A Cataloger's Perspective: Mapping North America Part II

A Cataloger's Perspective: Mapping North America Part II    by Jon Dotson

In our April newsletter, we provided readers with a list of key features to consider when cataloging 16th-18th century maps of North America.  The current May installment is a continuation of this list extending through the 19th century.  While the key theme of early American maps focuses primarily on determining "fact versus fiction," later maps delve into a combination of both physical and political geography that evolved over time.  We hope you find it useful when examining your next map 19th century map of North America!
Evolution of the Pacific Northwest Coastline
One of the only remaining mysteries of the North American coastline in the late 18th century was the Pacific Northwest.  Vitus Bering made two journeys earlier in the century (1728 and 1741) and had correctly determined that America and Asia were in fact separated by a strait, but his understanding of the coastline was very limited.  It wasn't until the explorations of Captain Cook (1778-79) and George Vancouver (1792-94) that the northwest coastline was depicted with accuracy.  The majority of maps up to the middle of the 18th century leave this region completely blank or cleverly obstructed by a cartouche or inset.  Maps issued shortly thereafter begin to show Alaska as a series of islands (based upon Bering) and finally as a continuous coastline.
Pacific Northwest occupied only by a title cartouche. Thomas Kitchin, North America Drawn from the Latest and Best Authorities, 1787.
Alaska represented as a series of islands. Thomas Bowen, A New & Accurate Map of North America..., 1776.
Updated version of Bowen's map showing a full and relatively accurate coastline. Thomas Bowen, A New & Accurate Map of North America Including Nootka Sound, 1794.

Filling in the Details (Western Interior)
At the onset of the American Revolution, the interior of the American continent east of the Mississippi River was relatively well understood.  Further to the west, however, internal details were limited at best.  Maps from this time period would either be completely void of detail or reference old Spanish names including Quivira and Cibola.  In the United States, it wasn't until the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that the government took interest in western exploration.  Two major American expeditions (along with Canada's Alexander MacKenzie) were responsible for the first maps based upon actual surveys: Lewis & Clark in the Northwest and Zebulon Pike in the Southwest.  Both provided fresh insights on the topography of the land, the river systems, and the numerous Indian tribes in the regions that transformed contemporary mapmaking.
A completely blank canvas in the West. Christian Reichard, Charte von Nordamerica nach den neuesten Bestimmungen und Entdeckungen, 1802.
New detail emerges in the Northwest.  Lewis & Clark, A Map of Lewis and Clark's Track Across the Western Portion of North America, 1817 (London).
The Southwest is no longer a Spanish secret. Zebulon Pike, A Map of the Internal Provinces of New Spain, 1810.

These two expeditions laid the cartographic foundation for years to come, and were augmented by numerous other government expeditions of the west throughout the century.  During the 1840s, John Fremont was responsible for much of the improved cartography in the Great Basin.  Among his many accomplishments was proving that there were no river outlets in the Great Basin.  This included the mythical Buenaventura River that is often depicted running across the basin, over the Sierra Nevadas, and emptying into the Pacific.  By the 1880s government surveys were so advanced and detailed that they were mapping lands west of the 100th meridian at a staggering 8 miles per inch.
Depiction of the mythical Buenaventura rivers in the Great Basin. SDUK, Central America II. Including Texas, California and the Northern States of Mexico, 1842.
The first accurate portrayal of the Upper Great Basin. John Fremont, Map of Oregon and Upper California..., 1848.
Colored regions indicate detailed surveys completed and in progress. George Wheeler, Progress Map of the U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian, 1881.

Boundary Disputes
The most significant boundary disputes in the mid-18th century concerned the region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.  With the English colonies dominating the eastern seaboard and the French making inroads along the Mississippi River, it was only a matter of time before war broke out to determine control of this then-frontier region.  While the English eventually won the war, each side used maps to assert their political position and are frequently found on period maps as evidenced by the following:
A French perspective of the Trans-Allegheny West. Delisle/Covens & Mortier, Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours du Mississipi..., 1730.
The English response reaches to the Mississippi. Herman Moll, ...This Map of North America According to ye Newest and Most Exact Observations..., 1755.

This notion of mapping as a political tool continued into the 19th century and is evidenced by the numerous disputes along the United States/Canada border, none of which were more contentious than the 54°40' fight for Oregon Country.  Led by expansionist President James Polk, most American-produced maps show the boundary well into present-day British Columbia, while the British view generally presented the border far to the south along the Columbia River.  While they eventually comprised in the middle, the two positions result in very different maps:
A French map embracing the American interpretation of the boundary. Victor Levasseur, Amerique Septentrionale, 1843.
The British view along the Columbia River. James Wyld, Map of North America..., 1843.

Changing Borders
Nothing typifies 19th century American mapping more than the ever-changing political boundaries.  It would be impossible to describe them all in detail here (there are entire books dedicated to the topic), but the most significant changes you will find concern the West.  The Adam-Onis Treaty of 1819 (another boundary dispute!) between the United States and Spain ceded Florida to the United States and defined Spanish interests as all lands west of the Sabine River in Texas and along the 42nd parallel in the north.  This configuration lasted until Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836.  The Republic of Texas is typically represented in one of two ways - either in its largest "stovepipe" configuration reaching into present-day Colorado or in the smaller presentation with its southern border shown along the Nueces River.  After the U.S. victory during the Mexican-American War in 1848, the entire Southwest became a U.S. possession.  Maps issued shortly thereafter would usually label these new lands as "Upper California" or "New California."
Texas in its largest configuration and Upper California engulfing the Southwest. Carl Christian Radefeld, Nord-Americanische Freistaaten, 1849.
The Republic of Texas in its smaller configuration. David Burr, The United States of Mexico, 1837.

The acquisition of these vast tracts of western lands created new opportunities for migration, and the influx of settlers required new territories to be established.  During the second half of the 19th century these territories would shift in both shape and name in a very fluid manner, and are well documented in commercial atlas maps including the likes of Mitchell, Johnson and Colton to name a few.  Some of the more interesting configurations include the inverted "L" shaped Washington Territory, Nevada Territory without its southern tip (Las Vegas), and the confederate Territory of Arizona.  Maps of this time period are very popular among American map collectors for their unusual shapes and relative availability.
Inverted "L" shaped Washington Territory. Johnson & Ward, Johnson's New Military Map of the United States..., 1861.
The Confederate Territory of Arizona. Johnson & Browning, Johnson's California Territories of New Mexico and Utah, 1861.

Short-lived States
Very popular among collectors and often hard to find, short-lived states appear on only a handful of maps from the late 18th to early 20th century.  While we covered nine "almost" states in an earlier newsletter (see the July 2018 & August 2018 newsletters for more background), three of the most popular are Franklin (1785, Tennessee), Deseret (1849, Utah), and Sequoyah (1905, Oklahoma).  Each petitioned the U.S. Government for statehood, but were turned down by Congress.  Of this group, Franklin is the most frequently found state and is documented on 33 different maps from 1786-1823 (see our State of Franklin carto-bibliography).  Maps presenting Deseret appear on only a handful of German publications from 1850-1852, and there is only a single map showing the proposed Indian state of Sequoyah.
The proposed state of Franklin in eastern Tennessee. Joseph Purcell, A Map of the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, 1792.
The Mormon state of Deseret. Joseph Meyer, Neueste Karte von Mexico…, 1850.
Proposed state of Sequoyah by the Five Indian Nations in Oklahoma. U.S. Government, State of Sequoyah, 1905.

More to Come
Stay tuned for our next article in our "cataloger's perspective" series that examines key features for maps of Asia.
Burden, Philip, The Mapping of North America (Volumes I and II), Raleigh Publications, 1996-2007.

Dotson, Eliane & Baker, Kenneth,  Carto-Bibliography of Engraved Maps Depicting the State of Franklin, Old World Auctions, March 2019.
Goss, John, The Mapping of North America - Three Centuries of Map-Making 1500-1860, The Wellfleet Press, 1990.
McAlhany, Joseph, Nine US States You've Never Heard of, Old World Auctions Newsletter, July/August 2018.
Portinaro, Pierluigi & Knirsch, Franco, The Cartography of North America 1500-1800, Facts on File Inc., 1987.
Ristow, Walter, American Maps and Mapmakers - Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century, Wayne State University Press, 1985.