A Salem Massachusetts rarity

Jonathan P[eele?] Saunders / Engraved by Annin & Smith, Plan of the TOWN OF SALEM IN THE Commonwealth of Massachusetts from actual Surveys made in the years 1796 & 1804; with the improvements and alterations since that period as Surveyed by Jonathan P. Saunders. Boston, 1820.
Engraving, 20 ½”h x 30 ¾”w, uncolored.

The rare first printed plan of Salem Massachusetts, boldly engraved and a trove of information.

This interesting and very rare plan depicts the center of Salem as it was finding its footing following the economic devastation of Jefferson’s embargo and the War of 1812.  Executed at the very large scale of just over 350 feet to the inch, it provides considerable detail including the street layout, the numerous wharves lining the harbor, the complex of public and commercial buildings around Derby Square, and landowners in outlying areas of town.  Public buildings, churches, schools and businesses are located with numbers and symbols defined in a legend at lower left.

According to the Essex Register for September 13, 1820 Saunders deposited his Plan for copyright on August 31, and it was available for sale two at a subscription price of $2.50.  It would not be superseded until Henry McIntyre’s 1851 Map of the City of Salem.

Mapmaker John Saunders was a Salem Massachusetts merchant, auctioneer, surveyor as well as the Town’s long-serving Clerk. He began his mercantile business in or around 1814, operating it from a series of locations in the succeeding years.  He apparently met with business setbacks and sought in or around 1819 to re-establish himself as a surveyor and hoped to achieve prominence by publishing a map of Salem.  Evidence for this view is found in the Diary of William Bentley (1759-1819), minister of the Second Congregational (East) Church of Salem.

“[October] 27[, 1819]. Jonathan P. Saunders [is] comparing his survey of Salem with the plans I hold in my possession from Ford, Gibaut, Mansfield, & papers used in a survey by Government.  I lent him Ford’s plan of Salem & its vicinity to be returned in a few days.  When the Survey was made, Bowditch, then first entering upon his study of numbers, had the field book but no power of projection.  Gibaut was accurate & sure, when he could be engaged, but he had ill health & endless delays.  Everything begun well but nothing was finished.  The papers I hold are in the state in which I have put them long since the survey, but without expectation that a plan of Salem would be published.  The object of Saunders is to qualify himself in the distress of his affairs as a practical surveyor.” (Diary of William Bentley: 1811-1819, p. 626)

The title alludes to three sources used by Saunders including surveys conducted in 1796 and again in 1804, and his own surveys of “the improvements and alterations since that period.”  The 1796 survey was conducted by Captain John Gibaut and others, in compliance with a resolve of the state legislature requiring every town in the Commonwealth to submit a survey of its territory.  Saunders’ plan is an extremely rare instance of the 1790s surveys to appear in print (The only other known to this writer is a 1797 plan of Boston by Osgood Carleton.) These town surveys were later compiled by Osgood Carleton into An Accurate Map of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1797), the first official map of the state.

The nature of the 1804 survey is not entirely clear, though it likely involved Nathaniel Bowditch, who at the time was at work on his Chart of the Harbours of Salem, Marblehead, Beverly and Manchester.  Saunders’ own surveys might for example have included the massive Derby Wharf, which was extended to its full ½-mile length between 1806 and 1808.

Of Saunders’ surveying activities we know little beyond the Plan of the Town of Salem,though he seems to have achieved at least a modicum of success in the field.  One source records him conducting surveys of farms during the Fall of 1820. OCLC #166645927 records a manuscript View of the Amesbury Flannel Manufacturing Company’s water privilege and situation of buildings there located, with the dams and appendages connected therewith, drawn by Saunders in 1831.  In 1832 he was the “engineer” hired to survey a route for a new road linking Noddles Island (now Logan Airport) to Lynn (Salem Gazette, Aug. 28, 1832, p. 2)

OCLC records examples only at the Boston Public Library, Clements Library and Peabody Essex Museum (as of June 2018).  I know of additional examples held at the American Antiquarian Society, the Barry MacLean Collection, and a private Massachusetts Collection.  The Phillips also holds a manuscript notebook bearing a proposal for the map and subscribers’ signatures.


Residual soiling and staining, mended cracks and tears, and some restoration to losses primarily in margins, but also affecting one letter at center left. Lined.