Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James Axtell


As Europeans expanded across North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they parceled their territorial acquisitions into a variety of administrative subdivisions. Naming and dividing the land became an integral part of the project of colonization; the conquest of territory involved the transformation of unknown places into clearly defined jurisdictions. This dissertation examines the invention of one jurisdiction, the state of Maine, viewing the evolution of its borders as a reflection of the growth of state power in the region. Seeing an inextricable link between social and territorial boundaries, it ties the development of the territory of Maine to the formation of an alliance between property owners and English governments. The alliance promoted a vision of territoriality in which the land was divided into clearly marked jurisdictions exclusively governed by particular towns, counties, and provinces. These jurisdictions, in turn, granted and protected clearly marked estates that were the exclusive property of individuals; property rights and state sovereignty reinforced one another. This English system of territoriality competed with other visions of the land attached to different social arrangements. to Native Wabanakis, the right to use the land flowed from membership in fictive kin groups that included both human beings and the spirits of surrounding animals and natural features. French colonial officials treated their possessions adjacent to the Gulf of Maine as a network of military, economic, and missionary outposts that upheld the authority of church and state in a peripheral region. English notions of territoriality gained precedence over others because the alliance between property owners and the state facilitated the large-scale mobilization of human and material resources in trade and warfare. Far from being unproblematic facts of the environment, Maine's boundaries are the physical traces of a historical process in which English colonists acquired vast quantities of natural resources at the expense of their French and Indian rivals. to give legitimacy to these conquests, the colonists promoted a form of state sovereignty characteristic of English-speaking North America: the land, under this system of territoriality, was construed as a measurable object to be possessed and exchanged by individuals.



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