George Gilpin’s 1798 map of Alexandria Virginia

[George Gilpin] / Engrav’d by T[homas] Clarke, PLAN of the TOWN of ALEXANDRIA, in the District of Columbia 1798. Alexandria: I.V. Thomas, [1799 / 1944].
Engraving on wove paper with “J WHATMAN 1942” watermark, 23 ½”h x 18 ½”w at plate mark, uncolored.

A scarce and attractive restrike of George Gilpin’s important and phenomenally rare 1798 plan of Alexandria Virginia.

Gilpin’s plan depicts Alexandria Virginia at a period of rapid growth, when, as the lone port of entry on the Potomac, it was one of the country’s busiest ports. The simple gridded street plan is shown with street names indicated, including several on newly-filled land along the river, and a legend identifies several houses of worship, the central market, and the Fairfax and Lee estates and Cameron’s grist mill outside of town. One interesting feature is the dotted line indicating the boundary of the District of Columbia, terminating at Alexandria’s southernmost point on Jones Island.

“John V. Thomas, publisher of the Alexandria Advertiser, on September 21, 1797, inserted a notice asking for the return of “a plan of the town of Alexandria, neatly drawn by Col. Gilpin,” which had been lent to an acquaintance [apparently Thomas could not recall which acquaintance!]; on December 4, 1799, he advertised in the Times and District of Columbia Daily Advertiser that “This day is published . . . a plan of the town of Alexandria drawn by Col. Gilpin and handsomely engraved.” Thomas Clarke flourished as an engraver in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, c. 1797-1801. Col. George Gilpin was born in Maryland in 1740, removed to Alexandria before the Revolution, and served as colonel of a regiment of Fairfax militia under Washington. In 1785 he became one of four directors of the Potomac Company, of which Washington was president. In the same year the Virginia Assembly provided by statute for an extensive enlargement of Alexandria, and Gilpin was appointed Commissioner for paving and grading the streets. He was honorary pallbearer at Washington’s funeral. He died in 1813.” (Alexandria Association, Our Town: 1749-1865, pp. 90-91.)

The copper printing plate engraved by Clarke somehow beat the odds and survived into the 20th century, when it was somehow acquired by Mangum and Josephine Weeks of Alexandria. In 1944 they commissioned a limited-edition restrike from this plate, likely on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Alexandria Library. A penciled note below the plate mark at lower right reads: “Alexandria. An edition of 165 impressions from the original copper-plate. Published 26 June 1944 by Mangum and Josephine Weeks. No 85.” The plate has since gone missing, and efforts to trace its location have proven unsuccessful. According to one well-placed source it was destroyed by Mr. and Mrs. Weeks after the restrikes were printed.

As mentioned above 18th-century impressions of the map are extraordinarily rare. I know of impressions only at the Library of Congress and the Albert Small Collection at George Washington University.

Phillips, List of Maps of America, p. 97 (the original). Phillips, List of Maps and Views of Washington and District of Columbia, p. 23 (the original). Stephenson, Cartography of Northern Virginia, plate 21. Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #539 (describing both the original and the restrike). OCLC lists 15 institutional holdings of the restrike (as of July 2017).


Minor foxing largely confined to margins, a framer’s light pencil guidelines in outer margins, pencil annotation to lower right of plate mark. Very good overall.