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Settling the West

"…turn your face to the Great West, and there build up a home and fortune." — Horace Greeley, quoted in James Parton, The Life of Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune (1855)

By fits and starts, beginning with the colonial settlers, the Eastern population moved west. Despite George III's Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement west of the Alleghenies [Appalachians], the inevitable push away from the East Coast could not be stopped. No longer a paradisiacal land of fable, dream, and imagination, the West was to become for the settlers a workaday world of farms, cities, transportation grids, and national parks, with people drawn there by its very promise of a new life.

However, the land in the West was not uninhabited. Native Americans had occupied the continent for centuries. The earliest maps in this exhibition provide a valuable record of groups no longer extant. Maps also reveal the patterns of displacement that Native Americans faced as they settled around U.S. military forts and were rounded up into "reservations." The reorganization of their monumental, unbounded open space into small, gridded, controlled places defines the "reservation" program of the federal government.

Very evident on the maps in this section is the "township and line survey," established by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia with the Ordinance of 1785, which divided lands into new territories and future states beyond the Appalachians. Very rational and orderly, the grid marches over mountains and down river valleys, maintaining its viselike grasp on the land through the ever-present grid of 36-square-mile "towns." While the overall township grid clearly defined property lines, it also, and even more importantly, gave the federal government control over the land from a distance.

The Seven Ranges of Townships   1
Mathew Carey
The Seven Ranges of Townships, 1814
NYPL, Map Division

Colton's New Sectional Map of the State of Kansas   2
Colton's New Sectional Map of the State of Kansas, 1868
NYPL, Map Division

Birds [sic] Eye View of the City of San Francisco   3
Snow & Roos
Birds [sic] Eye View of the City of San Francisco, 1868
NYPL, Map Division

Refer to Map of the United States and Mexico (1859), which details explorers' trails, transportation routes, and settlement patterns.

Controlling the West Map
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