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The French Signeural System The French were also among the earliest European settlers in North America. Their initial area of settlement occurred along the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes area in the early sixteenth century. Later they would explore and lay claim to lands along the Mississippi River down to New Orleans. The French Signeural system was similar to the Spanish system in that it involved the granting of large tracts of land to a single individual who was then responsible for encouraging European settlement. In both instances, there was an effort to replicate the feudal system of nobles and peasants which had dominated Europe for the previous thousand years. The French, however, were less successful than the Spanish in doing this. French Long Lots Another name for the form of land division used by French is the "Long Lot" system. The early French settlers were as much fur trappers as they were agriculturalists. They placed great emphasis on water as a means of transportation and communication. The Signeural would be divided into individual lots for settlement base on the major waterways that passed through it. Land division lines were drawn at right angles to the course of the water. Each plot of land was between about 100 and 600 feet wide facing the river, and extended back about one mile. The settler's house would be near the river end of the land. This way the river could be used for easy access and communication. He would then gradually work the land extending back from the house. In areas of dense settlement, a road would be built at the back of the first row of properties, and a second series of longlots would then be extended for a mile back from the road. French Long Lot agricultural fields in Louisiana Advantages and Disadvantages of French Long Lots The French long lot system was easy to survey and gave each individual settler an equal share of both the best and worst lands located in an area. This system, however, also has its problems. As long as a river is straight, right angle lines will remain parallel to one another even a mile away from the waters edge. When a river bends, as the Mississippi River frequently does, properties take the form of either thin triangles (inside the bend) or broad fans (on the outside of the bend). Furthermore, when a river floods and changes its course, some properties may completely lose access, while others become bisected by the new river channel. This is a common land division problem today in Louisiana. Spanish, French and English approaches to Land Division (each black square is a home) The English Metes and Bounds System English settlement of North America began in the early seventeenth century, some time after the arrival of the Spanish and French. They brought with them a form of land division which had gained wide use in the British Isles. Their form of land division is known as the "metes and bounds" system. Metes and bounds means "measurements and boundaries." A typical metes and bounds land deed would define the property boundaries as: Beginning with the Large White Oak 13 poles above the Sinking Spring, or Rock Spring, Running thence North 9 1/2 degrees East, 310 poles to a stake in John Taylor's field, thence South 89 1/2 degrees East, 310 poles to two Blackjacks, then North 89 1/2 degrees East, 155 poles to the beginning. This example is from the property deed for land on which Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in Kentucky. The boundaries of the property are irregular and based on natural features in the landscape. Most of the eastern portion of the US from the Appalachian plateaus to the coast was divided using this land survey system. Streets patterns and county lines throughout much of the Atlantic Coast reflect the irregularity of the metes and bounds system. The systems of land division was used in only rare circumstances in the Midwest and west of the Mississippi River. Problems with the Metes and Bounds System A major problem with this system is that trees, rivers, field stakes, and other markers are impermanent, thereby making later verification of boundary lines a problem. Similar problems occurred with poorly written Spanish land grants in the West. The resolution of land division disputes, caused by informal early land division systems, still often requires courtroom adjudication. The Spanish Land Grants The Spanish "Land Grant" system in Mexico involved the granting of extremely large (thousands of acres) tracts of land to single individuals who were then responsible for organizing the native population and encouraging Spanish settlement of the land. In New Spain (Mexico) this was known as the "encomienda" system. Throughout Latin America, this system has resulted in a very small group of individuals owning most of the more productive land, while large numbers of peasants are landless. The second Mexican revolution (1911) instituted a major land redistribution program, creating communal peasant "ejidos" out of former land grants. Other Middle American countries, however, have been less successful in redistributing large Spanish land-grant lands. The Hacienda System By the time the Spanish reached the Southwestern United States, the older encomienda system had been replaced by the "hacienda" system. The process was essentially the same under the new system, but size of the land grants were made smaller (a few hundred acres), because land was becoming less available. Within the hacienda, a village would be established, usually located where an adequate water source was available. The village would be set up based on the Spanish "Law of the Seas" guidelines established by King Philip II of Spain in the late 16th century. These guidelines called for a communal square at the center of the town, with the Catholic Church facing it. A grid street pattern surrounded the square and church. Residents lived within the village and would work the surrounding lands. This street pattern can still be seen in many of the villages of New Mexico and in the border areas of California, Arizona, and Texas. Modern Impacts of Spanish Land Grants The large hacienda land grants can be found in California and New Mexico, where they form political boundaries and have enabled the development of large residential subdivisions in the twentieth century. It is much easier and cheaper to purchase a single large tract of land, such as a former hacienda, to build a subdivision than it is to purchase numerous small parcels and combine them together. The use of haciendas in this way has been particularly important in the Los Angeles basin area. The Jeffersonian Ethic and the US Public Land Survey (USPLS) Part of the requirement for a state to join the newly formed United States of America was to transfer all non-private land holding to the federal government. (Texas was the only state that did not do this when it joined the Union.) Thomas Jefferson chaired a commission responsible for the redistribution and settlement of Federal lands. Jefferson held distinct ideas regarding land and society. He believed that the ideal society was one of self-supporting farm families. This is known as the "Jeffersonian Ethic," and was a widely held attitude in the early colonies. In order to create such a society, he established the US Public Land Survey system (USPLS) in 1787. (USPLS is sometimes referred to as the Public Land Survey System, PLSS) USPLS Townships and Sections The USPLS required that all Federal lands be surveyed before they can be sold and settled. Survey lines must be in a north-south and east-west directions. A series of base points were established across the US from which survey lines were measured. This system is also known as the "township and range" survey system. A "township" line was located every six miles north and south from the base point, while a "range" line occurs every six miles east and west of the base point. Each six mile by six mile "township" square is further divided into 36 one mile by one mile "section" squares. (Townships were based on the early English townships, which were six mile by six mile areas controlled by a single settlement.) USPLS diagram The largest grouping is the township which is named in reference to a Principal Meridian (P.M.) and a Baseline. T2N, R1E refers to Township 2 North (of the Baseline), Range 1 East (of the Principal Meridian). Settlement Patterns of Central and Western US The USPLS facilitated the settlement of the central and western US (an identical system was used for surveying Western Canada.) The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any head of a household who was 21 years old or older to have a quarter-section of land at a nominal fee (essentially for free), if it was settled and worked for 5 years. The USPLS only applied to unsettled lands and had little impact on the eastern states. The USPLS grid system is interrupted in areas where earlier, preexisting land division systems were present, such as in California and Louisiana. In addition, surveying errors in some locations have resulted in township and section lines that do not align with the cardinal directions.