Moses Greenleaf atlas of Maine… “unparalleled in its time” (Thompson)

Five folding maps & two diagrams, all engraved in New York by William Chapin and ranging in size from 11 ½”h x 11”w to 31 ½”h x 23 ½”w, all with original hand color. Original ½ calf over marbled boards with original printed label bearing title and contents affixed to front board.

A Maine rarity, being the Moses Greenleaf state atlas of 1829. Greenleaf was “a champion of central Maine development, an ardent supporter of statehood, an early and vocal advocate of Maine’s claim in the Northeastern Boundary Controversy, an accurate compiler of statistics and data about Maine, and a careful and dedicated cartographer of maps of Maine.” (Thompson, Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine, p. 79) “Greenleaf’s atlas was (and remains) an altogether remarkable production, unparalleled in its time.” (Ibid, p. 101) Owned in partnership with High Ridge Books of South Deerfield, Mass.

Description of the Atlas
The atlas offered here is one of three ambitious geographical publications by Moses Greenleaf in 1829, including also A Survey of the State of Maine, in reference to its Geographic Features, Statistics, and Political Economy (468pp) and Map of the State of Maine with the Province of New Brunswick (four sheets, ca. 50”h x 40”w). Each stands on its own, however, and the Thompson sale of 2003 is the only time in recent memory that the three have been offered simultaneously (albeit as separate lots).

The atlas consists of five maps and two diagrams:

Plate I: “Map of the Principal Rivers, Mountains and Highland Ranges of the State of Maine, 1828.”


Plate II: “Sketch from Bouchette’s Maps of Upper & Lower Canada and the District of Gaspe.”


Plate III: “Sketch of the Imaginary Ranges of Highlands Reported by the British Surveyors under the Treaty of Ghent, as extending across the State of Maine.”


Plate IV: “Vertical Sections, Exhibiting the comparative Altitudes of the principal Highlands and Rivers of the State of Maine, 1828.”


Plate V: “Map Exhibiting the Principal Original Grants & Sales of Lands in the State of Maine.”


Plate VI: “Map of the Inhabited Part of the State of Maine.”


Plate VII: “Meteorological Diagrams. Monthly means & extremes of temperature.”

The contents indicate that Greenleaf’s goal in producing the atlas was rhetorical as well as geographical.

“Greenleaf’s atlas is especially important because it is much more than just a compilation of geographical maps. Greenleaf was an ardent supporter of Maine’s claim in the Northeastern Boundary Controversy with Great Britain and the first four maps in the atlas relate to this issue. These are the only maps concerning the dispute to be published in Maine before John Deane’s maps of 1840 and 1842.” (Thompson, p. 99)

The Boundary Controversy had its roots in one of the geographical ambiguities embedded in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which concluded the Revolutionary War and recognized American independence. Article 2 specified the U.S.-Canada boundary, including the “Highlands, which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river St. Lawrence.” Great Britain and the United States disagreed strongly about the location of these “highlands,” so much so that they nearly went to war in 1838-39. The dispute was only settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

As a Maine resident and patriot, Greenleaf naturally favored a more expansive view of Maine’s territory. Hence the note on the label at the front of the atlas, which reads “The 4 preceding Maps [i.e., Maps 1-4] are designed to exhibit the true merits of the question of the disputed boundary, as far as it is affected by the direction and elevation of the highlands.” These four maps depict Greenleaf’s rather aggressive interpretation, which placed the boundary within mere miles of the St. Lawrence while taking pains to depict “the Imaginary Ranges claimed by the British for the boundary of the State of Maine.”

The last three items in the atlas demonstrate something of the range of Greenleaf’s interests. Plate V is a large, well-designed and informative map depicting the rather complicated state of land ownership in Maine, based on grants and sales as far back as 1692. Plate VI is an innovative thematic map of the southern half of the state, using shading to depict the “progress of settlement” as of 1775, 1800 and 1820 and letters indicating the “center[s] of taxable property and “population” in each of those years. To our knowledge, this was the first attempt by an American to use census data as the basis of a thematic map. Plate VII contains six histograms contrasting “monthly means & extremes of temperature” at locations in Maine and elsewhere.

Moses Greenleaf (1777-1834)
Moses Greenleaf was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1777, but moved with his family to New Gloucester, Maine in 1790. He eventually set up there as a shopkeeper, but apparently things didn’t work out, as over the next few years he moved a few times before settling in 1810 in Williamsburg, some 50 miles north and west of Bangor. He had in 1806 purchased a one-quarter share in the township from one William Dodd of Boston, agreeing to move there and promote its settlement.

Greenleaf fulfilled his commitment to Dodd, and then some. Over nearly three decades he did more than any other person to describe and promote Maine, producing two books, two landmark wall maps, and the atlas offered here. To this end he traveled extensively, particularly in the interior, and his geographic works are especially valuable for their contributions to the description of this vast, rugged and at the time all-but unsettled region.

“Our state has produced many monumental works, and those on which a vast amount of labor and intellectuality have been bestowed, of which we are justly proud, but it is believed it can be safely said that none exhibit more careful, painstaking and profound study and preparation than do these of Moses Greenleaf, and none are more worthy of being preserved for the use of the historian as a reliable and invaluable record of early Maine history and topography.” (Smith, Moses Greenleaf, Maine’s First Mapmaker, p.77)

Publication history
Greenleaf’s great project received backing from none other than Maine Governor Enoch Lincoln. In an 1828 speech to the legislature, Lincoln commented that

“Belonging to the subject of education is the dissemination of knowledge in every form. It becomes of consequence a duty to commend to your patronage two works, my acquaintance with one of which convinces my judgement that its wide distribution through New England would so add to the spirit of immigration and the value of our lands as to throw out the consideration of the cost. I allude to a statistical work by Moses Greenleaf, whose eminent ability and distinguished topographical knowledge will be also illustrated by a map appurtinant to the work above mentioned.” (Portland Gazette, January 13, 1828).

Soon thereafter Greenleaf submitted his manuscript originals to a state committee, which reviewed them positively:

“[We] find it to be a work on which great attention and labor have been bestowed, and which promises to be executed with skill, accuracy and judgment and believing it to be replete with knowledge highly useful to the people and important to the State, recommend it to the favorable notice and liberal patronage of the Legislature.” (Bangor Weekly Register, January 23, 1828).

With that encouragement, publishers Arthur Shirley and William Hyde registered copyright for the Survey of the State of Maine and Map of the State of Maine on February 28th and issued proposals for publication, soliciting subscriptions, dated March 10th 1828, reprinted in the various Maine newspapers. The subscription price for the Survey, with atlas, and the wall map was $16.

The Survey volume and accompanying atlas were completed in March 1829 and the wall map was first advertised in April of the same year.

Despite the importance of Moses Greenleaf’s work, sales were poor. The market in Maine was simply too small to justify such an expensive undertaking. A report of proceedings in the state legislature recorded that,

“It appears that Mr. G. was induced by encouragement from the Legislature to extend his original plan, and incur great additional expense, in order to present a work more valuable to the state. The engraving, printing, &c., cost $8351 81, surveys &c. about 4000, and Mr. G, has devoted more than 6 years of his time to the work. The Legislature of 1828 granted $1000 to aid him in his labors. 565 copies were printed, of which 458 remain unsold.” (Hallowell American Advocate, February 27, 1830).

A second report estimated that Greenleaf’s personal contribution be valued at $9,000 (Portland Christian Monitor, February 25, 1830). This gives, as a rough guide, income of $2,700 against an actual cost of $12,350 or a notional cost of $21,350. In view of the scale of the loss, Greenleaf made an appeal for relief, submitting a lengthy memorial in January 1830 (Maine State Archives). After much debate in the legislature, it was agreed that the state would purchase 400 sets at the subscription price of $16, and the state would give Moses Greenleaf a “a notice for $2000, redeemable in no longer time than 15 years, and to be paid out of the proceeds of the Public Lands” (Portland Eastern Argus, February 26, 1830).

Rarity and references
We are aware of only two other examples having appeared on the market in recent years: The Edward V. Thompson copy sold in 2003 for $7475 with premium, and another was offered in William Reese Catalog 295 (2012) for $15,000. As of May 2018 we have located ten institutional holdings, including the British Library, Library of Congress, Maine State Library, Massachusetts State Library, Osher Map Library, Portland (Maine) Public Library, Stanford (Rumsey), University of Maine (Fogler Library, 3 copies).

Howes, U.S.-Iana, #G393. Le Gear, Atlases, #1499. Phillips, Atlases, #1772. Reese, Catalog 295, #96. Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 94-96. Rumsey #3441. Schulten, Mapping the Nation, p. 126 (describing Plate VI). Smith, Moses Greenleaf—Maine’s First Mapmaker, #58-64. Sabin, Dictionary of Books Relating to America, #28666. Thompson, Important Maine Maps, Books, Prints & Ephemera, #118 (sold for $7475). Thompson, Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine 1793-1860, #30. Williamson, Bibliography of the State of Maine, #5821.


Maps with minor scattered foxing and somewhat brittle, a few tears and minor fold separations, and tiny holes from worm tracks. The lower extremities of the atlas were affected by damp at some time, with consequent mild-moderate staining to the corresponding portions of the maps. Boards somewhat scuffed and rubbed.