Very rare example of Abraham Bradley’s epochal 1804 wall map of the United States, with important updates to 1809.
Over the course of his lengthy career as First Assistant Postmaster General of the United States, Bradley issued a series of three major postal maps of the country, the first in 1796, the second in 1804, and the third in or around 1825. In lauding Bradley’s first map, of 1796, Ristow notes that it “represented the first clear cartographic break from European-dominated mapmaking and introduced a new, more distinctly American style of cartography to the United States”, adding that “the map was largely based on new information,” personally gathered by Bradley in his official capacity at the Post Office Department. As such, it can be argued that Bradley’s maps are foundations of a distinctly national cartography.
Offered here is the second of Bradley’s three maps, first issued in 1804 and here updated to 1809. It reflects the latest advances in geographic knowledge, the westward advance of the American frontier, the creation of new territories and their accession to statehood, and the rapid development of the infrastructure that enabled the movement of people, goods and mail across vast distances. Given the number and quality of Bradley’s sources, no other map of the Jeffersonian era provides a cartographic portrait of the nation with anything approaching the depth of detail and freshness of information of this one.
Description of the map
In their 2010 study of Bradley’s maps in The Portolan, Caldwell & Buehler describe the 1804 map as follows:
“The new map was designed on a larger scale and with greater dimensions than the 1796 map to accommodate wider geographic coverage and a denser postal network. In fact, at 98 cm x 132 cm on four sheets, it has over 50% more surface area. The expanded coverage encompasses the newly acquired Louisiana Territory as far as 19 degrees west of Washington, but the sparsely settled northern extremities of the United States (the Lake Superior country, for example) are not shown. The geography of the Great Lakes is more accurately portrayed and far more detail is shown in the West than on the 1796 map. The nation’s expansion is indicated not only by the Louisiana Territory and its subsequent division into the Orleans Territory and the District of Louisiana (1804), but also by the new Mississippi (1798) and Indiana (1800) Territories. A small inset map of North America replaces the East Coast route chart included on the 1796 map.
“It is probable that every postal road existing at the time is shown, with mileages between major post offices indicated, but the growth of the network made it impossible to depict each of the 1,405 post offices. Bradley retained the previously used symbols for “post roads” and “post & stage roads,” but he discarded the symbol for “post roads established by contract.” One of the most important routes depicted is the one “made by Order from the Secretary at War from Nashville T[ennessee] to Pierre R[iver] M[ississippi] T[erritory].” This route was key to establishing reliable mail service to, and administrative control over, the lower Mississippi region which was at the time still under heavy French influence.” (Caldwell & Buehler, “Picturing a Networked Nation”, The Portolan, no. 77 (Spring 2010), p. 13)
A most significant addition involves the large inset at lower right. On Bradley’s map of 1796 this space was occupied by a timetable of the postal system. By 1804, however, the network had expanded from some 450 to more than 1400 post offices, and it was no longer possible to design an all-encompassing timetable, much less fit it in the confines of the map. Here therefore Bradley substituted a large map of North America, indicating the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase, concluded that year.
This printing has the characteristics of the third state, dated by Caldwell & Buehler to 1809. In this state, new township surveys by the General Land Office are inserted in Indiana, the Illinois Territory (est. 1809) is named; and 25 new towns are inserted in the “Connecticut Reserve and the “Fire Lands” of eastern Ohio. The short-lived Orleans Territory, which existed from 1804 to 1812, out of which the state of Louisiana would be formed with somewhat altered boundaries, remains.
Unfortunately, most examples were originally hung as wall maps in postal administrative offices and suffered heavy use and exposure. Thus despite the three editions and numerous printings, very few examples of Bradley’s three maps survive, with Caldwell & Buehler recording a total of forty-four. They identify institutional holdings of this third state of the 1804 map at Yale; the Free Library of Philadelphia; the Library Company of Philadelphia; and Stanford University (the Rumsey example), with examples in the MacLean Collection (Chicago) and another private collection (this copy).
Abraham Bradley, Jr. (1767-1838)
Bradley was born in Litchfield, Connecticut and originally trained for the law. He practiced in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, first as an attorney and later as a county judge, but when Timothy Pickering, a fellow Wilkes-Barre judge, was appointed Postmaster General by George Washington in 1791, Bradley joined him as his confidential clerk shortly thereafter in 1792. In 1800, Bradley was named First Assistant Postmaster General by Pickering’s successor Joseph Habersham. Abraham’s brother Phineas, a medical doctor by training, joined the Post Office as a clerk in 1801 and in 1818 was appointed to the key position of Second Assistant Postmaster General. The Bradley brothers were considered the Post Office brain trust, running the operations under the Postmaster General. The two held office until their dismissal by President Andrew Jackson in 1829 to make way for Jacksonian placemen.
Bradley’s responsibilities were many and varied but here we would highlight his responsibility for establishing mail routes linking the post office locations approved by Congress and maintaining the flow of mail along these routes. To assist in fulfilling these responsibilities, Bradley was inspired to draught and publish his sequence of three outstanding maps of the United States. The maps are all the more remarkable in that Bradley himself was not a trained surveyor or cartographer, although he may have assisted his land-surveyor father in his youth.
Alas, little is known about the circumstances of the publication of Bradley’s three maps. However this firm recently handled an important manuscript letter by Bradley to American geographer Jedidiah Morse in which he detailed the costs of the engraving of the 1796 map, and goes on to discuss costs of “the map which I have now in hand”, which we assume to be this second map.
In all, a monument of early American mapmaking, significant for its documentation of a rapidly-expanding nation and the central role of the Post Office Department in binding it together.
Ristow, W. American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 70-1; Rumsey 3043 & cf. 2929; cf. Wheat & Brun 128-130; Caldwell, L./ Buehler, M. “Picturing a Networked Nation: Abraham Bradley’s Landmark U.S. Postal Maps.” The Portolan; Issue 77, Spring 2010.