I have changed the subject of this thread (previously Townships of Frugality, Enterprise, etc.) to reflect the new turn this discussion has taken.
    I checked some of the legislation authorizing the surveying and sale of land in central and western New York during the 1780s.  I would direct your attention particularly to "An Act for the Speedy Sale of the Unappropriated Lands within this State" (Ninth Session, Cap LXVII, May 5, 1786) and "An Act to Appropriate the Lands Set Apart to the Use of the Troops of the Line of this State Lately Serving in the Army of the United States" (Twelfth Session, Chap. 44, Feb. 28, 1789).
    Both of these laws refer repeatedly to the creation of "townships," not towns.  This confirms my impression that the term "township" was widely used at the time to refer to the rectangular blocks of land that were being surveyed.  It also suggest that there was more going on here than the simple confusion of New York towns with New England townships.
    Part of the story, I am sure, has to do with the adoption of the rectangular survey system by the federal government during these years.  The New York system bears many similarities to the federal system, which can be traced back in large part to the theories of Thomas Jefferson.  As early as 1779, Jefferson had presented to the Virginia legislature a proposal to "lay off every county into hundreds of townships of 5. or 6. miles square." (quoted by Andro Linklater, The Fabric of America, 47).  Jefferson was no admirer of New England, and thought he found a precedent in "Saxon" practice.  Behind Jefferson's proposal there was the widespread protest of farmers in many colonies/states about the inconvenience and expense of having to travel to do business at the seats of the huge counties which then existed.  This problem certainly would also have existed in upstate New York, where there were only two or three counties.
    Individuals like George Clinton and Simeon De Witt, who would have influenced the New York legislation, were very much aware of the theories of Jefferson and of the federal rectangular survey system, which would have been at least as important in their thinking as the New England township system.
    What actually developed in New York seems to have been the result of a complex mixture of factors.  In most cases, the surveyed "townships" did not turn into governmental units of any kind (either towns or townships).  In Jefferson's utopian vision, they would have, but the situation in New York caused things to take a different turn.  Some townships (such as Frugality and Enterprise) existed only on paper.  Some surveyed townships indeed became the basis of towns.  The form that the new towns took probably did owe something to the influence of New England townships, as well as to New York's colonial system of town government.  Demographic and economic patterns frequently overrode the surveyed township lines in the creation of new towns.  Finally, the creation of smaller counties and improvements in transportation solved many of the problems that underlay the original call for the creation of townships as functioning units of government.
    At least that is roughly the way it looks to me at the moment.  I am no expert on local government, and doubtless my sketch can be improved.  But I am convinced that the evolution of towns and townships in early New York is much more complicated and interesting than previously thought.  More research needs to be done on this subject.
David Allen
Encinitas, CA

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