The Ebeling – Sotzmann map of Vermont

D[aniel] F[riedrich] Sotzmann [and Christoph Ebeling] / P. Schmidt Sculp., VERMONT entworfen von D.F. Sotzmann. Hamburg: Carl Ernst Bohn, 1796.
Engraving, 26 ¾”h x 18 1/8” w at neat line plus margins, original wash and outline color. About excellent, with minor soiling and edge war.

The finest 18th–century map of Vermont, compiled by D.F. Sotzmann and Christoph Ebeling, two German geographers who never visited America.

This lovely map depicts considerable detail of the state’s natural geography, including lakes, rivers, streams, and even waterfalls, as well as the Green Mountains and lesser areas of elevation. Political boundaries are shown, with state, county and township limites differentiated by varying widths of dotted line. There is also much information on the human geography, including roads; industrial establishments such as grist mills, saw mills, and iron works; public edifices such as meeting houses and forts; and even the names of hundreds of individual landowners.

Ebeling maintained a correspondence with leading lights of American science, who provided the source material, both printed and manuscript, that Sotzmann sifted, compiled and reconciled with a highly critical eye. Thus, as with all of the Ebeling-Sotzmann maps, Vermont is a fusion of the best-available sources. Two can be identified with near certainty: The treatment of streams and rivers is based closely on that on William Blodget’s unobtainably rare Topographical Map of the State of Vermont (1789); whle the toponymy and town and county boundaries were obtained from Vermont Surveyor General James Whitelaw, either directly or via drafts of his Correct Map of the State of Vermont, which like Sotzmann’s map was published in 1796 (For example, the depiction of Franklin, Orleans, Caledonia and Essex Counties closely follows that of Whitelaw.) What remains a mystery, however, is Sotzmann’s treatment of Vermont’s mountainous topography, which bears absolutely no resemblance to that of either Blodget or Whitelaw. Whether Whitelaw provided Ebeling with information that didn’t appear on his published map, or the latter had some other source, I cannot say.

Ebeling, Sotzmann and the Erdbeschreibung
This map was intended for a planned atlas to accompany Christoph Daniel Ebeling’s Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika, a magisterial study of the geography and history of the new United States. Ebeling (1741-1817) was a Hamburg academic with a general interest in free states, which interest lead him to a decades-long fascination with America and ultimately to conceive the Erdbeschreibung project. To this end he carried on a voluminous correspondence with leading Americans, who supplied him among other things with the most up-to-date American maps available. His map library eventually made its way back to America, where it was purchased by a Boston collector and eventually became the nucleus of the Harvard Map Collection.

To produce the maps Ebeling commissioned Daniel Friedrich Sotzmann (1754-1840), Geographer of the Berlin Academy. Ristow, summarizing the assessment of scholar Wolfgang Scharfe, describes Sotzmann as one “of the most distinguished cartographers in the German-speaking countries in the early years of the nineteenth century” (p. 177). The atlas was to contain 18 plates, including 16 of the individual states. Unfortunately neither the narrative nor the atlas were fully realized, perhaps because of Ebeling’s advancing years and (in his view) a lack of sufficiently accurate source material, particularly for the southern states and the newly-admitted states west of the Appalachians. In all, seven volumes of the Erdbeschreibung were issued between 1793 and 1816, while ten maps were completed: [I?] Vermont (though numbered XVI), 1796; II. New Hampshire, 1796; III. Massachusetts, undated; IV. Maine, 1798; V. Rhode Island, 1797; VI. Connecticut, 1796; VII. New York, 1799; VIII. New Jersey, 1797; IX. Pennsylvania, 1797; X. Maryland and Delaware, 1797. (According to William Coolidge Lane, in Letters of Christoph Daniel Ebeling…: “Apparently Virignia was never engraved. Later letters show that Ebeling found difficulty in getting the material.”) With the odd exceptions of the New Jersey and Rhode Island maps, all of these maps are now scarce, while some (such as Maryland) are extremely rare, and few institutions possess full sets.

Brown and Ristow differ considerably on Ebeling and Sotzmann’s respective roles in compiling the state maps, with Brown arguing for Ebeling as the prime mover and Ristow favoring Sotzmann. We favor the Sotzmann attribution—his name is on the maps, after all!—but whatever their relative contributions, they developed the state maps by sifting, compiling and reconciling the source maps in Ebeling’s collection with a highly critical eye. The result is a set of maps that, while in some sense derivative of American sources, were for a time—and in some cases a long time—the best available of their kind.

Rarity and references
The map is quite scarce on the market. Rare Book lists a single example, sold by Sothebys for 770 Pounds in 1986; Antique Map Price Record adds another, sold by Old World for $5600 in 2005, and I have offered two in the past decade. Yet another was included in a Sotzmann atlas that changed hands at the Miami Map Fair more than a decade ago. I walked right by that volume, which was innocuously bound in green paper over boards, a “miss” that remains one of my great regrets as a dealer.

Cobb, Vermont, #124; Graffagnino, Shaping of Vermont, #17 (and #4 in accompanying portfolio); Phillips, p.247. Rumsey #2746.005. Background from Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp.169-178. Background on Sotzmann’s maps from Ralph H. Brown, “Early Maps of the United States: The Ebeling-Sotzmann Maps of the Northern Seaboard States,” in Geographical Review, vol. 30 no. 3 (Jul. 1940), pp. 471-479, and also Walter Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp.169-178.