Unrecorded final state of Arrowsmith’s highly-important map of the United States

Aaron Arrowsmith, A MAP OF THE UNITED STATES of NORTH AMERICA Drawn from a number of Critical Researches By A. ARROWSMITH, Hydrographer to H.R.H. His Majesty No. 10 SOHO SQUARE Additions to 1819. [London: Aaron Arrowsmith, 1820 or perhaps a bit later.]
Engraving on four sheets joined. Segmented and mounted on linen as issued, yielding a map 48”h x 55 ½”w at neat line plus margins, with original outline color. Minor foxing and staining, but better than very good.

A new discovery, being the final known state of Arrowsmith’s landmark wall map of the United States.

The map depicts the United States well west of the Mississippi River, including all of Louisiana and much of the Missouri Territory. The Florida peninsula is shown by an inset in the Atlantic, and two flaps extend the map beyond the original border, in order to depict the Mississippi delta and the region around Lake of the Woods (The latter flap was added following the 1818 agreement between Great Britain and the United States that set the 49th parallel between Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains as the international boundary.) Much attention is paid to major waterways and their tributaries, while mountains are shown rather haphazardly in the archaic “molehill” style. States and territories are delineated by outline color; dozens of U.S. Army forts and many Native American towns and villages are shown, particularly in the South. A large cartouche with a somewhat fanciful view of Niagara Falls enhances the map’s visual appeal.

Even a quick glance at the map reveals the nation’s western expansion, evidenced not only by the newly-admitted states of Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818) and Alabama (1819), but by forts and towns established as far west as the Mississippi River and even further west into Louisiana. That said, closer inspection reveals vast regions still apparently dominated by Native American peoples, with at most a thin veneer of American civilian or military presence.

An unrecorded final state of Arrowsmith’s United States map
Arrowsmith first published this map in 1796, at which time it was—along with Abraham Bradley’s more narrowly thematic Map of the United States Exhibiting Post Roads & Distancesby far the best available map of the young American republic. Arrowsmith’s map was a great commercial success and went through many updates over more than two decades: While there is still more research to be done, with many of the intermediate states of great rarity and rarely reproduced, with the discovery of the present map there are now fourteen recorded states.  Offered here is the very last, which can be securely dated to no earlier than the winter of 1820, as will be shown below.

Warning: The next three paragraphs dive deep down the carto-bibliographic rabbit hole.  If you can’t bear it, at the end of this description for easy reference I provide an up-to-date list of the known states of Arrowsmith’s map.

Arrowsmith sought throughout to keep his Map of the United States up to date, most notably by tracking the creation of new territories, their frequently-shifting boundaries, and their eventual elevation to statehood. On the first printing of the map to bear the date “1819” (i.e., the 12th known state), he added the North West Territory (much reduced following the carving out of new states beginning with Ohio in 1803), Indiana, Illinois Territory, and the Mississippi Territory. Reflecting the acquisition of Florida from Spain through the Adams-Onis Treaty (signed in Washington, February 22, 1819), he labelled East and West Florida and introduced an inset of the peninsula.

The next state of the map (the 13th known state) retains the date 1819 but must have been issued no later than early 1820: The title has been re-engraved to reflect the accession of George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales to the throne following the death of his father George III on January 29, 1820. Arrowsmith’s geographic updates are more modest, mostly focused on the junction of the Mississippi and River Ohio. The branch of the River Ohio north of “Shawnee T.” is now labelled “G.t Wabash”, with some alterations to its course and “Wabash I.” marked. The course of the “Little Wabash” has been re-engraved, with the new name “Lit. Wabash River” applied. Arrowsmith has also inserted several new towns and connecting roads, including Golconda. An example of this 13th state may be viewed on the David Rumsey web site.

The map offered here is a hitherto-unrecorded final state, the 14th. It too retains the 1819 date and as far as I can tell features just one small change in the engraving, but an interesting one: To the north of Lake Seneca in New York State, a short stretch of the route of the Erie Canal—at the time still under construction– has been burnished out and revised. Just to the east of this “Gr. Canal” has been added, though it is unclear whether this is in crude engraving or manuscript. One other interesting change was the work of the colorist: The boundaries of the State of Alabama (admitted 1819) have been delineated in pink, but the boundary is not yet engraved on the map, and indeed the area of Alabama still bears the engraved “Mississippi Territory” label. Further, the colorist incorrectly places the new state’s western boundary entirely along the Mississippi, so that Lake Pontchartrain and surroundings are shown in Alabama rather than Louisiana where they belong.

Aaron Arrowsmith, Sr. (1750-1823)
Arrowsmith is widely regarded as the greatest cartographer of his day. His particular specialties were large-scale wall maps of the world, the continents and their subdivisions, produced by the best engravers, clearly lettered, and printed on superior paper. He emphasized discarding old and outdated geographical notions and was content to leave large blank spaces in his maps to show the limitations of contemporary knowledge. He was assiduous in updating his maps when he reprinted them but, alas, rarely revised publication dates in the imprints. As with the present map, dating them thus often requires a knowledge of his changes of address and royal titles.

Unfortunately, Arrowsmith’s early training is obscure, although he may have learned his craft from William Faden. In the 1780s he was working as a land surveyor, finding employment with John Cary. From 1790 he embarked on a new career as a cartographer and publisher.

A lovely example of this monument in the mapping of the United States, updated to reflect the nation’s inexorable westward expansion.

Rarity and references
Known holdings of the three 1819 states of Arrowsmith’s map are as follows.

  • 12th state: Rumsey Collection at Stanford (two western sheets only) (Rumsey #4309)
  • 13th state: Rumsey Collection at Stanford (Rumsey #3445)
  • 14th state: The example offered here
  • Indeterminate: OCLC 48705424 records four examples dated 1819 (Cambridge University Library (UK), Harvard, Indiana Historical Society and University of Illinois), but the cataloguing makes a state determination impossible. Another 1819-dated example of indeterminate state is held at the University of Virginia.

Stevens & Tree’s treatment of the map (“Comparative Cartography”, reprinted in Tooley’s Maps of America, #79) has for many years been the standard reference on the subject. Confusingly for us, they note two states of the 1819 map, but differentiate the second by the addition of the flaps for the Mississippi Delta and Lake of the Woods. they do not note this final state.

List of known states of the map (as of February 2023)

  1. 1796 [dated]: Arrowsmith’s address is given as Charles Street. The ‘Tennassee Government’ is so labelled. In the lower left, there is panel of text, headed ‘Boundaries Communicated by Geo. Chalmers Esq.r’.
  2. 1796 [ca. 1796]: ‘Tennassee’ is so named; the map has been extensively revised and updated.
  3. [1796 [ca. 1799]: Arrowsmith’s address is now given as Rathbone Place.
  4. 1802 [dated]: the imprint refers to the map as having ‘… Additions to 1802’.
  5. 1802 [ca. 1804]: the block of text on boundaries communicated by Chalmers has been deleted.
  6. 1802 [ca. 1808]: Arrowsmith’s address has been revised to 10 Soho Square.
  7. 1802 [ca. 1810]: the title now records Arrowsmith’s appointment as ‘Hydrographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales …’.
  8. 1802 [ca. 1810]: Michigan and Ohio Territories are now marked.
  9. 1815 [dated]: the imprint now reads ‘… Additions to 1802 ___ 1815.’
  10. 1816 [dated]: the imprint has bee revised to ‘… Additions to 1802 ___ 1816.’
  11. 1818 [dated: imprint changed to ‘… Additions to 1802 ___ 1818.’
  12. 1819 [dated:]: the title now notes ‘Additions to 1819’. The Northwest Territory, Indiana, Louisiana, Illinois Territory, Missouri Territory and Mississippi Territory are marked. This state can be found with or without extension flaps affixed to the left-hand sheets.
  13. 1819 [ca. 1820]: the title now refers to Arrowsmith as Hydrographer to H.R.H. His Majesty, with a few additions (as noted above). This state can be found with or without extension flaps affixed to the left-hand sheets.
  14. 1819 [ca. 1820 or later]: Erie Canal re-engraved and “Gr. Canal” added either in manuscript or print, State of Alabama indicated by added outline color, outline color to Louisiana erroneously shows its eastern boundary along the Mississippi.