. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1976.

Johnston, Alexander. Connecticut: A Study of a Commonwealth-Democracy. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1896.

LaFantasie, Glenn W, ed. The Correspondence of Roger Williams Vol. I 1629-1653. Hanover:   Brown University Press / University Press of New England, 1988.

Love, William DeLoss. The Colonial History of Hartford. Hartford: 1935.

McCorkle, Barbara Backus. New England in Early Printed Maps 1513 to 1800. Providence: The John Carter Brown Library, 2001.

Rhode Island v. Massachusetts (1846) 45 U.S. 591; 11 L. Ed. 1116; 1846 U.S. LEXIS 417; 4 HOW 591.

Stein, Mark. How the States Got Their Shapes. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

Susquehanna Company. The Susquehannah Company Papers. Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Wyoming Historical & Geological Society, 1930. Hathi Trust.

“The Right of the Governor and Company of the Colony of Connecticut to claim and hold the lands within the limits of their charter.” Hartford: 1773. The Making of the Modern World.          prodId=MOME&userGroupName=duke_perkins&tabID=T001&docId=U3604880100&t            ype=multipage&contentSet=MOMEArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMIL.

Wheeler, Robert A. “The Connecticut Genesis of the Western Reserve, 1630-1796.” Ohio History 114 (2007), pp. 57-78.​

Workers of the Writers’ Project of the Works Project Administration in Massachusetts. The Origin of Massachusetts Place Names of the State, Counties, Cities, and Towns. New York: Harian Publications, 1941.


Further Reading on Georgia:

“The Carolina Charter” from The Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America Compiled and Edited Under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906 by Francis Newton Thorpe
Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1909.

Coleman, Kenneth. “A Rebuttal to “the Georgia Concept”.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 55.2 (1971): 172-6. Web. 3/28/2014 12:09:45 PM.

Cooper, Walter Gerald. The story of Georgia. New York: American Historical Society, 1938.

Francis, Harrold. “Colonial Siblings.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 73, no. 4 (1989): 704-744.

Frangiamore, Christa S., & Gibbons, Whit. (August 23 2013). Altamaha River. Retrieved from New Georgia Encyclopedia website:

Frederick, George William “Treaty of Paris 1763” Avalon Project, Yale Law Library.

Harrold, Frances. “Colonial Siblings: Georgia’s Relationship with South Carolina during the Pre-Revolutionary Period.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 73.4 (1989): 707-44. Web. 3/28/2014 12:13:28 PM.

Kmusser, Map of the Province of Georgia. 2006.

Louis, DeVorsey. “Indian Boundaries in Colonial Georgia.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 54, no. 1 (1970): 63-78.

Memorandum of Defence of Georgia. Colonial State Papers Web.

Ready, Milton. “The Georgia Concept.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 55, no. 2 (1971): 157-172.

Representation of President William Bull to Council of Trade and Plantations. Colonial State Papers Web.

“Royal Proclomation- October 7, 1763” Avalon Project, Yale Law Library.

Smith, George Gilman. The story of Georgia and the Georgia people, 1732 to 1860,. Macon, GA: G.G. Smith, 1900.

Thorpe, Francis Newton. “The Georgia Charter” from The Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America Compiled and Edited Under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906. Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1909.

U.S. Geological Survey. Geographic Names Phase I data compilation (1976-1981). 31-Dec-1981. Primarily from U.S. Geological Survey 1:24,000-scale topographic maps (or 1:25K, Puerto Rico 1:20K) and from U.S. Board on Geographic Names files. In some instances, from 1:62,500 scale or 1:250,000 scale maps.

Vorsey, Louis de,Jr. “Maps in Colonial Promotion: James Edward Oglethorpe’s use of Maps in ‘Selling’ the Georgia Scheme.” Imago Mundi 38 (1986): 35-45. Web. 3/28/2014 12:14:25 PM.

Further Reading on Maine:

Attwood, Stanley Bearce. The Length and Breadth of Maine. Maine Studies, no. 96. Orono, ME: University of Maine, 1973.

Burrage, Henry S. Gorges and the grant of the province of Maine, 1622; a tercentenary manual. Portland: Printed for the state, 1923. eBook. HathiTrust.

Burrage, Henry Sweetser. The beginnings of colonial Maine, 1602-1658. Portland: Printed for the state, 1914. eBook. HathiTrust.

Chadbourne, Ava Harriet. Maine Place Names and The Peopling of its Towns. Freeport, ME: The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1957.

Collections of the Maine Historical Society, Vol. III. Portland, ME: Brown Thurston, 1853.

Council for New England. Records of the Council for New England. Cambridge, MA: Press of J. Wilson & son, 1867. Sabin Americana.

Documentary History of the State of Maine, Vol. VII, containing the Farnham Papers 1603-1688. Collections of the Maine Historical Society. Second Series. Compiled by Mary Frances Farnham. Portland, ME: The Thurston Print, 1901.

Douglas-Lithgow, R. Native American Place Names of Maine, New Hampshire, & Vermont. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 2001.

Folsom, George. History of Saco and Biddeford, with notices of other early settlements, and of proprietary governments, in Maine, including the provinces of New Somersetshire and Lygonia. Saco, Printed by A. C. Putnam, 1830. eBook. HathiTrust.

Haven, Samuel F. History of Grants Under the Great Council for New England: a lecture of a course by members of the Massachusetts historical society, delivered before the Lowell institute, Jan. 15, 1869. Boston: Press of J. Wilson and son, 1869. Sabin Americana.

Huden, John C. Indian place names of New England. New York: Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1962. eBook. HathiTrust.

Maine During the Colonial Period: A Bibliographic Guide. Compiled by Clark, Charles E. Maine History Bibliographic Guide Series. Edited by Morris, Gerald E. Portland: Maine Historical Society, 1974.

Reid, John G. Acadia, Maine, and New Scotland : marginal colonies in the seventeenth century. Toronto, Buffalo: Published in association with Huronia Historical Parks, Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation by University of Toronto Press, 1981.

Stein, Mark. How the states got their shapes. New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2008.

Thayer, Henry Otis. The Sagadahoc Colony, comprising the relation of a voyage into New England; (Lambeth ms.) with an introduction and notes. Portland: Printed for the Gorges society, 1892. eBook. Open Content Alliance.

Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. England in America, 1580-1652. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1904. eBook. HathiTrust.

York Deeds, Vol. 1. Portland: John T. Hull, 1887.


Further Reading on Newfoundland:

Conrad, Margaret R. and James K. Hiller. Atlantic Canada: A Region in the Making. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hamilton, William B. Place Names of Atlantic Canada. Toronto:University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Mason, John. “Brief Discourse on Newfoundland.” Edinburgh: Andro Hart, 1620.

Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. “Sponsored Settlement: The Colonization of Newfoundland.” 1997.

“Newfoundland Discovered: English Attempts at Colonisation, 1610-1630.” Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, no. 160. Ed. Gillian T. Cell. London: The Hakluyt Society, 1982.

Prowse, D.W. A History of Newfoundland. 1895.

Story, G.M., ed. Early European Settlement and Exploitation in Atlantic Canada: Selected Papers. Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1982.

Whitbourne, Richard. “A Discourse and Discovery of New-found-land.” London: Felix Kingston, 1620.


Further Reading on the South Sea Company:

Brown, Vera Lee. “The South Sea Company and Contraband Trade.” The American Historical Review 31.4 (1926): 662-78. Web.

Carswell, John. The South Sea Bubble. Gloucestershire: A. Sutton, 1993. Web.

Cooke, Edward, Captain. A Voyage to the South Sea and Round the World in the Years 1708 to 1711. Amsterdam, N. Israel. New York, Da Capo Press 1969], 1969. Web.

Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731. An Essay on the South-Sea Trade Electronic Resource] : With an Enquiry into the Grounds and Reasons of the Present Dislike and Complaint Against the Settlement of a South-Sea Company. London: Printed for J. Baker .., 1711. Web.

Johnston, Douglas M. Pacific Ocean Boundary Problems : Status and Solutions. Ed. Mark J. Valencia. Dordrecht ; Boston; Norwell, MA, U.S.A.: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers; Sold and distributed in the U.S.A. by Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991. Web.

The Mapmaker’s Art : 300 Years of British Cartography : Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, January 17-March 12, 1989. Eds. Elisabeth R. Fairman and Yale Center for British Art. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Center for British Art, 1989. Web.

Moll, Herman, -1732. A View of the Coasts, Countrys & Islands within the Limits of the South-Sea Company Electronic Resource]. … Illustrated with a General Map,and Particular Draughts of the most Important Places, by Herman Moll, Geographer. the Whole Collected from the Best Authors, as Well Manuscript as Printed. London: printed for J. Morphew, 1712. Web.

Morgan, William Thomas. “The South Sea Company and the Canadian Expedition in the Reign of Queen Anne.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 8.2 (1928): 143-66. Web.

Morison, Samuel Eliot, 1887-1976. The Great Explorers : The European Discovery of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Web.

O’Gorman, Edmundo, 1906-1995. The Invention of America; an Inquiry into the Historical Nature of the New World and the Meaning of its History. Bloomington, Indiana University Press 1961], 1961. Web.

Williams, Glyndwr. “the Inexhaustible Fountain of Gold” : English Projects and Ventures in the South Seas, 1670-1750. London: Longman, 1973. /z-wcorg/. Web.

Williams, Glyndwr. The Great South Sea : English Voyages and Encounters, 1570-1750. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997. Web.