Although this blogger doesn’t pretend to understand the complexities of civil subdivisions and local government in the northern States, one can state with reasonable accuracy that townships (some States refer to them as towns) have been an important geopolitical unit for several hundred years in New England. In North Carolina, the county has been the basic geopolitical subdivision since the establishment of Albemarle County in 1664. Yet we also have townships. Where did they come from and what use are they?
Townships in North Carolina were a direct result of the post-war federal occupation government. A new State constitution, adopted in 1868, sought to place more local political control under elected officials rather than appointed officials. A great review of the history of North Carolina townships was provided in 2009 by Ben Steelman of the Wilmington StarNews. You can read it here.
A. Webster Shaffer, a New Yorker, was an officer in the U.S. Army when sent to Raleigh in 1866. He apparently liked it here. Two decades later, he was still residing in Raleigh when he published “The first Township map of North Carolina ever issued.” It’s quite curious that Shaffer would perceive a need for a township map in 1886. Granted, townships were a relatively new concept to North Carolina, but less than 20 years after their legislative creation by the 1868 constitution, townships were already insignificant from a political perspective. Native North Carolinians had regained control of the legislature by 1875 when another constitutional convention wrote amendments, subsequently approved by voters, that essentially abolished any governmental functions of the township. Yet ~140 years later, North Carolina still has its townships, used primarily for locating tax listings and voting precincts.
Shaffer’s Township Map of North Carolina was published as a 40 x 75 inch wall map at a scale of 7 miles to the inch, and as a slightly smaller pocket map at a scale of 10 miles to the inch. An example of the latter is in the North Carolina Collection at UNC-CH, and can be viewed on line here. Although most counties named their townships, a few (e.g. Forsyth County) originally just numbered them:
Was Shaffer’s map truly the first township map of North Carolina, as he claimed? We may have to get a legal ruling, but I’d be inclined to agree with him. Eleven years earlier, George Cram published Cram’s Rail Road & Township Map of North and South Carolina, but one might spend an eternity trying to find any townships on the map (detail below from 1875 & 1882 editions) :
Shaffer’s certainly wasn’t the last township map of the State. Tunison’s new Railroad, Distance and Township map of North Carolina and South Carolina, published in 1900, shows individually handcolored townships:
Please put “Tunison map colorist” on the list of jobs I’d prefer to avoid.
The following are a few paragraphs, pertaining to the creation of civil townships, from Article VII of the original handwritten 1868 constitution, available at http://www.secretary.state.nc.us/pubsweb/ncconst.aspx.
Internet references, valid as of May 2013:
http://nyheritage.nnyln.net/cdm/singleitem/collection/nysmm/id/1416 (photo of Shaffer)
http://goo.gl/zkCSM (Shaffer’s bankruptcy)