Exceptionally rare map of Maine by John Norman

John Norman, A New Map of the District of Maine. Taken From the Original Map Compiled by Osgood Carleton Esqr. From the Actual Surveys that were made by an Act of the General Court With Additions Corrections & Improvements. Boston: Published & Sold by J. Norman Engraver, [1799?]
Engraving on two joined sheets, 24.25” x 19.25” plus margins, period outline color to county boundaries.

An early, valuable and exceptionally rare map of Maine while still the “Eastern District” of Massachusetts, with the ownership inscription of renowned Maine mapmaker Moses Greenleaf.

The map by John Norman of Boston is a reduced edition of An Accurate Map of the District of Maine, which had been compiled by Osgood Carleton, engraved by Norman, and issued in 1799. That map was for its time by far the best depiction of the future state and had been intended as an official publication, though in the end never received the sanction of the legislature. Norman clearly based this reduced edition on the second state of the original, as indicated by the inclusion of “The Eastern Boundary Line of the United States,” an important detail lacking in the first state. This rendition was not however a slavish copy; while Norman faithfully reproduced the depiction of Maine, he extended the coverage to the East and added information of considerable value for the province of New Brunswick.

The map is a great rarity. We know of only two other examples, both in institutional collections, and find no record of examples appearing on the antiquarian market.

After the Revolution the states needed to produce accurate maps of their territories. Such maps were necessary for monitoring and stimulating settlement, commerce, and development of transportation networks; as well as for delineating public lands available for sale. With a weak Federal government unable to provide support and themselves short on cash, states had to come up with creative models for funding these labor-intensive projects.

Boston surveyor and map maker Osgood Carleton proposed an approach for Massachusetts and the District of Maine, which was enacted by the legislature in 1794:

“That the inhabitants of the several towns and districts in the Commonwealth… take or cause to be taken… accurate plans of their respective towns or districts, upon a scale of two hundred rods to an inch, and upon a survey hereafter actually to be made, or that has actually been made, within seven years next preceding this time…. (Resolves of the Massachusetts General Court, 1794, Chap. 101 (26 June, 1794))

In 1797 Carleton and Norman submitted a winning proposal to compile these surveys into comprehensive maps of Massachusetts and the District of Maine, engrave them on copper, and publish the result. In return for providing 400 impressions of each to the State, they were to receive a 14-year copyright.

The project unfortunately encountered numerous setbacks. Many towns were either tardy or noncompliant, and the submitted surveys were of uneven quality (Provincetown, for example, apparently submitted a “plan” consisting of nothing more than an outline of the town with no interior detail). Another issue was the poor quality of Norman’s engraving. He had trouble integrating the immense amount of information, and the resulting maps are in places so cluttered with information as to be almost illegible. Although Carleton and Norman were given an opportunity to produce revisions, the maps were ultimately rejected by the legislature.

Prior to the initial rejection, however, it seems that Norman had run off as many as 400 copies each of the maps before submitting proofs to the legislature for approval. Despite lacking official sanction, Norman began selling the maps, apparently in an attempt to recoup his investment. Carleton, meanwhile, was asked to re-draw the maps, this time working under the supervision of agents appointed by the General Court. They were eventually approved by the General Court, engraved by Joseph Callender and Samuel Hill, and printed in 1801.

Norman’s New Map of the District of Maine
Norman also soon issued the reduced-scale Maine map offered here, as well as one of Massachusetts (Wheat & Brun 223) though it is not clear whether he received Carleton’s blessing for the project. In any event, the result of his independent efforts was a more compact, if somewhat crowded, map than the original, containing essentially all of the same information though the coverage has been extended well into New Brunswick with important additions around the St. John River.

The map depicts Maine as very much a work in progress. Much of its territory-particularly that north of 45 degrees latitude-was at the time all but unexplored and is depicted as a vast, uncharted tract. Indeed, Norman has added a note reading “This River has not been surveyed” to the dotted line representing the supposed course of the west branch of the Penobscot River north of Moosehead Lake. This lack of knowledge is further evident at the Maine-Quebec boundary, which is shown as a vague line running south of and parallel to the St. Lawrence.

The unsettled character of Maine in this period is also evident in the patterns of land ownership. In the post-Revolutionary years Massachusetts treated its Maine lands as a cash cow, to be sold off as quickly as possible to raise funds for the cash-strapped government. The first major attempt was a largely unsuccessful plan in 1786 to sell by lottery 50 townships in Washington and Hancock Counties, though financier William Bingham stepped in and purchased almost 1,000,000 acres of the unsold land and another 1,000,000 acres in the western part of the District (Both parcels are shown on Norman’s map.) Other townships were sold scattershot, while quite a few were granted outright to educational institutions. One of the more interesting grants, consisting of Townships 2 and 3, Range 2 in Lincoln County, was given to the “Sufferers of Portland,” a reference to the burning of the town by the British in October 1775.

North of roughly 44˚30′ dozens of townships are shown on the map as unclaimed. Further, it appears that most of the townships that had changed hands were largely undeveloped. For example not a single road is shown in the million or so acres held by Bingham in Hancock and Washington Counties. Only the coastal towns from Penobscot Bay south and the southern tiers of York, Cumberland, Kennebec and Lincoln Counties show significant signs of settlement and development.

Additions in New Brunswick
Norman’s map represents far more of New Brunswick than the original on which it is based. In particular it depicts the entire course of the St. John River, including not only the upper portion of the river and its tributaries in Maine as shown by Carleton, but also the lower river, as well as the Madawaska River, an important tributary to the north. Norman’s map is also considerably more detailed, as he added various tributaries (most of which are named) as well as falls, rapids, a portage, an Indian village, and twelve post houses. The latter are significant as a representation of the important postal route from Quebec to Halifax established along the St. John by British-Canadian postal official Hugh Finlay in 1787.

Perhaps the most notable addition to the map is the first leg of that route, the post road from Rivière de Loup, near its confluence with the St. Lawrence, to Lake Timisquata–the source of the Madawaska River, evidently the first appearance of this road on any printed map. Interestingly, the next printed map to include this detail was Moses Greenleaf’s Map of the District of Maine (1815), where it is identified as “Post Route From Quebec to Halifax,” a feature Greenleaf likely derived from Norman’s map. Norman also added the locations of “Provincial Troops” on the east and west sides of the St. John, as well as a loyalist settlement downriver, reflecting lingering American anxiety about the proximity of their former colonial rulers and the unsettled state of the international boundary.

Moses Greenleaf (1777-1834)
The verso of the map bears the ownership inscription of renowned Maine mapmaker Moses Greenleaf and the date 1806. His Map of the District of Maine, a landmark in the mapping of the state, was published in 1815 and a second state, with the title changed to Map of the State of Maine, was published in 1820, the year that Maine achieved statehood. In 1829 he published a still larger state map, which was reissued several times through 1844. These maps neatly coincide with the period covering Maine’s movement toward statehood through to the final resolution of its present-day boundaries, and are thoroughly bound up with the formative stages of the state’s identity. His ownership inscription on the map offered here indicates that he acquired it some nine years prior to the publication of the first of these maps, and he doubtless studied it with care as he prepared to publish what was to be by far the most accurate map of Maine to date.

In all an exceptionally rare map, with an unusually appealing provenance.

Thompson, Printed Maps of the District and State of Maine, 1793-1860, #5 (AAS, Library of Congress and Clements Library, though both MIRLYN and OCLC indicate that the Clements holding is a photoreproduction); Wheat and Brun, Maps and Charts Published in America before 1800, #172 (AAS only). Much background from Danforth, “The First Official Maps of Maine and Massachusetts,” Imago Mundi 35 (1983): 37-57 and Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 89-94.


Horizontal crease across the lower third, other mild creasing throughout, mild stains and toning, mainly in margin, expert strengthening of weaker areas on verso using thin application of paper pulp. Some retouching to color.