In Connecticut it is known as the Southwick Jog, that divot chipped from the flat plane of the state's northern boundary with Massachusetts. Also known simply as "the Notch", it is not an accidental artifact of some tipsy surveyor's perambulations, but rather the result of a series of border adjustments dating back to Connecticut's colonial charter, and lingering conflicts that are still able to provoke dispute today.
Today's Hartford Courant reports:
"The latest dispute over the section of Massachusetts that pierces Connecticut's northern border focuses on proposed fees for use of Congamond Lake. West Suffield residents who live on the lake may have to start paying the town of Southwick, Mass., in the spring under a permitting program for docks and boats.
Officially, the lake is entirely within Massachusetts, but Suffield and Southwick officials disagree on how the shifting water level affects the fee proposal."
The story was quirkie enough to get picked up by the Associated Press, which adds: "Suffield officials say the lake has risen since a 1913 survey, putting its eastern side within Connecticut's borders."
Whether or not 170 Connecticut residents have to pay another state for their dock and boat permits may not seem like a big news story, but New England is a land of small horizons and little towns that fiercely guard their rights to home rule and self determination, especially in contrast to their neighbors. Low density shooting wars erupted along New England's borders with New York in the 1700s and not just where Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys held sway in the Hampshire Grants that in time would become Vermont (and Ethan, let it be remembered, was a local Connecticut boy from the Litchfield Hills before he struck out for the Champlain).
The University of Connecticut's Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC) maintains a wonderful on- line collection of historic maps of New England, such as the one from 1811 that appears at the top of the page and most of those which follow. In the early days of colonial cartography, not only the interior features of North America but also its nascent geopolitical boundaries were depicted with less precision and a good deal less accuracy than the folds of the coastline that were so important to get right for navigation.
Compounding the confusion were Colonial charters that granted overlapping territory, and claims which extended far to the west. Connecticut's charter curved in an almost unbroken swath to the Mississippi, which prompted the creation of the state's Western Reserve in Ohio and the establishment of Connecticut settlements in the Wyoming Valley of northeastern Pennsylvania. More closer to home, there were bitter arguments concerning the boundaries with Massachusetts and New York that had their origins with the very early European settlement of those regions. According to a website maintained by the Connecticut State Library;
In 1642 Massachusetts hired two surveyors, Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffery, to survey the boundary between that colony and Connecticut. However, the point they established as the western end of the line was disputed by Connecticut and ultimately found to be eight miles too far south. According to a pamphlet in our vertical file, for the next 60 years, "surveyors hired by either Connecticut or Massachusetts set a number of boundaries favorable to the colony that employed them. The only result of these surveys was increased animosity between the two colonies. Even a joint survey in 1702 did little to settle the affair.
To complicate matters, the citizens of Enfield, Somers, Suffield and Woodstock, unhappy with Massachusetts' high taxes, applied for admission into Connecticut in 1724. These towns claimed they were included within Connecticut's original boundaries and were entitled to return to that state."
Naturally, Massachusetts refused to give them up, but in 1749 Connecticut voted to acquire them. A verbal battle raged for years, reaching crisis proportions. Appeals to England were ignored, since that country was embroiled in the Seven Years' War."
In 1768, Massachusetts laid formal claim to the four towns; however, Connecticut did nothing about the edict and continued to govern them."
Following the Revolutionary War, in 1793, both states appointed Boundary Commissioners to run a straight boundary from Union, Connecticut to the New York state line. In 1797 the Commissioners recommended that a disputed 2.5 square mile tract be awarded to Massachusetts as compensation for its earlier losses of Suffield, Woodstock, Somers, and Enfield to Connecticut. However, it was not until 1804 that Connecticut agreed to yet another compromise that partitioned the 2.5 mile area at Congamond Lakes with Massachusetts receiving 5/8 of the disputed parcel along the west shore and Connecticut receiving the remainder, along the east shore.
I love the fact that the 1794 map at right, above - created when the commissioners were determining how (and ultimately failed) to run a straight line between Massachuseets and Connecticut - identifies the state to the north of "the Land of Steady Habits" as New Hampshire! It also shows the western boundary of Connecticut to the state's advantage during a similar argument with New York that it ulimately had to cede to the Empire State. The Town of Enfield that went to Connecticut under the new boundary agreement was replaced by another Enfield that lay in a Central Massachusetts valley that is now flooded by the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir, and whose remaining high ground was deeded over to neighboring communities.
Geopolitical boundaries often have little relation to ecological ones. And if a tax revolt were to occur in Granby against the tyranny of Southwick, it is not like this has not happened here before. Now where shall we dump the tea?