Landmark Osgood Carleton map of Massachusetts

Osgood Carleton (mapmaker) / B&J Loring (publisher) / Callender & Hill (engravers), Map of Massachusetts Proper Compiled from Actual Surveys made by Order of the General Court.  Boston, B. & J. Loring, 1801/1802.
Engraving, 32"h x 46"w plus margins, early outline color, mounted on original linen

The Osgood Carleton “Map of Massachusetts,” the first official state map and a vast improvement over any earlier effort.

A very nice copy of the second edition of the first official map of the State of Massachusetts. Based largely on new surveys, it depicts the state with the surveyed boundaries of counties and towns; the courses of roads and waterways; and the locations of cultural and political landmarks such as academies, court houses, and meeting houses. The unusually large and lovely cartouche depicts European settlement and commerce merging (in a misleadingly seamless and peaceful fashion) with a scene of forest and crag populated by a single native warrior.

In terms of quality and breadth of information as well as visual appeal, this was by far the best map of Massachusetts produced to date.

Historical context
After the Revolution the individual states needed to produce accurate and useful maps of their territories. Such maps were necessary for monitoring and stimulating settlement, commerce, and development of transportation networks; as well as for delineating public lands available for sale. With a relatively weak Federal government unable to provide support and themselves short on cash, states had to come up with creative models for funding these labor intensive projects.

The Massachusetts model was developed in the mid-1790s by Osgood Carleton-Boston-based surveyor and mapmaker-and enacted by the General Court (legislature) in the same year. This involved public:private and state:local collaboration, in the following manner: Each town was required to conduct a survey at its own cost and submit a town plan to the Secretary of State. Under state auspices, the surveys would then be compiled and where necessary reconciled to produce maps of Massachusetts proper and the District of Maine. Enacting Carleton’s proposal, a 1794 Resolve of the General Court stated:

That the inhabitants of the several towns and districts in the Commonwealth… take or cause to be taken… accurate plans of their respective towns or districts, upon a scale of two hundred rods to an inch, and upon a survey hereafter actually to be made, or that has actually been made, within seven years next preceding this time…. [Resolves of the Massachusetts General Court, 1794, Chap. 101 (26 June, 1794)]

Further instructions made clear that this was not to be simply a geographical survey, but a summing up of the cultural and economic resources of the state.

And be it further Resolved, that on each of said plans… the situation of houses for public worship, Court-Houses… shall be inserted….


And it is further Resolved, That there be inserted… the breadth of rivers, the number and reputed magnitude of ponds, the falls of water, mountains, manufactories, mills, mines and minerals, and of what sort, iron-works and furnaces… (Ibid.)

By 1796 surveys had been received from the vast majority of towns, and these may still be found in the Massachusetts State Archives. It was only in 1797, however, that a partnership of Osgood Carleton and Boston printer-publisher-engraver John Norman submitted a winning proposal to compile the maps from the raw surveys, produce engravings, and publish the result. In return for providing 400 copies of each to the State, they would receive a 14-year copyright to the map.

Unfortunately, the project encountered numerous setbacks. Many towns were either tardy or noncompliant in submitting surveys, and those submitted were of uneven quality. For example, Provincetown apparently submitted a “plan” consisting of nothing more than an outline of the town with no interior detail. Reflecting the quality of these surveys, a note on the first edition of the map (1798) states, “as the surveys of some towns were not so full as others, the Roads and Streams of those Towns have been unavoidably discontinued.”

Another problem was the poor quality of the engraving. Errors of fact aside, Norman clearly had trouble depicting the immense amount of information in a user-friendly manner. As a result, the map is in some places so cluttered with information as to be almost unreadable. The General Court subsequently rejected Carleton and Norman’s effort:

It is expected in the Mean time they correct all the Error in said maps, and take out the many accidental strokes in the Plate; and also that they make Margins of the Rivers, Ponds, and Sea Coasts neater, and that the whole Plate be better Polished… (Boston Gazette, Aug. 20, 1798, quoted in Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, p. 91.)

400 copies of the rejected map had already been printed, however, so to recoup their costs Carleton and/or Norman attempted to sell it privately. This first edition of the map is now extremely scarce on the market.

Editions and states of the map
Carleton then went back to the drawing board-literally-to rework the map, ended the partnership with Norman, and hired Joseph Callender and Samuel Hill to re-engrave the map on entirely new plates. This second edition was approved by the General Court and printed in 1801 in a run of 500 copies. Another run of 400 was issued in 1802, the only apparent change being the insertion of the “B. & J. Loring, 1802″ imprint.” This is the second edition, second state and corresponds to the example offered here.

The 1801-02 second edition differs considerably from the first, in ways that favor each map differently. Presumably to simplify the engraving and “clean up” the image, the new edition omits the ranges of mountains and hills shown on the first, as well as symbols indicating various types of industrial establishment. Conversely, the second edition includes new place names and landmarks, numerous changes to the details of roads and streams, and a far more attractive cartouche. As a result it has a far cleaner, more finished and appealing look than the first edition.

Despite the problems encountered, Massachusetts repeated its overall approach in 1829, when the General Court again required towns to submit plans for compilation in an official state map. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the quality problems and consequent delays with the town plans recurred. This time around, however, much re-surveying was conducted at state expense, and a new map of the state was not published until 1844.

This is a very nice example of a most important and rather uncommon map, which often appears on the market with seious condition issues.

McCorkle, New England in Early Printed Maps, #M798.1 (1st edition of the map); Phillips, A List of Maps of America, p. 400; Wheat & Brun, #214 (1st edition, giving date of 1795). The following two works provided essential information: Danforth, “The First Official Maps of Maine and Massachusetts,” Imago Mundi 35 (1983): 37-57; Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 89-94.  For a biography of Osgood Carleton, see David Bosse, “Osgood Carleton, Mathematical Practioner of Boston.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, vol. 107 (1995), pp. 141-164.


Cleaned and remounted on the original linen, with a few minor cracks and mended tears and some traces of foxing and staining