A landmark in Vermont cartography

James Whitelaw, Esqr. Surveyor General (mapmaker) / Amos Doolittle (engraver), A Correct MAP of the STATE OF VERMONT From actual Survey; Exhibiting the County and Town lines, Rivers, Lakes, Ponds, Mountains, Meetinghouses, Mills, Public Roads &c., [Ryegate, VT], 1796 .
Engraving with etched detail on 3 sheets joined, segmented and laid on linen, 45"h x 30.5"w plus margins. Original color.

The first edition of Whitelaw’s superb map of Vermont, in brilliant original color and excellent condition. An extreme rarity, with no record of having ever appeared in the antiquarian market.

The large scale of Whitelaw’s map it possible to provide a level of detail hitherto unseen on any map of an American state. At 3 ¾ miles to an inch, it gives a tremendous amount of information about the natural and human landscape. Mountains are portrayed with hachuring, the courses of rivers and streams are shown, and wetlands are even indicated with a special symbol. The map delineates county and township boundaries, with disputed boundaries indicated as dashed lines, and hundreds of roads are traced. No fewer than 16 distinct symbols identify cultural, economic and political landmarks such as meeting and court houses; grammar schools; paper, grist, fulling and saw mills; etc. Each town includes a note indicating the date it was granted.

A long and eminently useful note at the lower right explains the circumstances of the map’s production and outlines the sources used (for more on which, see below). The map is adorned by a large pictorial vignette of a Vermont farmstead, and its overall visual appeal is enhanced by the careful engraving, executed by Amos Doolittle of New Haven. The present example is greatly enhanced by the full original color, which is in a remarkable state of preservation.

In every respect, Whitelaw’s map was a giant leap forward over earlier depictions of the state, including that on Jefferys’ Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England (1755) and more recently, William Blodgett’s Topographical Map of the State of Vermont (1789). Its value is demonstrated by the fact that it was revised and reissued as late as 1851 and was not superseded until Henry Walling’s 1859 Map of the State of Vermont.

Following American independence the individual states needed accurate maps for defense, for monitoring and stimulating settlement and commerce; and for delineating public lands available for grant or sale. The British had of course mapped the Colonies extensively prior to the Revolution, but these maps were primarily military in nature and focused on topographical features and travel routes rather than economic, political or social factors.

With a weak Federal government unable to provide support and themselves short on cash, states came up with creative models for funding these labor-intensive projects. The preferred approach was pioneered by Vermont in 1790 and rested on an “unfunded mandate” imposed on the towns: By resolve of the legislature, each town was to conduct a survey at its own cost and submit a town plan to Surveyor General James Whitelaw, who would then take responsibility for compiling them into a coherent map of the state. The plans were to meet certain quality requirements,

“…exhibiting the courses and lengths of their lines and what towns they are bounded on, also the courses of the several streams with their names, public roads and where they lead to, the situation of meeting houses, mills, and other public buildings, also the situation and names of ponds, mountains and everything necessary to make a complete map…” (Vermont Secretary of State, State Papers of Vermont, Vol. 1. Index to the Papers of the Surveyor-General, 2nd ed. Montpelier, VT, 1973. Cited in Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, p. 89.)

Before becoming Surveyor General in 1787, Whitelaw was had been an assistant to Ira Allen, his predecessor and the first Surveyor General of the short-lived Republic of Vermont. Between 1783 and 1790, among other things, the two men completed surveys of the townships in the northern half of the state. Following the resolve of 1790, copies of these surveys were returned to those towns in order that the details of roads, streams, &c. could be filled in under the supervision of their Select Boards. The State’s southern towns, by contrast, seem to have been mapped entirely under the supervision of their respective Selectmen.

The township surveys were duly compiled by Whitelaw, and A Correct Map of the State of Vermont was first issued in 1796. The six-year delay was likely a result of the reluctance of some towns to fund their surveys and to the rather mixed quality and accuracy of the surveys that were received. In fact the map includes the following note: “Several towns neglected making returnes [sic], and others were not very particular: which is the cause that the roads are broken off in some places.”

Circumstantial evidence indicates that Whitelaw’s compensation for the project was predicated on his supplying a specified number of copies to the State. This number presumably included one map for each town, an additional number for use of the State government, and perhaps a further quantity for distribution to leading figures and governments around the country. Above and beyond this minimal print run, Whitelaw seems to have been free to sell copies for his own gain. For example, several copies are extant of a 1795 broadside signed by Whitelaw and soliciting subscriptions for the map, while in May 1796 an ad appeared in some Vermont papers announcing that the map “is now engraving” and inviting last-minute subscribers. (See for example the May 13, 1796 issue of Spooner’s Vermont Journal.)

For all its flaws the Vermont model was soon copied by Massachusetts and New Hampshire. These projects also encountered difficulties, including inaccuracies, terrible delays, and headaches and financial losses for the mapmakers. Withal, they resulted in a series of superb maps of the New England states, now highly valued by collectors and scholars alike.

States of the map
Whitelaw’s map was reissued in 1810 (Cobb #171), 1821 (#188), 1824 (#194), 1827 (#199), 1838 (#228) and 1851 (#228), though Whitelaw himself remained involved only through 1810. The original plates remaining in use throughout, though very substantial changes were made in 1810 and 1821.

The various editions of the map are each held by numerous American institutions. However, the 1796 first and 1810 second editions are prohibitively rare in the marketplace: some years ago this firm handled an example of the 1810, but we have located no other record of either version having appeared on the market.

Cobb, Vermont Maps prior to 1900, #171; Graffignano, The Shaping of Vermont, #20; McCorison, Vermont Imprints, #417; McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #V796.6; Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 89-90; Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America prior to 1800, #200. No record of the 1796 edition in either Antique Map Price Record or Americana Exchange.


Trimmed to neatline (as issued), minor occasional foxing, and minor dog-earing to edges of some segments. Withal, as fine an example of this map as one could hope to find.