Schoolboy manuscript map of Kentucky, drawn on the frontier

Charles Craig, A MAP of KENTUCKY BY CHARLES CRAIG. [Kentucky, ca. 1810.]
Manuscript in ink on wove paper, 17 ¾”h x 22”w at neat line plus margins. Minor-moderate foxing and soiling, some areas of restoration primarily to margins but also affecting small image losses, most notably several letters of the mapmaker’s last name.

A schoolboy map of Kentucky, remarkable for its size, excellent detail, Kentucky origins and superb provenance. “School” maps are frequently encountered on the antiquarian market; indeed, we have handled perhaps two dozen in the past decade. However, the vast majority of surviving examples were produced in New England, New York and Pennsylvania, and it is almost unheard-of to encounter such maps produced in the Appalachian region.

The map depicts all of Kentucky, with adjacent parts of Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee shown more schematically. The state’s complex of rivers and streams, all tributary to the Ohio, are shown in very considerable detail, and elevations are roughed in by hachuring and stippling. Not a single road or trail is shown, emphasizing by omission the impotance of travel by water at the time. Counties are named and their boundaries carefully outlined, and the state’s relatively few towns and settlements indicated. Of particular interest are the dotted lines north and west of the Ohio labelled “Indian Boundary Line,” reflecting the terms of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville; and a similarly-named line in Tennessee marking the limits of Cherokee lands.

The period depicted by the map is right around 1800, as it shows Livingston County, established in 1799, but not Floyd or Adair Counties, which were created in 1800 and 1802 respectively. However, it appears to have been based on the Kentucky map in Arrowsmith & Lewis’s General Atlas, published in 1804.

From the 1790s through the 1830s map copying was an important element of American primary education, valued for imparting geographical knowledge and providing excellent practice in drawing and penmanship (Schulten, p. 186).  Schulten argues, however, that the technique was also valued as a tool for developing character: “this task was often less about cartographic conceptualization than demonstrating the discipline and control required to replicate or emulate a map.” (ibid., p. 199)

These maps were drawn or embroidered, to some extent by boys but primarily by girls, as the education of the former tended to place a greater emphasis on navigation and surveying than on geography. (ibid., pp. 190-191)  The source maps were usually from commercially-published atlases, as school geography texts did not begin to proliferate until the late 1810s. (ibid., p. 192) The practice began to decline in the 1830s, under the influence of educational theorists such as Pestalozzi, who argued that geographic education should be built on direct, local observation “rather than beginning with the most abstract concept of astronomical and world geography.” (ibid., p. 217)

The surviving examples of the genre vary wildly: Subject matter includes states, regions, countries, continents and the world; sizes range from a notebook page to large productions on multiple joined sheets; decorative styles range from plain to highly adorned with calligraphic, botanical and/or patriotic ornamentation; and quality of execution ranges from extremely crude—as if dashed off at the last minute to fulfill an assignment–to highly refined. All are, however, interesting as examples of a certain pedagogical model and as windows into the minds of young Americans for many of whom little or no other historical trace remains.

The Cowan and Craig families and the Ladies Domestic Academy
The previous owner of this map, the late Maurice Derby Leach, Jr., was a descendant of the Cowan and Craig families, who arrived in central Kentucky in the late 18thcentury (John Filson’s famed 1784 map of Kentucky shows a “Craig’s” on Gilbert Creek in Fayette County and a “Capt. Craig’s” just southwest of Lexington.) Both the Cowans and the Craigs were important families in the early history of the state, and they maintained close ties through marriage, business, and other matters. While the bulk of the material from the Leach estate descended through the Cowan family, this map, and several others like it, are known to have originated with the Craigs. Given the profusion of Kentucky Craigs, however, we have not yet been able to determine the identities of mapmaker Charles Craig. We are also offering other maps by members of the Craig family, including this wonderful patriotic map of the United States by Mary Craig.

A most unusual opportunity to acquire a rare artifact of early Kentucky history, from a period when institutions were new and the untamed frontier was still near at hand.

For background see Susan Schulten, “Map Drawing, Graphic Literacy, and Pedagogy in the Early Republic,” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 57 no. 2 (May 2017), pp. 185-220.

Owned in partnership with James Arsenault & Company of Arrowsic, Maine.