Community Knowledge and Its Collapse: History of an Early American Property Regime

Maureen (Molly) E. Brady

University of Virginia - School of Law

November 22, 2013

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, American colonists often planned new towns and cities without the use of formal institutions or comprehensive plans. The plans produced by these methods sprouted up in town after town: oddly-shaped farm lots and irregular street grids dominated the landscapes of early cities like Boston, New York, and Hartford. Although scholars and theorists have roundly criticized the informality of these early property systems, no one has explored their inner workings – or when and how these regimes changed to resemble the formal and comprehensive property systems we use today. This paper tells the story of the property regime of one early American city – New Haven, Connecticut – that was built without the benefit of formal legal institutions. It examines the critical role of the close-knit community in land distribution, street planning, land transactions, and property litigation in early New England, and it explores how New Haven moved toward a more formal regime as its increasing population put significant strain on the old ways. Though informal property regimes may not be normatively desirable in the long term, original research in this study suggests that these systems undeniably worked for the small colonial populations they served and that they were able to adapt under the pressure of a growing populace.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 37

Keywords: Legal history, urban planning, urban law, urban legal history, land demarcation, economic development

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Date posted: November 24, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Brady, Maureen (Molly) E., Community Knowledge and Its Collapse: History of an Early American Property Regime (November 22, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2358632 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2358632

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Maureen (Molly) E. Brady (Contact Author)
University of Virginia - School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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