By the time of the adoption of the Dongan Charter in 1686, Albany's political subdivisions called "wards" already had been defined. At that time, the city had three wards and ward designations were referenced in the earliest municipal matters.
At this point, we know of no other written description of the boundaries of the individual wards. The earliest known "ward lines" appeared on the development version of the city map made by Simeon De Witt about 1790.
By that time, however, ward lines were pretty well established and caused little official concern. Simply put, Albany people knew the ward in which they lived! Ward-level residency lists can be derived from the census of 1790 and from freeholders lists such as the one presented for 1720. For most of the eighteenth century, we believe the boundaries were as follows:
The First Ward
The FIRST WARD encompassed all property south of and including both sides of State Street (principally on State and Court streets, in "Cheapside" or Southside, at the foot of Gallows Hill, and into the "Pastures" that also would be known as the South End). For much of the eighteenth-century, about half the city's people lived in the first ward. As South Pearl Street became more developed after the Seven Years War, settlement spread south through the Hallenbeck family tract, across Lydius Street, and later into the Pastures. The first ward included the Ruttenkill and the Beaverkill, Schuyler Mansion, and ended at Albany's southern boundary - near today's Second Avenue. By the early nineteenth century, the city's population growth in the "South End" caused additional wards to be defined.
The Second Ward
The SECOND WARD encompassed property west of and including North Pearl Street and north of but not including State Street. Actually, the eastern ward line appeared to run along Middle Alley. The Second Ward chiefly represented Pearl Street and the lesser streets (Chapel, Lodge, Pine, Steuben, Columbia, and Maiden Lane located up the hill. Fox and Orange Streets above Pearl and the mostly unsettled land west of Pearl and North of the King's Highway (Lion Street) were technically part of the Second Ward.
The Third Ward
The THIRD WARD included property east of Pearl and north of State streets (chiefly along both sides of Market Street and down to the river). A number of contemporaty diagrams depict houselots on Market Street. This area sometimes was referred to as the North End.
Generally speaking, early Albany's First Ward had twice as many people as the Third Ward which had twice as many people as the Second Ward. Generally speaking, that is! The benchmark census of 1790 counted 1,612 people in the First Ward; 878 people in the Second Ward; and 1,004 inhabitants in the Third Ward.
Today, the city of Albany has fifteen wards as most of its people live outside of the original settlement area.