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American Monthly Magazine
WASHINGTON, D. C., JANUARY, 1899.
THE GEOGRAPHY AND POLITICAL BOUNDARIES
Honorable Governor and Gentlemen: There are a few facts which I beg leave to remind you of, and to realize their full significance it is necessary to review in a brief manner the early discoveries and settlement of this new world. It was nearly one hundred years after the discovery of Columbus, before the idea became generally accepted that it was a continent. Discovery and exploration had been mainly confined to the shore of the oceans, the rim of a vast terra incognita, the last vestige of this vacancy has barely been cleared away from the maps during our day.
The sixteeenth century closed with but two foreign settlements within the present limits of the United States. St. Augustine, in Florida, was founded in 1565, and Santa Fé, in Yew Mexico, in 1580. The former was a new settlement, in all respects, while Santa Fé was the occupation of an Indian pueblo, under a new name. Both were settlements of the Spaniards.
This condition of the geographical knowledge of this continent continued for another hundred years. The navigator had traced with somewhat more detail the capes and bays of the coast, but the mouths of but few of the great rivers had been determined. The Spaniards in search of the "Seven
A paper read before the Society of Colonial Wars, District of Columbia, January 28, 1897. Accompanied by an exhibit of maps.
Cities of Cibola" had penetrated by a single route the western deserts, or followed timidly from Santa Fé a few Indian trails, when the seventeenth century opened with “the coming of the nations."
The further consideration of the main subject in hand can be better understood by a brief reference to the “lay of the land,” of the eastern portion of the country, to be occupied by the colonies of Plymouth and Virginia. It can be resolved into three generalized geographical provinces, each having an important influence upon the final result of the struggles of the various nations for absolute power and control.
The first would include the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the beginning of the gently ascending slopes to the foot of the mountains. This region is more marked and its breadth rapidly increases as we proceed southward from the mouth of the Hudson River, and is known as the “Coastal Plains," including altogether a vast expanse of alluvial and fertile territory north of the Gulf of Mexico and to, and including, the lower valley of the Rio Grande. The rivers which traverse it are deep, having a slow current with all the characteristics of bays and estuaries. The head of the tide, or of practicable navigation, is situated far inland; the shores are fertile and attractive, and at that period, when all the means of transportation were confined to the water, it afforded a most promising territory for settlement. The products of the field could be directly loaded upon sea-going ships, or merchandise and other articles of commerce were as simply handled and received. The natural boundary of these plains is marked by the point in each of the rivers and streams where their character suddenly changes to that of a swift, turbulent current, with occasional falls and rapids. From this "fall-line," there is a gradual ascent to the foot of the mountains. To traverse this region roads or trails had to be cut with great labor and care. The pack-horse took the place of the ship, and the broad roadstead was narrowed to an Indian trail. This Piedmont province and the mountain land for our purpose may be considered as one. Although divided by long and beautiful valleys in the eastern portion, its western slopes comprise a maze of broken table-lands, from the terrace and spurs of which the early pioneer looked down upon the vast and almost illimitable valley of the great interior province drained by the tributaries of the mighty Mississippi.
This mountain land was a veritable barrier to the settler upon the coast. It was the stronghold of resolute, revengeful, implacable Indian nations, forming alliances to torment a common enemy, and then broken to carry out the impulses of individual resentment and hate.
To the northwest, lying in with the trend of its western slope, were the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, from which it was but a short portage to the waters of the Ohio. This was the highway of the nation of France, and it led to the Gulf of Mexico; in the rear of the mountain land flanking the English, Swedes and Dutch.
The results of maritime discovery and exploration, although indefinite, yet gave a future basis of national claims of territory and jurisdiction. Some attempts at permanent control resulted disastrously. Philip II, of Spain, in 1561, declared there should be no further attempts to colonize either the Gulf or Atlantic coasts. Yet, a bitter struggle immediately followed between the Spanish and the Huguenots, resulting in the founding of St. Augustine, and affording the French a claim to the coast and interior, known as "French Florida," lying between the Cape Fear and Altamaha Rivers, and possibly infringing upon the future domain of Virginia.
Also, Henry the IV, of France, in 1603, made the grant, known as the “charter of Acadia,” which embraced all that portion of North America between the fortieth and forty-sixth degrees of north latitude. Port Royal was founded in 1604, but ended in failure soon after.
In 1606, King James I, of England, granted the "First Charter of Virginia,” comprising a strip one hundred miles wide along the Atlantic coast, and between 34° and 45° north latitude, including the islands adjacent thereto. This was divided between two commercial companies, the London and Plymouth, the former to occupy the land between 34° and 41°, the latter between 38° and 45°. Thus there was an