A fine and very rare 1831 map depicting the human and natural geography of Dorchester and Milton, Massachusetts. Dorchester was founded just before Boston in 1630, was annexed to its northern neighbor in 1870, and is now an intensely diverse neighborhood of perhaps 100,000 residents. Milton was founded in 1662 on land ceded by Dorchester, has retained its autonomy, and is today a prosperous suburb featuring much open space including the Blue Hills Reservation.
This wonderful map provides an immensely detailed view of these intensely historic towns in the early 1800s. It depicts the their boundaries (including their shared border running down the middle of the Neponset River), the road network, and features of the natural topography (with symbols for woodlands and marshes, and shading employed to indicate areas of elevation). The large scale also enables it to identify by name landowners, churches and schools, and factories and mills along the Neponset, with the relevant symbols explained by a legend below the map. Of particular importance is the First Parish Church on Dorchester’s Meetinghouse Hill, which in 1633 was the site of America’s first town meeting an is today Boston’s oldest extant religious organization.
Also of interest is line of the Granite Railway, arguably the first commercial railroad in the United States. It began operation in 1826 for the conveyance of Quincy granite to a dock on the Neponset River, from whence it was shipped on to Charlestown for the construction of the Bunker Hill Monument.
This map was produced in response to a March 1, 1830 Resolve of the Massachusetts General Court (legislature) “that the inhabitants of the City of Boston, and the several towns and districts in the Commonwealth, be, and they hereby are, required to make, or cause to be made accurate plans of their respective towns or districts.” These plans were then to be compiled into a single coherent map of Massachusetts, which would guide tax assessments, infrastructure improvements &c.
The plans were required to be quite large scale (1 inch to 100 rods, or about 3 inches to the mile), indicate the length and bearing of town boundaries, and provide much information about cultural and economic resources such as meetinghouses, schools, mills, mines &c.
Hundreds of town plans were produced in manuscript and filed with the state between 1830 and 1835. They were then employed by Simeon Borden as the raw material in compiling his Topographical Map of the State of Massachusetts. The quality of the raw surveys was so mixed, however, that Borden was compelled to go back into the field to re-survey many areas, and his Topographical Map was not published until 1844. Many of the plans were also published in broadside format, often being reprinted for inclusion in early town histories.
The exact circumstances of publication are unclear, but it has been suggested that the state provided the towns a modest subsidy of $150 to defray the costs of dissemination. They were usually printed by one of the Boston lithographic printing establishments, most commonly Pendleton’s (as in the case of this map of Dorchester and Milton), with a substantial number printed by T. Moore’s Lithography and the firm of Senefelder. The print runs must have been small and primarily for local consumption, as these plans are generally quite scarce or downright rare.
Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston Published between 1600 and 1903, p. 101 (listing examples at the Massachusetts State Archives, Boston Engineering Department, Norfolk Registry of Deeds, Boston Public Library, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society). Not in Phillips, Rumsey or Antique Map Price Record. Other examples are held by Harvard and the Dorchester Athenaeum, and I know of one in a private collection in Milton.