Welcome to Mapping Sovereignty! 

Cod fishing station 1698The purpose of this project was to bring together students in a unique environment in order to investigate the contours and uses of British colonial charters during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the course of studying these early modern documents, we discovered that the charters serve a variety of purposes, including: allowing for discretion on the part of the settlers and charter granters in a world of imperfect information, as witnessed in the Georgia project, where territorial boundaries were initially unspecified; serving as the basis for evidentiary claims in colonial land disputes, as seen in the debate over the Connecticut/Rhode Island border; and cementing old world claims to new world locales as evidenced by the first charter we examined, Newfoundland, which claimed to project the power of monarchy in a new location.

As witnessed above, these Charters served a variety of purposes: some that were mutually reinforcing, some that were not. They delineated boundaries among English as well as foreign subjects in an attempt to establish a regime of land control familiar to European eyes. Charters established ambiguous boundaries and claims to sovereignty not only with respect to the indigenous peoples of the world outside Europe but also with respect to other Europeans as well as among the English themselves.

In each case we examined, the charters served to facilitate the desire of states to control areas that they did not fully understand. These documents would have tremendous impact on the unfolding of the legal systems of the colonies that would later become the nation-states of the modern era.

Paper substituted for manpower in the vast expanses of North America where British colonialism was beginning to take hold.