A rare and impressive map of Chatham County, Georgia

Charles G. Platen, MAP of Chatham COUNTY STATE OF GEORGIA Compiled EXCLUSIVELY from certified plats and maps of the most eminent local Surveyors by Charles G. Platen. Savannah, 1875.
Lithograph printed in four colors on two sheets, if joined forming a map 50 ¼”h x 40” at the neatline.

A rare and impressive map, and the only one for Chatham County, Georgia published in the 19th century. It provides a remarkable record of the environs of Savannah from the Reconstruction period, and its vivid coloring and wildly varied typography give it tremendous decorative appeal.

Designed to promote agricultural development in the county, the map locates every significant parcel of land identifies its owner. Many of the parcels are numerically keyed to a list at upper left of 37 local surveyors whose plats were “the foundation of this map,” though Platen also drew on an 1818 manuscript by John McKinnon and the more recent work of the U.S. Coast Survey. The county’s extensive road and railroad networks are shown, as is the route of the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal. All arable land is colored in yellow, with “low and swamp lands” in green.

Due to its accuracy and detail, Platen’s map is one of a handful of definitive cartographic sources for Savannah and the surrounding area. It deservedly received high praise in the local press, though one wonders how much of the copy was penned by Platen himself:

“The map has been prepared from original surveys and deeds, and from private maps and engineers’ profiles for various public and private works. Besides the years of labor in the compilation and drawing Mr. Platen spent seven months in Philadelphia superintending every detail of the lithographing, and the work shows that his time was not spent in vain, as it is without doubt the handsomest lithographic map ever printed in America. The map in every respect is well worthy of inspection, and we invite the public to call at the counting room of the NEWS office and examine the county in which they live, which is so clearly and accurately delineated. It is 43 x 56 inches, and every district, village and plantation is plainly and distinctly defined. As a work of art it is a magnificent specimen, and as an accurate and complete map of this county, its equal has never been seen, and its value cannot be overestimated.” (Savannah Morning News, Dec. 29, 1876, p. 3)

The map has been consulted in boundary disputes between the States of Georgia and South Carolina, and it is frequently used for historical and archaeological investigations. These include an attempt to determine the age of a plank road that parallels present-day Highway 80, and to locate the exact site of the Ten Broeck Race Course, where the largest slave auction in Georgia history took place in 1859.

I have found only scraps of information about mapmaker Charles G. Platen, but enough to suggest that his life was neither entirely happy or successful. The 1860 census describes him as a native of Brunswick, Germany born in 1818 and resident in Savannah with his wife and infant son, while the 1880 census has him living outside the city and adds his profession as “architect and lawyer.” He served as an officer in the Georgia First Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and was posted in late 1863 at Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. A 22-page diary in his hand survives at the Emory Civil War Collection, “illustrated with a few sketches… including a rough diagram of the harbor showing location of fortifications.” In the years immediately before and after his map of Chatham County appeared he was the plaintiff in a number of libel cases, all of which he lost, and his inability to pay court costs led to a brief imprisonment in late 1875. Duke University Library holds a 36-page Platen manuscript, dated ca 1876-1900 but apparently unpublished, bearing the title Oecography. The Geography of Home. Chatham County, State of Georgia: A Text-book Designed for the Use of the Grammar Schools of Savannah, Georgia.

In all a rare and desirable map, bearing a wealth of information and offering considerable decorative appeal.

This description borrows substantially, with permission, from Cohen & Taliaferro, Catalog 4, #36. Phillips, Maps of America, p. 225. Stephenson, Land Ownership Maps, #85. As of July 2015 OCLC lists institutional holdings at British Library (with an 1878 date), Cornell, Georgia Southern, Library of Congress, and University of Alabama. Additional impressions are held by the Georgia Historical Society, the Georgia Office of the Surveyor-General, and the University of Georgia (Hargrett Library). The Library of Congress mentions a variant issue of the map, the only apparent difference being text added in the lower margin.


Lined on verso, with a few repairs in margins, but very good.