Scarce 1811 map of Philadelphia from Paxton’s Stranger’s Guide

Drawn under the direction of John A[dems] Paxton by Wm. Strickland / W. Harrison Sct. / Printed by C.P. Harrison, TO The Citizens of Philadelphia This New Plan of the City and its ENVIRONS, Taken from Actual Survey Is Respectfully Dedicated by their Humble Servt. John A. Paxton. Philadelphia: John A. Paxton, [1810/1811].
Engraving, 17 ¾”h X 19 ½”w plus margins, outline color. Wear along old folds, a few closed edge tears, and some soiling esp. toward edges. Lined on verso. Fair condition only.

A scarce plan of Philadelphia, originally issued in John Adems Paxton’s (The Stranger’s Guide.) An Alphabetical List of all the Wards, Streets, Roads, Lanes, Alleys, Avenues, Courts, Wharves, Ship Yards, Public Buildings &c. in the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia. 

This plan depicts the city in considerable detail, with streets, important buildings, parks &c numerically keyed to entries in the Stranger’s Guide (the Guide not present here). The Preface to the Guide describes it as “a new plan, more complete and useful than any heretofore published, and on a new principle.” According to the Snider Sale catalog,

“That “new principle” was the addition of uppercase and lowercase lettered references in the margins of the map and within the guide with which specific locations could be found by locating the intersection of the references. Paxton would later refer to this as his “Alphabetical Plan of Philadelphia.””

It is interesting to compare the map to the great maps of the city produced in the 1790s, such as that of A.P. Folie (1794), of which Paxton’s map may be an updated version. Penn’s original Philadelphia plan of the 1680s envisioned a city laid out on a grid pattern stretching from the Delaware to the Schuykill, and in fact a river-to-river street plan had long since been laid out. Defying Penn’s plan, however, development had in fact spread north and south along the banks of the Delaware rather than westward toward the Schuykill.

Publication History
Paxton registered copyright for his book, “An alphabetical list of all the streets, lanes, alleys, avenues, courts, wards, wharves, ship yards, public buildings &c. In the city and suburbs of Philadelphia, with references for finding their situations on Paxton’s alphabetical plan of Philadelphia and its Environs. By John Adems Paxton.” on May 15, 1810. However, the copyright claim makes no mention of a map.

Paxton’s scheme seems to have stalled so, at the start of August 1810, he entered into partnership with James Robinson, publisher of the standard annual Philadelphia directory of the inhabitants, with their addresses; presumably the two felt that pooling resources would advance the publication, with Paxton receiving assistance in completing his plan and listing and Robinson using the resultant plan in his Philadelphia directory, for 1811, (Embellished with a plan of the city & environs. By John A. Paxton.) …

The announcement noted that canvassing would begin in November, with publication scheduled for January 1811. In the event, a preliminary chapter of the directory is dated February 15, 1811.

With that encouragement, accordingly on August 25, 1810, Paxton announced,

“Alphabetical Plan of the City &c. JOHN A. PAXTON, TAKES this opportunity of returning thanks to his subscribers, informs them and the public generally, that his plan is in the hands of one of the first engravers, in a great state of forwardness: no pains nor expence will be spared to make it worthy the attention of the Citizens. …” (Philadelphia Democratic Press, August 25, 1810, page 3).

The plan was completed in 1811 – it bears the copyright date ‘Published as the Act directs, January 1, 1811’ outside the lower border, and the accompanying (The Stranger’s Guide.) An Alphabetical List was also completed that year. Although it is undated, and prints the original copyright from May 1810, there are at least two references to the situation in Philadelphia at the end of 1810 and one to 1811, the latter a comment “In the year 1811, we behold it [Philadelphia] rich and flourishing.” (p. 17).

In the preface, Paxton noted that existing plans of Philadelphia were not geared to finding the exact locations of places or throughfares, which this plan (with lettered border) and accompanying key booklet were meant to address.

Paxton claimed that he spent eight months compiling the plan and booklet, but also specifically thanked James Pearson and Reading Howell, city surveyors, and Robert Brooke, surveyor for the Northern Liberties, for their assistance.

He further claimed “In this new work, the citizen and stranger will find a ready guide to any part of the city or its environs” as it

“contains all the wards, streets, alleys, &c. &c. viz. 14 wards, 199 streets, 9 roads, 19 lanes, 151 alleys, 98 courts, 3 avenues, 130 wharves, 20 ship-yards, 46 places of public worship, besides 96 public and other buildings, and 45 burying grounds; being 75 streets, 5 roads, 8 lanes, 77 alleys, 59 courts, (public buildings, wharves, &c. in proportion) more than in any other plan or publication yet given to the public. In addition to the above, it contains 27 streets, 12 alleys, 2 avenues, and 1 court, that have names, which are laid out, but not yet opened.” (‘Preface, pages iii-v).

John Adems Paxton published guides and directories in Philadelphia for perhaps a decade before moving to St. Louis and New Orleans. During the 1820s he published directories for both cities, while his wife and a daughter died from plague in New Orleans in 1822, but little other biographical detail has been found.

Bloomsbury Auctions, Jay T. Snider Collection… November 19, 2008, #227 (illus.) Phillips, Maps of America, p. 703.