The concept of real estate was certainly different when a group of English Puritans arrived at Plymouth Rock in the fall of 1620. But in some ways, it was remarkably similar. Here are a number of fun facts about how settlers approached land in 17th century America.
Who owns the land?
When the Pilgrims and other settlers arrived in the New World, determining who owned the land that they wanted to settle was not always simple. Even if Native Americans were not living on a given piece of land, it was often still important to them to use for hunting or other purposes. Furthermore, sometimes settlers would negotiate a land purchase with one tribe only to find out later that the transition was not recognized by another tribe with an interest in the land.
Pilgrims also did not believe in individual property. Instead, they sought out land to share among the community. In addition, unlike many Americans today, Pilgrims had very humble attitudes towards homes. Indeed, having a large, well-appointed home was seen as spending too much time on acquiring material goods at the expense of fortifying your inner, spiritual home.
Land as a gift
The first big real estate interests in the U.S. were often nobles or other VIPs who were granted land by the king of England. It was a pretty sweet deal for these first landowners –– they got the land for free and then were able to sell it off at an enormous profit as demand for it began to grow. Remember William Penn from your high school history class? He was one of the “New World’s” earliest real estate entrepreneurs who received a large portion of land as a settlement of a debt from King Charles II. While he never actually moved to America, he helped settle the colony we now call Pennsylvania today; he also went on to found Philadelphia and establish an early form of Democracy to govern his growing colony.
Land doesn’t stay free forever
Just like a rapidly-growing city, the land in America that the Pilgrims encountered was soon part of a market of buyers and sellers. Land speculators sought to seize land with the hope that an increase in residents to the New World would render it more profitable. While the Pilgrims may have originally sought a world free from the economic forces of supply and demand, other Europeans moving to America soon brought that system with them.
Where there is money, land is valuable
As is the case today, land was largely valued based on its potential for economic value. That meant land that was close to the sea or other water routes that would allow the easy flow of goods were more desirable and thus more costly to acquire.
Property lines were very, very vague
Back when America was sparsely populated, most farmers never considered putting up a fence to keep their livestock on their property. Their pigs and cows grazed freely and were later rounded up when needed. Gradually, as certain areas became more densely populated, city and state governments began passing laws requiring people to keep their livestock on their own property.