Chapter 1 examines the first phase of improvement in New York: a project of New York’s class of large landlords and developers. It argues that, far from longing for a lost feudalism, landlords aspired to the status of British aristocratic agricultural modernizers whose status had been expanding across the 18th and into the early 19th century. The chapter traces New York landlords’ involvement in improvement, showing how they established new institutions of agricultural science, commissioning geological surveys, as part of a broader developmental move into seized Haudenosaunee lands. It then shows how, just as the institutions they had established took off, major landlords’ power collapsed in the face of failed speculations and tenant resistance in the Anti-Rent War. Radical tenants, participating in a tradition of British agrarian radicalism, used agricultural fairs as political opportunities and took up improving arguments in their own defense, breaking landlords’ hold over improving institutions.
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