A rare, impressive and important map of Pennsylvania by John Adlum promoting the development of a statewide road and canal network. The intent was to position Philadelphia as a leading destination for the products of the interior while enriching speculators in “western” lands.
The end of the Revolutionary War, with the resultant economic dislocation and enormous debts incurred by the government, individual states and citizens, served to focus attention on the unexploited land in western New York and Pennsylvania. The region was ripe for settlement, and this was to prove an opportunity for wealthy investors to speculate, buying large parcels to be broken up, or resold as investment opportunities. The value of these lands depended, however, on “internal improvements”, that is, the construction of transportation links to connect them with coastal markets.
In Pennsylvania a major player in pushing for such improvements was the Society for Promoting the Improvement of Roads and Inland Navigation, established in 1789 with financier Robert Morris as President. In 1791 Morris submitted to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania a “Proposal and plan for carrying into immediate execution the improvement of roads and inland navigation”, writing
“The Society have directed an accurate geographical and hydrographical map to be compiled from actual surveys; exhibiting a general and compleat view of the roads and water communications, which are proposed to be improved, connecting them with the roads and water communications of the neighbouring states; and they have promoted a liberal subscription for the immediate publication of the same; considering that such a map will not only be highly useful to all persons who wish to gain a general knowledge of the situation of the country, and the various improvements of which the state of Pennsylvania is susceptible, but it will likewise be useful to the public, by directing their attention to the different parts of the state which are the objects of improvement, and bringing forward individuals, as well as companies, to promote and undertake the execution of the same. But as the subscriptions of the members of the Society alone may not be sufficient encouragement for the publication of a map of such an expensive nature, the Society beg leave to recommend the further encouragement of the same to the Legislature, and herewith have presented the original draft of the same to their inspection. …” (pp. 21-22).
Offered here is this very map, compiled and drawn by Pennsylvania surveyor John Adlum with the assistance of one John Wallis, and issued in 1791 or the following year.
It is worth noting that the Adlum map was one of two concurrent mapping projects, the other being Reading Howell’s four-sheet map of the state, published in 1792. Whereas the importance of the Adlum map was as a prospective document advocating for internal improvements, Howell’s map was a more traditional map of the state, suitable for a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental uses.
Adlum’s map extends from the southern shore of Lake Ontario to the northern part of the Delmarva Peninsula, and from the Hudson River Valley west to the western borders of Pennsylvania and Maryland. This coverage is hardly accidental, as it encompasses much of the region that could plausibly be economically bound to Philadelphia—rather than, say, to New York City or Baltimore—by a well-developed network of canals and roads. The choice of content is equally deliberate: rather than focusing on details of topography, the map emphasizes rivers, streams roads and canals (Existing roads are indicated by solid lines, proposed roads and canals by dotted lines.) Thus the map is almost entirely about envisioning a proposed transport network by which inland farmers could efficiently ship their produce to Philadelphia rather than other Eastern ports. Such transport links would serve to make the inland settlements viable, and enrich both Philadelphia merchants and land speculators.
One of the most appealing aspects of the map are the four engravings and explanatory text at lower left, depicting various aspects of canal construction and operation. I have not done a study of the subject, but these must be among the earliest such images published in the United States.
Perhaps the most aggressive proposal shown on the map is for a short canal linking the western branch of the Schuykill to a tributary of the Susquehanna. This would have had the effect of drawing to Philadelphia a great deal of commerce that otherwise would have found its way to the ports of the Chesapeake. Also of interest are the proposed canals across the neck of the Delmarva Peninsula, which would have linked Philadelphia more closely to Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington. The envisioned Delmarva canals reflect proposals shown on John Churchman’s map of the region (ca 1786), although these were never built; instead a canal was built to join the Back Creek and St. George’s River.
The map is also interesting for what it doesn’t show, in particular the Patowmack Canal long pursued by George Washington. As both a lifelong land speculator and national leader, Washington had an early understanding of the importance of the Ohio River Valley. After the end of the Revolutionary War, he was an active proponent of increasing transportation links into the interior, not only for the economic but also the political benefits that would accrue as citizens of the interior became more tightly bound to the population centers of the East. His initial plan, formalised with the founding of the Patowmack Company in 1785, was to make the Potomac navigable by building five canals to bypass obstructions in the river, notably the Great Falls. Construction of this phase began in 1785 but was only completed in 1802. The longer-term plan, never fully realized, was to extend a canal all the way to the Ohio. It seems plausible that Adlum (or more likely, the sponsors of the map) did not wish to acknowledge the existence of a rival canal project.
Adlum’s map was registered for copyright in 1791, with an announcement appearing on April 15 in Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser, but the actual publication date of the map remains uncertain. Thomas Dobson advertised the map as “just published” in 1794, “Exhibiting a general view of the Roads and Island Navigation of Pennsylvania and part of the adjacent states … Price two dollars and one half.” (Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser, February 23 1794) However the Princeton example has an ownership inscription of 1792, which provides a more reliable date.
John Adlum and John Wallis
The principal mapmaker was Pennsylvania native John Adlum (1759-1836), whose professional background and connections suited him well for the project. After service in the Continental Army during the Revolution, he settled in Maryland and turned to surveying. In 1789 he was employed to survey northwestern Pennsylvania, particularly the state boundary and the reserved tracts in the Erie Triangle. That completed he surveyed the Susquehanna River, and then in company with Benjamin Rittenhouse explored the Schuylkill river. In 1790 he surveyed the western branch of the Susquehanna, the Sinnemahoning and Allegheny Rivers, to establish whether a water route to Lake Erie could be found.
In between these official duties he was employed by individuals to make surveys of their lands; his clients included among others Robert Morris, Declaration signer James Wilson, and big-time land speculators Samuel Wallis and William Bingham. These relations clearly impinged on Adlum’s official duties: he used his official work as a screen to secure choice properties for his clients, particularly Bingham, and profited greatly from this. After service in the War of 1812 he retired to the life of a country gentleman, focussing particularly on the cultivation of grapes and winemaking on “The Vineyard”, a large property in Georgetown, District of Columbia. In 1823 he published A Memoir on the Cultivation of the Vine in America, the first American book on wine.
His partner in this survey was John Wallis, eldest son of the aforementioned Samuel Wallis (1736-1798). Samuel had built up substantial land holdings in western Pennsylvania and also worked on an ad-hoc basis as a land-surveyor, doing work for the Holland Land Company. Unfortunately, his son John is little more than a footnote in history; this is the only map by him traced.
Rarity and references
The map is rarely found in trade. RareBookHub lists only one example having appeared on the antiquarian market, sold by Bloomsbury Auctions in 2008 for $24,000, and Princeton purchased an example from a colleague in the past decade. Between OCLC, Wheat & Brun, and Google, I have found examples at fewer than 20 American institutions, though I suspect one or more of those listed are be facsimiles, reproductions or incomplete.
Bloomsbury Auctions, Jay T. Snider Collection (Nov. 19, 2008), lot 177. Evans, American Bibliography, #23104, claiming copyright filed Feb. 1791. Historical Maps of Pennsylvania, #1791.1. Phillips, Maps of America, p. 679. Wheat & Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #432 (recording institutional holdings at Boston Public, Clements Library, Library Company of Philadelphia, Library of Congress, New York Historical, and Yale). As of April 2020 OCLC adds under various accession numbers Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Kansas State Historical Society, Newberry Library, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Princeton, Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, and University of Texas-Arlington (one sheet only). Further examples are held by the American Philosophical Society, Holland Company Archives (five copies!), and Pennsylvania State Archives.