ABSTRACT

While the close ties between colonial New York's lawyers and great proprietors has been oft-noted, how exactly provincial lawyers supported monopolistic land acquisition has yet to be fully examined. New York's abundance of unsettled land, combined with economic and demographic growth in the eighteenth century, created vast opportunities for speculative ventures. Legal expertise was crucial in making each step of such ventures work. New York lawyers were proficient in using land documents, surveys, and formal court procedures to their clients' advantage. Further, by evaluating and enhancing the value and security of property, facilitating the profitable selling and leasing of land, and suppressing challenges from rebellious tenants and squatters, lawyers allowed speculators to take controlled risks while maximizing profit. By helping wealthy land grabbers gain competitive advantage over rival claimants and settlers both in and out of courts, lawyers greatly contributed to the continued concentration of land-based wealth in New York.

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