First General Land Office survey in the trans-Mississippi West

John Gardiner Ch[ie]f Cl[er]k Gen[era]l Land Office, MAP of the Northern part of Missouri Territory. Washington, D.C., [1818.]
Engraving on wove paper, 16”h x 18.5”w plus untrimmed margins retaining original deckle, uncolored. Minor soiling and staining and a bit of wear along central vertical fold.

A scarce and most important map of a portion of the Missouri Territory at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Most likely issued in 1818, it is one of the earliest maps issued by the General Land Office and the first printed map to record Land Office surveys west of the Mississippi.  

The map depicts most of what is now the state of Missouri as well as southwestern Illinois. Features of the natural geography are confined to the major rivers and their tributaries. The human geography more detailed, including native American villages, American settlements such as St. Louis, Cahokia and Kaskaskia, and Fort Jefferson at the juncture of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  Superimposed on all this is the familiar grid of ranges and townships laid out by the surveyors of the General Land Office.

At the north and west are shown “Indian Boundary” lines and the “Ozage” line, based on earlier treaties and all eventually the subject of much controversy. Of particular note are the newly-created Howard County (1816) and the “military bounty lands” in southwestern Illinois and north of the Missouri River. At the right of the image is a small inset map of a generic township divided into 36 mile-square sections and 144 quarter-sections. The inset is accompanied by text for indicating the exact parcel received.

The General Land Office (GLO) was established in 1812, taking over from the Treasury the responsibility for surveying, selling and granting western lands. Also in 1812 Congress had set aside large tracts of land in Arkansas, Illinois and Michigan as “bounty lands” to be awarded veterans in recognition of their service. The legislation had the dual virtues of limiting the government’s wartime cash expenditures while providing encouragement for western settlement following the anticipated victory against Great Britain. However the Michigan land was found unfit for cultivation, and in April 1816 Congress substituted additional land in Illinois and “five hundred thousand acres in the Missouri Territory, north of the river Missouri.”

The GLO survey of the Missouri Territory—the first public land survey in the trans-Mississippi West—began in late 1815 under the supervision of William Rector, the Principal Deputy Surveyor for the Missouri Territory. Following standard practice developed during the early public land surveys of the 1780s, the 5th Principal Meridian and a baseline were run from an initial point in the delta of the Arkansas River. Over the next few years, these lines were used as the basis for surveys of immense tracts west of the Mississippi and along the lower Missouri, including the aforementioned Missouri Territory tract dedicated to bounty lands. The results of that work can be seen on the present map as a familiar grid of ranges and townships.

Publication history
After numerous political and practical delays, on February 17, 1818 Congress passed an act authorizing the sale of the Missouri lands beginning in August of that year. An announcement of the sale appeared in the May 11, 1818 Baltimore Patriot and elsewhere, accompanied by a notice from GLO Commissioner Jonathan Meigs stating that “A map of the above Lands may be had (previous to the sales) at the General Land Office, and at the land offices in the Missouri territory. The map is now engraving for JOHN GARDINER. Chief Clerk, General Land Office.”

Gardiner was the chief clerk of the General Land Office during the War of 1812 and beyond, reporting to the first Commissioner Edward Tiffin and then to his successor Meigs. The wording of the announcement is ambiguous, but it is possible that in publishing the map Gardiner was acting on his own rather than as an employee of the GLO. This impression is reinforced by the absence of any mention on the map of Tiffin, Meigs or Principal Deputy Surveyor William Rector, which would have been expected for a government publication. Though nowadays it is shocking to think of a Federal employee privately publishing a critical map produced using government resources, at the time it was quite common. One need only think of Lewis and Clark’s famous map of the West, based on the findings of an expedition conducted under the auspices of President Jefferson but published privately in Philadelphia several years later.

Given the scarcity of the map today, it seems likely that it was distributed either in very small numbers or not at all. Either way, in late 1818 Gardiner made a failed attempt to sell it to Congress. In Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States we read that on December 7, 1818, “The Speaker laid before the House a letter from John Gardiner, enclosing a map of Alabama and of military bounty lands in Missouri, and stating that if Congress thinks proper to give to each soldier a map with his bounty land, he is willing to relinquish his impression on reasonable terms.” Apparently Congress took a pass, as the records for December 9 state that:

“Mr. Poindexter, from the committee on the Public Lands, made a report on the letter of John Gardiner… the resolution therein contained, was concurred in by the House, as follows: Resolved, That John Gardiner have leave to withdraw the letter addressed by him to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, with the accompanying documents.”

Gardiner’s name appears on several other early maps related to the surveys of public lands, including Map of the late surveys in the Northern [and Southern] district of the Alabama Territory (ca. 1818), Map of the Bounty Lands in Illinois Territory (ca. 1818) and a Map of the Military Bounty Lands in Arkansas Territory (ca. 1821). While the Illinois map appears with some frequency, the other two are also quite rare.

Karrow, Checklist of Printed Maps of the Middle West (Missouri), p. 137. OCLC # 44706350 and 773299244. Streeter #III:1841. Not in Phillips or Rumsey.