Maps and Imagination in Eighteenth-Century Anglo-America
by: Robert Paulett
In March 1775, William Mylne packed his bags and headed north. A Scottish engineer whose bridges had a bad habit of falling down, Mylne tried to start over as a farmer in Georgia only to fail at that as well. Hoping for better opportunities in a northern city, Mylne struck out across South Carolina on horseback. Coming to a crossroads, the rider consulted a map to decide which road to take.
“I had rode about twenty miles when the road parted in two, I took out a map I had of this province to examine which to take, the crumpling of the paper startled the horse, who leaped out fairly below me. After I got up I saw him galloping through the woods; at a mile’s distance he came out again to the road, a traveller catched him and brought him back. My saddle bags in his career had come of[f], I now thought I should be obliged to return as the few shirts I had were there. I went into the woods, tracing the tract he had taken as near as I could, by the greatest good fortune after an hours search I found them. I now proceeded on my journey to Georgetown, which I reached in two days and a half, most of the land all the way very indifferent, being pine barren except in some places where there were indigo plantations.” (Mylne, 61)
Mylne’s sad but amusing anecdote belongs near the beginning of a long strain of American humor based on travelers getting lost in strange places while struggling to follow a map. It also highlights how the eighteenth century witnessed a transition in the ways Europeans made, used, and thought about maps of North America. Mylne’s journey revealed the humor involved in a culture coming to grips with the distance between the imagined landscapes of maps and the lived reality of travel in late colonial America. But the transition was more than just a funny story. As Anglo-Americans changed the way they related maps to movement, they set the stage for centuries of American mapping to come.
The eighteenth century marked several important shifts in mapmaking and map use in England and its American colonies. Earlier views of cartographic history have marked this century as the era when science began its triumph over art in the production of maps in a perfect symbol for the larger Age of Reason and Enlightenment. The fanciful decorations of early modern maps seemingly vanished as mapmakers increasingly became “cartographers,” that is, devotees of the idea that a map’s value and beauty lay in its “objective” depiction of physical and human geography in as scientifically “accurate” a manner as possible, or according to the “Newest and most exact Observations,” as one mapmaker put it (Herman Moll, below). More recently, as scholars of the Enlightenment period have come to identify not a single “Age of Reason” descending like a curtain across the minds of Europeans, they have likewise come to revise their view of Enlightenment maps. Maps still can be seen as exemplars of Enlightenment, but the Enlightenment is not what it used to be. Recent studies have begun to emphasize multiple Enlightenments, loosely held together by new ideals of truth that crossed national (and sometimes cultural, racial, and gendered) borders but that were always everywhere conditioned by local and regional systems of belief. (Harley, 191; Edney, 1999, 165-6; Withers, 1999).
Eighteenth-century maps were central to these Enlightenment contests and thus reflect the age that produced them. In this new idea of Enlightenments, the seemingly blank and plain maps of the 1700s come alive with new meanings. In this new light, the maps reemerge as places of contest and struggle. Across their seemingly plain surfaces, one can trace contests of authority and definition, of legitimation and denial. Indeed, plainness itself was a conscious rhetorical move in service of ideological and political aims rather than a self-evident necessity. (Edney 1999, 169) In their multiple and not even internally consistent approaches to the idea of geographic “truth,” these Enlightenment maps represent a distinct phase within the larger history of Euro-American mapmaking quite apart from the earlier so-called “artistic” maps of the early modern period and the later, professionalized “scientific” cartography of the 1800s. (Edney, 1999, 166)
Maps of North America are a particularly good source to study the tensions of Enlightenment mapping. While the distance between ideal and reality was always great in mapmaking, the American gap was perhaps larger than most. Even in Europe, Europeans struggled with the ongoing delays between the development of new ideals of “truth” in mapmaking and the techniques of measuring the earth required to reach those ideals. But in Europe and elsewhere, these mapmakers managed to find new forms of data gathering better suited to the emerging politics of the idealized Enlightenment map, supplementing traditional narrative accounts of travel and exploration with the techniques of triangulation on land and astronomical observation at sea and combined these with the constant corroboration of written sources. (Edney, 1999) They did this in France, in Russia, in China, and in the Pacific bringing a new idea of mapmaking to the problems of mapping the world (Mapp, 2011, 166-201).
In North America, however, these new techniques were not easily applied, leaving these new ideals of mapmaking to rely on the same old narratives of travelers that they had for centuries. In a continent where trained surveyors were few and far between, it is unsurprising that, aside from coastal surveys, mapmakers relied heavily on the traditional sources of geographic information—travel accounts from the various inhabitants of the continent. The tension between mapmakers’ ambitions and the reality of mapping in British North America is what makes eighteenth-century American maps so interesting. Numerous voices and conceptions of geography competed for representation on printed maps. Each mapmaker had to reconcile the personalized, subjective movement-based origins of their information with the Enlightenment mandate to present a more universalized, depersonalized and therefore supposedly “accurate” map of the continent. Each mapmaker and their cadre of artists of engravers had to privilege certain kinds of information and discard others without any defined guidelines. Every map of North America in the eighteenth century was therefore an experiment and an improvisation. The eighteenth century was not a simple journey from crude to refined. It was instead an era in which new conceptions of what a map should be interacted and conflicted with the realities of what a map could be. And out of those tensions rose new ways in which mapmakers and their audiences interacted through the medium of the map.
Some interesting features of eighteenth-century maps stand out due to the unique tensions of the era. One is the persistence of human movement within the features of the map. Despite map printers’ desire to market their maps as impersonal, universal, and “accurate,” the very real human motions that generated the mapmakers’ main archive of information still presented themselves throughout the era. Likely in response, mapmakers developed strategies to deflect the readers’ attention away from this aspect of the map’s creation, in particular encouraging readers to quickly move past the facts of the map’s creation and to instead indulge in the visual pleasures of imagining travel through North America. This coaching by mapmakers in turn helped spur the map-reading public to use their imaginations to envision movements bigger than those of individual travelers and to see whole processes of history unfolding across their lines. In other words, through various rhetorical and design strategies, eighteenth-century mapmakers helped train their audiences to see maps not as the result of past travels, but as tools of the reader’s vision to encourage future movements, both imagined and real. It was a visual fiction that, at least in the case of poor William Mylne, did not always match up to reality, but that nonetheless represents a powerful-yet-underexplored feature of eighteenth-century mapmaking.
Published maps were not always so disconnected from the human movements that informed them. In the seventeenth century, maps of individual travel were printed and received wide circulation; the singularity of the journey was not a liability in an age of exploration. These maps of the Americas, particularly larger-scale regional maps, tended to make very clear the relationship between the printed map and individual movement. In an age of early settlement and colonization, the individual journey was often the fastest path to new geographic information. European mapmakers relied on singular journeys for their maps, and atlases of the Americas and did very little to disguise the nature of their sources. These maps tended to focus on the individual traveler and highlighted the limitations of such a singular view of the landscape. John Smith’s map of the Chesapeake serves as an example: Smith placed himself prominently in the map and marked with little crosses the limits of his own journeys, highlighting to the map’s audience that they were seeing and hearing only what Smith saw and heard: some of it firsthand, some through verbal reports, but no more or less than Smith himself had encountered.
John Lederer’s 1672 A Map of the Territory of Virginia likewise offers another excellent example of the published personal map of discovery. The geography of this map could in no way be separated from the individual’s particular experiences. A young, German scholar, Lederer undertook a long journey southwest from the colony of Virginia in 1670. The map’s main purpose was to provide readers with a visual itinerary of Lederer’s trip. Although the dotted lines used to mark Lederer’s movements were not the most visually striking image on the map, they nonetheless provided the map with its overall shape. Rivers and mountains frame the trail and the map’s lettering aligns itself to Lederer’s route. The map offers almost no information beyond what Lederer experienced personally. In all, the map provided a fairly accurate record of Lederer’s experience but not the topography, showing the southern Piedmont as a landscape glimpsed only along the corridors Lederer traveled. Given the mapmaker’s great difficulty translating Native geographic knowledge into European terms, it is unsurprising that the map was as limited as it was. (Hollis, 158-163)
The path shaped the entire map. Centered on Lederer’s route, the map became blank at the edges, save for the known parts of Virginia in the lower right-hand corner. The Appalachian Mountains form a horizon beyond which lay nothing but emptiness (filled with the compass rose and legend). Eastern Carolina hardly appeared at all, despite being well known since at least the late-1500s maps of John White. But Lederer did not travel there, so the region did not appear on the map. As he did in his text, Lederer provides a hint of the massive (and fictional) Lake Ushury in the map’s upper left. Lederer claimed he could see the other side of the lake, but thought not to include that edge in his map, teasing its audience with the prospect of a vast inland waterway. The effect is to reinforce the idea that these were landscape features only glimpsed by a single traveler.
Lederer’s map thus reveals the itinerant nature of its production. Much like following a blazed trail, the traveler could only record his journey by following the precise order of the landmarks. To leave one out would be to get hopelessly lost. Rivers, lakes, villages—these could only be mapped as points along a path, not as defined expanses of territory. Anything that the map attempted to record beyond the traveler’s line of sight was based on verbal or other accounts of landscape lodged in the memories of other (primarily Native American) informants and occasionally drawn or retold to the mapmaker. Mostly these involved the landscape impressions and knowledge of Native travelers, whose concepts of landscape never easily fit with European ones and allowed only rudimentary “pidgin” cartographies which easily bore the marks of their creation. (Belyea, 140; Paulett, 23)
Traditionally, historians of cartography have consigned maps such as Lederer’s to a pre-modern era that favored description and personal experience over accurate measurement (Cumming, 1-2). But, this does not mean Lederer’s map was crude. It conveyed a richness of movement and the experience of a traveler. It did not measure distances accurately and it invented landscape features. Existing at the intersection of Lederer’s travel narrative and landscape portraiture, the map worked as something of a panorama—a moving picture through which the reader could better visualize Lederer’s experience.
Such maps of movement remained important well into the eighteenth century. Indeed, their frequency likely increased as European travelers became more and more common across the face of North America, driven by the expansion of European colonization in the Americas. (Edney 1999, 176). In particular, the trade between Indians and Europeans increased as the century wore on, creating new travelers and new sources of geographic information. The Indian trade provided mapmakers access to large reserves of human knowledge created by the movement of private traders, public agents, and untold thousands of Indian diplomats and informants. As France and Great Britain in particular jostled with each other for claims over eastern North America, they relied on the complex webs of personal, official, and economic relationships provided by the exchange of European manufactured goods for Native manufactured deerskins. Navigating this region, marked by the complex politics of Native America, proved tricky at all times. Traders thus relied on a set sequence of paths and places in order to best ensure safe passage and predictable futures. The sequence of places was the crucial safeguard against getting lost along the way. (Paulett, 2-4)
The individual map of movement continued as a form through the eighteenth century but surviving examples are rare. A reprinted edition of George Hunter’s 1730 map of his travel to the Cherokees reveals the changing relationship between movement, mapping, and the map-reading public. Hunter was a surveyor who accompanied Sir Alexander Cumming on a diplomatic mission to enhance South Carolina’s (and Cumming’s own) standing among the Cherokees while at the same time diminishing the influence of the Virginia colony in that region. The map shows the party’s route along South Carolina’s primary trading path. The path followed the Santee River, across the headwaters of the Savannah River, and across the mountains to the Overhills Cherokees of present-day eastern Tennessee. Along the way, Hunter made note of village names and recorded some information about more distant areas (likely gained from traders). (Cumming, 228)
Hunter’s map was typical of the traveler’s sense of geography, in which the physical and human geography of South Carolina were important only as far as they aligned with the trading paths. The creeks running into the Santee River are presented as slashes perpendicular to the river, recorded in the order in which the traveler encountered them. Hunter marked distance with verbal notes, creating an itinerary of places between the starting point and the end point but based on impression more than precise measurement. In many ways, Hunter’s map functioned like a modern subway system map where stations are arranged in straight lines so that the rider knows which station will come next. The sequence of places mattered a great deal, but the topography beyond the path was little known. (Most of Hunter’s notes about areas beyond the path come from the vague “reports” he cites in the map’s legends.) To lose the path was therefore to risk getting lost in a large region. For this reason, Hunter’s “Journal of the Road” in the lower left exactly reproduces the same sequence of places going up to the Cherokees as returning. To find one’s way back to Charleston, one simply had to retrace one’s steps. Closer analysis of this map would no doubt reveal even more about the experience of travel in colonial America. The travelers’ experience also explains why their accounts of the interior resulted in a similar linearity when they were included on more “professional” and “scientific” maps of the 1700s.
But while the frequency of such mapping episodes increased, the printed map of travel was becoming less favored in printing offices. Unlike Lederer’s map which was widely printed in its original form and widely copied by other, eighteenth-century maps of travel like Hunter’s survived mostly as manuscripts in various archives. Hunter’s map, for example, was not publicly available until this print of the original manuscript was made available in 1917. This object therefore reveals not just the experience of travel but of how eighteenth-century Anglo-American map practices were increasing the distance between the individual map of travel and the printed map of popular consumption. Maps such as Hunter’s were still the most common and immediate source for geographic information about the American interior. However, published maps were increasingly taking ideological and formal steps to diminish the idea of movement within their gridlines. Surveyors like Hunter recognized this new relationship, as well, marking significant crossroads with surveyor’s notes on longitude and latitude. The traveler was learning to see the landscape with an eye towards compilation and collation rather than description.
The map therefore reveals that “Enlightenment” mapmaking was more an exercise in treating the same information differently rather than a shift in the techniques of mapmaking. The eighteenth century increasingly emphasized not just the pursuit of knowledge but emphasized the management and control of knowledge. Increasingly, the printed maps of America came not from individual travelers but from the shops of self-appointed “expert” compilers. Here emerged the familiar form of the eighteenth-century map—the increasingly “plain” chart that was every bit as dependent on complex human interactions as earlier maps but that nonetheless tried to mask this dependence for numerous intellectual, political, and economic reasons. Rather than recognize their maps as the product of individuals’ limited range of vision, mapmakers emphasized the accuracy and collaborative nature of their maps. By assuring their audiences of the complete accuracy of their works, mapmakers could then use their maps in new ways: as settings in which European viewers could imagine the marches of historical figures and across which Europeans could plan future movements. The human movements that produced these maps (still completely necessary) were hidden from view. The result was a growing culture of map reading, where Anglo-American audiences could imagine themselves gazing from above at all manner of important events. As Britain increasingly sought to claim and control its American possessions, its citizens found comfort in this power of maps to impart a sense of order and control. (Nobles, 13-19)
Herman Moll, perhaps most prominent among early eighteenth-century British mapmakers, reveals the sleights of hand being invented to separate the map from the supposedly unreliable travel accounts that were the map’s main sources of information. His 1720 A New Map of the North Parts of America claimed by France was an exercise in the increasingly conscious political decisions that underlay supposedly disinterested maps. Moll used his map to advocate his own personal point of view and made no efforts to hide his authorship. He wanted Britain to take greater interest in its American colonies and confronted them with nightmare images of invading Frenchmen to accomplish this task. But he relied on the supposed accuracy of his map to sell his point. Accuracy was becoming a political stance within British colonial politics and became a rhetorical tool long before accurate measurement became reality (Edney 2004, 324-325; Edney 2011, 277-278).
Key to this posture of accuracy was managing the unruly interplay of source material, mapmaker, and audience. Here on view are the unsteady and negotiable conflicts in this new age of Enlightenment managerial mapmaking. Moll was clear and careful to name his sources right under the map’s title. “A Great part of this Map,” he informed his readers, “is taken from ye Original Draughts of Mr. Blackmore, the Ingenious Mr. [Richard] Berisford now Residing in Carolina, Capt. [Thomas] Nairn and others never before Publish’d, the South West Part of Louisiana is done after a French Map Publish’d at Paris in 1718.” Moll claimed the authority of numerous observations preferred by an audience that by 1720 was increasingly trusting the repeated experimentation of the Scientific Revolution and its culture of public witnessing over the older claims to personal authority that marked early modern Europe. (Jacob and Stewart, 89-92) By listing these men by name, Moll could assure his readers that the map was “laid Down according to the Newest and Most Exact Observations By H. Moll Geographer.” Moll, of course, did not have any special knowledge. His major sources of information were the same Indian trading networks that produced itinerary maps like Hunter’s and his map thus included the linear trade geography even as it reached for a claim to accuracy beyond the capabilities of an individual observer. (Paulett, 14-17, 29-31)
What Moll had instead of special knowledge was a new idea emerging in the eighteenth-century—the authority of “reasoned judgment” by which self-appointed individuals could claim and tame the supposedly base and untrustworthy information coming from the mouths and pens of Indians, traders, and agent. Eighteenth-century scientists based their authority in their ability to see beyond variable individual observations and to discover the “truth” of underlying forms. The educated scientist took myriad individual observations, ruminated on them, exercised their “reason” to discern between truth and dangerous imagination, and then hired artisans to translate their authoritative vision into a printed product. (Daston and Gallison, 58-60, 97-98, 223-227). For a mapmaker such as Moll, this idea of trained judgment meant he could list his sources but assure his readers that the observations were his and his alone.
Moll’s map, however, does not demonstrate the confidence of a reasoned observer. In fact, it is marked by deflection and distraction in the way that it encourages the reader to quickly turn away from the method of its creation and to imagine instead the ways in which the reader might use the map. Turning the subjective impressions of American informants into a seemingly concrete and stable image of the continent in the map’s title, Moll used the legends and notations on his map to present his readers with images of invading Frenchmen and heroic Englishmen as a means of helping plan the future movement of English settlers across the continent. But, not trusting his readers fully, Moll prominently placed helpful instructions to assist his readers in the proper interpretation of the map’s information:
“NB The French Dominions are inserted on purpose, that those Noblemen, Gentlemen, Merchants &c. who are interested in our Plantations in those Parts, may observe whether they agree with their Proprieties, or do not justly deserve ye Name of Incroachments; and this the more to be observed, because they do thereby Comprehend within their Limits ye Cherakeys and Iroquois, by much ye most powerfull of all ye Neighbouring Indian Nations, the old Friends and Allies of the English, who ever esteemed them to be the Bulwark and Security of all their Plantations in North America.” (Moll, 1720)
Twice, Moll insisted that looking at his map was the same as “observing” the actual American landmass and that his map provided at one glance a full view of the whole populated continent, filled with English settlements, French “incroachments,” and Native peoples.
Moll then drew a literal line (the Tropic of Cancer) straight from the map title all the way to the lower right corner to further instruct his readers in the map’s use. Ostensibly explaining to his readers how to correct for the Mercator projection’s distortion of northern distances, he made sure to demonstrate the issue with the example of planning an overland march from New York City to a Susquehanna fort in western Pennsylvania, conveniently located on the supposed boundary between French and English claims. The imagination of the compiler was to be mistrusted and swept away with reason. However, Moll’s exhortations to his readers to use their imagination reveals an interesting new role for maps in the eighteenth century. This was more than envisioning the travels of someone like Lederer; this was encouraging readers to imagine future travels and future plans with the assistance of the map.
The presentation of movement and the relationship between mapmaker and audience continued to be informed by the political context of individual mapmakers, despite their claims to supposedly disinterested authority. A side-by-side comparison of two maps created at the same time using almost identical sources reveals how the shape of the map was still an ongoing experiment throughout the 1700s. By the mid-eighteenth century, mapmakers were taking advantage of the increasing number of information options to selectively create their maps and the selection is clear on comparison of Lewis Evans’s 1755 A General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America and Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson’s A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia from the same year. Despite their different titles, both maps show a similar stretch of territory at a similar scale, particularly in regards to the Ohio Valley. The overlap is no accident and in fact the three mapmakers exchanged information with each other. The differences in the two maps’ appearances therefore resulted not from access to different information but in the political purposes behind them. Both Pennsylvania (Evans’s home) and Virginia (Fry and Jefferson’s) were extremely interested in the Ohio Valley in the 1750s, as Pennsylvania and Virginia waged a furious diplomatic battle for the alliance of the Ohio Valley Indians, since Indian sales were preferred by the British crown as the surest method of transferring land rights from Indians to Europeans.
The two maps look very different, reflecting the political strategies of the respective colonies. Evans’s map details a dense network of roads, rivers, and villages west of the Allegheny Mountains, carefully drawn and shaded across the middle of the map. Fry and Jefferson, however, depict only thin strings of mountains and a virtually empty Ohio Valley. The contrast between the Evans and Fry-Jefferson maps reveals that eighteenth-century maps were more than a contest between “crude” and “accurate” information, or even between European and non-European ideas of mapmaking. While these were all components of the complex production of maps, the cartographic contest of 1755 also reveals that maps were frequently a contest of different kinds of European mapmaking traditions, each source of information either consciously or unconsciously selected to suit the political interests of the mapmakers.
Printed in Pennsylvania (one of the earliest American-printed maps), Evans’s map reflected the local political interest. While deeply mistrustful of traders’ accounts, Evans nonetheless went to great lengths to present their movements as part of his map. The General Map relied heavily on the information of traders in order to secure that colony’s rights to the Ohio Valley. Pennsylvania had since its founding maintained a strong connection to the Indians of Susquehannah Valley, the Lenni Lanape (Delawares) and Shawnees in particular. As those groups migrated westward in the early 1700s, Pennsylvania believed it had the inside track to claiming potentially valuable Ohio lands through the mechanism of Indian trade and diplomacy.
Evans apparently felt the need to publish a map of movement that could nonetheless meet the new standards of “truth-in-nature” that gave maps their scientific authority in the 1700s. Printed in America rather than in London, Evans perhaps felt freer to experiment with form and content and this map, famous as it is, deserves much closer investigation as a Tristam Shandy-like experiment in defining what a map could be before anyone really knew what a “map” was. Evans, considering himself a man of science, mistrusted traders’ accounts but relied on them nonetheless. In the eighteenth century, most genteel observers cast a jaundiced eye at the political motivations of lower classes, believing them incapable of acting out of anything beyond crass selfishness (Wood, 104-106). Traders were in particular seen as suspicious in the 1700s because of their decision to live so much of their lives among Indians. Their geographic reports were likewise mistrusted (somewhat ironically) because traders were the only Europeans to see most of the Ohio Valley firsthand and they had an obvious motivation to shape those reports to suit their own self-interest. (Klinefelter, 41) Traders’ words, doubly tarnished by low births and Indian associations, would have come under heavy scrutiny.
Forced to rely on “untrustworthy” traders, Evans did his best to correct the traders’ impressions of distances across the Allegheny Mountains. (Klinefelter, 44-45). Regardless of their political motivations, traders likely did tend to distort mileages because travelers through mountainous terrain could only describe the experience of distance rather than the precise measurement of distance (and some mountainous roads clearly felt longer than flatter roads of a similar distance). But Evans, in his desire to draw links between Philadelphia and the banks of the Ohio River, needed to emphasize trader impressions of those areas west of the mountains since the human connections of the trade were key to Pennsylvania’s land claims. Evans’s own survey trips required diplomatic authorization to travel through Indian lands and he required verbal descriptions (and probably visual descriptions) from traders as to what lay beyond the range of his own surveys.
The result was an obvious traders’ geography of the Ohio Valley marked everywhere by human movement. The Valley is criss-crossed with trading paths connecting a dense network of important Indian villages which a traveler would have encountered. These were the significant spaces of the valley, important nodes in the network of human exchanges that underwrote Pennsylvania’s claims to the region. By depicting roads and villages reconstructed from verbal accounts, Evans’s map provided a sense, however dim, of how moving through these places might have felt to the travelers of the Ohio Valley.
But the mapmaker also made great efforts to distance his printed map from the human communication networks that underwrote it. Evans moved most of the information that in another map might have appeared as legends into a published companion book. Evans’s Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical Essays. The First, Containing an Analysis of a General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America detailed the informants he consulted in the production of his map, as well as his techniques for “correcting” and corroborating them. The published book functions as a lengthier example of how mapmakers instructed their audiences to “read” their maps. The preface justifies the map as a way to increase the public’s ability to see and become acquainted with “these remoter Parts, where the Country is yet a wilderness.” (Evans, iii) Evans in the Analysis also disparages the imagination of the mapmaker, invoking it in places where he discussed observer error (Evans, iv., 3, 12). But he nonetheless encourages his readers to imagine themselves traveling through these landscapes. The Analysis describes the experience of rivers like the Schuykill, letting Evans’s readers know that, for example, “Schuylkill is a fine Branch, up which the Tide runs about five Miles above Philadelphia, where there is an impassable Fall; and three Miles higher up another not much better. Thence to Reading is a fine gliding Current easily set against, as the Bottom is gravelly and even.” (Evans, 21-22) The book provides lengthy descriptions of traveling over roads, through mountains, and along rivers, functioning as a sort of travel guide, carefully compiled by the author and provided to fire the imagination of the reader through rich descriptions of moving through these spaces, but always with Evans as the guide, exhorting readers to see the landscape in his own favored way.
The Fry and Jefferson map, on the other hand, takes a much different approach to mapping the Ohio Valley, even though the mapmakers consulted with Evans and had access to much of the same information. Fry and Jefferson, however, likely had less access to Pennsylvania traders and Ohio Valley Indians, since Virginians were largely outsiders to the human networks of the region. Virginians suffering from the constant uncertainty of the tobacco economy had great interest in the valley and desired to speculate in lands as a way of creating more stable wealth in the 1700s. (Holton, 3-6) Seizing on the colony’s ancient charter claims, Virginians began asserting their rights to the Ohio territories in the 1740s and 1750s. The problem was that the old charter claims did not hold up as well as the policy of land sales from Indians. Lacking the well-developed trading networks of Pennsylvania, Virginians had to find other ways to assert their authority over the Ohio Valley lands (which mostly involved some variety of swindle).
Fry had access to a particular information network linked to the Virginia militia and the agents of land speculators. Stationed at Winchester in the western part of the colony in the early 1750s, Fry mostly learned about the Ohio lands from militia rangers and Indian scouts. When he did travel to the Ohio Valley, he did so as part of a diplomatic mission devoted to securing land rights for Virginia speculators. Fry thus learned of the Ohio lands mostly from those who spent very little time living and traveling through the region. (Cumming, 28-29)
The result was a starkly blank map that reflected Virginians’ desire for the Ohio lands, not its peoples. Whether through ignorance or specific intention, Fry and Jefferson’s map provided almost no indication of the very real human presence on the western side of the mountains. Where Evans showed a region crossed by numerous pathways linking a web of villages and peoples, Fry and Jefferson indicated a blankness waiting to be sold to settlers—a perfect speculator’s map, in other words. Gone were Evans’s detailed legends highlighting the human knowledge that had made his map possible. Fry and Jefferson simply left the Ohio Valley as a blank unknown, awaiting settlement. In contrast to Lederer, however, who depicted the Appalachian ranges as a barrier to knowledge, Fry and Jefferson grid over the blank interior—a future landscape that awaited the easy incorporation into existing knowledge systems, presently unknown but easily knowable.
But while Fry and Jefferson’s map was not so great at recording the dense tracks of informants, it did reveal a new sort of movement emerging in eighteenth-century maps—the imagined movement of future journeys. Across the empty Ohio, Fry and Jefferson included a table of mileages between prominent Virginia towns and the significant sites of fortification and conflict at the edge of the Ohio Valley: Winchester, Fort Necessity, Fort Duquesne. Fry and Jefferson thus drew lines to the edge of the Valley but left unmapped the continuation of those lines into the dense human networks mapped by Evans. Unlike Evans, who carefully shaped his readers’ impressions of an existing landscape through both his map and his Analysis, Fry and Jefferson tantalized readers with a supposedly unknown land—one that readers were then free to fill in with their own imagined future journeys.
While Fry and Jefferson did not explicitly attempt to fire their readers’ imaginations, continuing innovations in both map form and content throughout the later decades of the 1700s reveal that mapmakers were designing their charts around an imagining public. One of the Newberry’s copies of Henry Mouzon’s 1775 An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina indicates greater cultural changes surrounding mapmaking and especially map reading than simply the more accurate measurement of physical features. Its form is as important as its content as examples of changing Anglo-American map use. This cloth-backed version of the Mouzon map was meant to be folded and housed on bookshelves or in saddlebags, the form indicating that maps were becoming both more common and more portable, meant for frequent consultation but not for permanent display. (Although, as William Mylne learned, these folding maps did not always travel very well.) In contrast to the enormous wall maps and grand atlases still being produced in the 1700s, maps like Mouzons indicate other values for their readers—the desire to imagine movements in private reflection for practical reasons or even just for personal entertainment.
The eighteenth century was the early age of the popular map in Anglo-American culture. As the imperial desire for more maps led to more mapping, the advancing availability of print also allowed for wider distribution of these maps. The result was that an audience of map consumers grew up around the shops of London and Philadelphia and increasingly used maps as a way of visualizing the real-time events across the Atlantic. While someone like Moll needed to explain to his readers how to envision movement across the map, later productions assumed the audience knew. And this allowed them greater freedom to provide lively images of colonists moving across the land. A map such as Mouzon’s was of only limited use in traversing the landscape, but it was of great utility in granting the reader the illusion that they might know the landscape at a distance.
We know that Mouzon’s map in fact had two prominent figures use it for this purpose. Both George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau owned copies of Mouzon’s map, with Washington’s map being a cloth-backed folding map similar to the one held by the Newberry (Cumming, 33). Generals and military planners of course relied on maps before the American Revolution, but what is of note here is that neither Washington nor Rochambeau were directly involved in the southern campaigns. Washington of course as commander of the Continental forces had oversight but he spent almost the entire war in the northern colonies. His generals and lieutenants planned the campaigns of the South. Washington and Rochambeau, however, used Mouzon’s map to make sense of their subordinates’ reports and to “observe” at a distance the movements of British armies across the landscape. In this sense, Washington and Rochambeau were just two more consumers and readers of maps, using their charts to imagine the past and future movements of armies otherwise invisible to their own eyes.
That such prominent figures were both consumers and users of maps indicates why the culture of map reading in the eighteenth century is worth further investigation. During the century, maps increasingly offered the larger viewing public access to the same perspective as generals and heads of state. More than just military planning, the increasingly available maps provided an increasingly map-literate public the ability to follow military movements from far away. The appearance of illustrated campaign maps in popular magazines during the 1700s indicates that these spurs to the imagination were growing more popular with the reading public. (Lehman, 341-344) More than simple aids to military planning, maps were increasingly part of a public imagination of war in the second half of the 1700s.
In addition to the visualized movements of armies across maps, the increased imagination of cartography could seemingly show readers other, slower movements of people across space and time. Three maps from the years of the American Revolution help demonstrate some of the ways in which Anglo-Americans were using their maps to do more than just recount the movements of explorers. They were using their maps to cultivate a particular culture of viewership that would have profound implications for how post-Revolutionary Americans envisioned their place in North America. John Stuart’s 1780 update of William de Brahm’s 1757 map of South Carolina revealed a nascent sense of maps as documents of social development. A 1775 map of the early days of the Revolution revealed a popular culture increasingly using maps to explain the events of the world. And a 1777 map of Charleston can be read as evidence of increasing efforts on the part of mapmakers to cater to the fantasy of travel.
In 1757, a German military engineer named William de Brahm immigrated to the colony of Georgia, bringing with him a thorough education in scientific cartography. De Brahm made his first printed work that same year, publishing a map of the South Carolina and Georgia coastlines that has long been heralded for its “accurate” plotting of the tricky intra-coastal waterways and sea islands of the southeastern lowcountry. The interior, however, was far less engaging. Dismissing the information of non-cartographically-trained surveyors and informants, De Brahm mostly left the interior of his map blank, with rivers and roads trailing off into nothing. He did, as a service to Carolina promoters, show the locations of several recently created townships in the Carolina Piedmonts, divided into the neat little rectangles that the South Carolina government envisioned as key to new settlements in the interior.
Twenty-three years later, an updated version of the map revealed much more of the two colonies. No doubt hoping to take advantage of reader interest in the southern Revolutionary campaigns, John Stuart, Britain’s Superintendent for Indian Affairs for the southern colonies, updated De Brahm’s original map. Stuart had access to the records of surveyors and to printed maps such as Mouzon’s and so he filled De Brahm’s empty map with roads, counties, towns, and every other detail that war-curious readers might need to track the movements of armies across the region. The original township squares of De Brahm’s map still appeared, but had been overrun with new details and colored over in order to show county divisions. The effect was quite remarkable. In addition to showing readers where armies might be marching, Stuart also gave readers brightly colored “evidence” of how far settlement had pushed in the years since De Brahm’s original version appeared. The contrast is somewhat exaggerated, since De Brahm’s map excluded much information from the backcountry as unreliable. But Stuart’s map had the effect of demonstrating how far Carolinians had pushed outwards from the small little squares of an earlier map.
By including the older township squares, Stuart introduced a time component to his map. While it could be an example of eighteenth-century mapmaking thrift, with the printer simply re-using older engraved plates, the effect remained the same. South Carolina’s history of settlement and growth could unfold in the reader’s imagination as backcountry settlers spread out from the old township centers and filled the entire page with towns, courthouses, churches, and the other marks of “civilization” that an eighteenth-century reader would appreciate.
It is also an example of the kinds of map-based thinking and planning that would characterize Anglo-Americans’ expansion across the Appalachians. While earlier eighteenth-century colonial planners had believed in social engineering through precise town planning, these schemes had largely been associated with failed Utopian settlements such as the Margravate of Azilia and the Trustees charity colony of Georgia. However, maps such as Stuart’s indicated that Anglo-Americans had begun to believe that better mapping might lead to better success. Stuart’s map thus existed as part of a culture of map-based thinking that would also lead to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which believed that a harmonious American society could develop along clearly marked lines on a map.
The element of witnessing history in miniature appeared on other maps of the late 1700s. A 1775 London map titled “The Seat of War in New England” made this function of maps clear to its audience. Depictions of battle scenes were nothing new by 1775, not even in New England (one calls to mind John Seller’s image of fighting during King Philip’s War on his 1675 “Mapp of New England”). However, “The Seat of War” offered more than just the illustration of a dramatic episode. Like the Stuart map, this map indicated that slower, larger processes shaped human actions. In this instance, the long lines of troop movements and supply lines were the real story of the conflict rather than single, dramatic episodes, interesting and carefully depicted as they were here. Published to demonstrate the early conflicts of the American Revolution between April and June of 1775 provided readers with the opportunity to recreate for themselves an almost moving image of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill. The map is a simple map of western Massachusetts, with roads and villages prominently marked. But, along these routes, the mapmaker has drawn (in profile) armed soldiers, horses, and artillery moving along the routes towards Lexington and Boston. The inset map of Boston likewise adds human drama to the mapped image, as explosions and clouds of smoke billow around the scene of Bunker Hill.
The combination of maps, cartoons, and narratives of war allowed for a new kind of imagination to take place. The reader could take the bird’s-eye-view of events and see more than any individual could. Unlike heroic paintings such as Benjamin West’s “The Death of General Wolfe”, the reader could claim a super-human perspective on events and “see” how things unfolded across space and time. From this perch, they could then perhaps understand the causes of notable successes or failures (as with the British attempts to curb the rebellion in 1775). The development of eighteenth-century maps therefore may have played some role in the development of a historical consciousness in that century.
This represented a remarkable change from the journey maps of someone like Lederer. There, the map was constrained to a single person’s perspective. The trader maps, linked as they were to the personal memories of a collected body of informers, were variable and changing. But as the surveys improved and the “background” of physical terrain became more and more fixed, the maps of the later eighteenth century gave readers’ minds more freedom to roam about the landscape. A reader could “see” more than ever and this perhaps explains, in an age of democratizing knowledge and political power, why maps became such popular objects. They became a means of travel in and of themselves rather than records of another person’s movement across landscapes.
The stylistic innovations of Joseph F.W. Des Barres provide further indication of a potentially changing culture of map reading. Like Evans, Des Barres was an outsider to the London printing houses that dominated the Anglo-American map trade and, like Evans, this gave Des Barres perhaps more freedom to experiment with map forms and creation processes, experimentation that resulted in the publication of Des Barres’s Atlantic Neptune atlas between 1774 and 1782. Des Barres in particular took advantage of Britain’s interest in the Revolutionary era to earn his funding directly from Parliament, given the military uses to which his elaborate coastal charts could be put (Hornsby, 164). The maps themselves were the result of Surveyor General of the Northern District Samuel Holland’s coastal surveys of America and the publication was made possible by the enlistment of unnamed engravers and artists in London, so it is difficult to say with certainty that Des Barres was the sole visionary behind the maps. But whoever shaped the vision, there is little doubt that the American Neptune represents a different relationship to the movements and imaginations of source material, compiler/cartographer, and reader in the 1700s.
The Atlantic Neptune used new visual approaches to create a visual separation between the information of humans and the supposedly fixed and unchanging landscape upon which humans operated. Des Barres and his artists included numerous legends and verbal descriptions right on the faces of their maps but, unlike earlier mapmakers, they isolated the text from the cartographic information. Whereas someone like Moll typically inserted their legends within the map’s grid lines and placed no borders around them, Des Barres isolated his legends within medallions drawn off-grid. The effect is a trompe l’oeil where the human knowledge appears as pieces of writing laid across the map, resting above it but not embedded within it (see maps in Hornsby, 138, 166, 189).
The Newberry’s collection of the Atlantic Neptune maps provides numerous examples of this technique but the 1777 map of Charleston, South Carolina, is a particularly striking example. Like the rest of the atlas, the map is primarily a nautical chart of the environs of Charleston, South Carolina, including sand bars and depth measurements. In this, it was much of a piece with Des Barres nautical charts of the northeastern North American coastline that formed the bulk of the Atlantic Neptune. Some land features (plantations, roads) are marked on the map but are blended together under a uniform brown wash. The meeting of water and land is the central feature of this map, save for a colorful inset in the map’s upper left.
Here, Des Barres went for an artistic touch over and above those provided elsewhere in the atlas. Rather than the usual harbor scenes with boats in the middle distance that characterized much of the trompe l’oeil insets in his other maps, this Charleston map included an untitled landscape view of the town as seen from the southern bank of the Ashley River. It was a bucolic, pastoral scene of livestock herders tending a few cattle resting on the sandy banks of the river. Keeping to form, the engraver did include a small sailing vessel (a “petiaugua” or local sailing vessel common along southeastern shores and associated with local exchange) but the view is from land rather than from a sea approach. The harbor of Charleston itself, one of the busiest in North America, has almost no ships. The hard work of rice, Carolina’s largest export, is missing from the scene entirely. The image therefore stands in sharp contrast to the bustling commercial scenes common to eighteenth-century cartouches (see the Fry-Jefferson or De Brahm maps for comparison).
The image is clearly meant to be read as almost completely separate from the map. This image is not linked to the map in any way. It was set off at an angle to the map’s grid, a bit of illusion to highlight the separation between the cartographic vision and the traveler’s vision. The map allows two views. One view is the cartographic: its precise delineation of a complex hydrography, measured and enumerated at all necessary points, authenticated from the most professional naval surveys (as the title indicates). The other view is that of the traveler, happening upon a restful scene after a trip overland. The two views are separated on this map as Des Barres makes a claim for the “proper” relationship between cartography and movement: maps can bring you to your destination, where you can then enjoy the local scenery. In 1777, Des Barres foreshadowed the tourist map and the complex relationship between cartography and movement that would help define the future United States as a country of movers and travelers.
These few examples from the years of the American Revolution point the way towards new areas of investigation. The nineteenth century has long been recognized as the age when North Americans spent their efforts turning their grand ambitions into transcontinental realities. By examining the particular circumstances around late colonial maps in the British colonies, one has the chance to witness that continental ambition forming. North Americans became map-loving people around the same time that the United States gained independence. Much about that shape and direction of the country could be gleaned from the map-based thinking that surrounded its formation.
- Territory of Virginia, 1672
- Territorial Claims, North America, 1720
- Charecke Nation and the Path to Charles Town, 1730
- British Colonies in America, 1755
- The Most Inhabited Part of Virginia, 1755
- The Carolinas and their Indian Frontiers, 1775
- South Carolina and Part of Georgia, 1757
- South Carolina and Part of Georgia, 1780
- The Seat of War in New England, 1775
- Harbour of Charles Town, 1777