The first official state map of South Carolina… “One of our best and most scientific maps” (Henry Tanner)

John Wilson, A MAP OF SOUTH CAROLINA, Constructed and Drawn from the DISTRICT SURVEYS, Ordered by the Legislature: BY John Wilson, Late Civil & Military Engineer of So: Car[olin]a: The Astronomical Observations by Professor GEO: BLACKBURN & I.M. ELFORD. Henry Schenk Tanner, Philadelphia, for John Wilson [and the Board of Public Works], Charleston, 1822
Engraving on four sheets joined, 44”h x 57”w at neat line plus margins, outline color. Generally toned, with some areas of discoloration. A couple of long horizontal cracks on the left side and some losses to image and blank margins reinstated in facsimile.

John Wilson’s monumental 1822 map of South Carolina, the first official map of the state and the first significant remapping of the state since before the Revolutionary War.

Printed on four sheets, this very large wall map delineates county. judicial district and parish boundaries; along with roads, waterways and canals (including two sections of the Catawba Canal in the far north, the Wateree Canal, the Santee Canal (Cooper River) and the Winyah Canal (Winyah Bay to the Santee River). A variety of symbols indicate marshes and swampy areas, meeting houses, post offices, mills, residences and even historic battle sites. At lower left is a large inset of Charleston and its harbor, including a considerable amount of information about the area’s fortifications.

The map was prepared between 1816 and 1822 by a large (and ever-changing) group of surveyors working on the orders of the South Carolina Assembly. Each was tasked with the mapping a district or region of the state; indeed, the 28 district maps eventually published were signed by no fewer than 20 different surveyors. The individual maps were then to be brought together and compiled into a single map; originally this role was performed by George Blackburn, who was replaced by one Edouard Paguenaud, who in turn was replaced by John Wilson, the man who ultimately brought the State map to completion. The individual surveys also formed the basis of Robert Mills’ 1825 Atlas of the State of South Carolina.

A Map of South Carolina represents a remarkable achievement by the individuals concerned. The wall map and the state atlas both evolved from the wish of the South Carolina government to have a modern and accurate surveys of its extent, coupled with the recognition that such a large-scale mapping project was only feasible with state sponsorship. Broadly speaking, this model of state-sponsored mapmaking had already been tested, with varying degrees of success, in Vermont (1796), Maine and Massachusetts (1801), New York (1802), Virginia (1807), North Carolina 1807, Connecticut (1811), and New Hampshire (1816). Even a quick comparison with the previous map of record, the so-called “Mouzon Map” of 1775, reveals that this official map represented an enormous advance in cartographic knowledge of the state.

The surveying of South Carolina (1816-1822)
The South Carolina mapping project was the brainchild of the South Carolina surveyor George Blackburn, who originally approached the South Carolina Assembly in 1815, submitting a memorial to propose the state undertake the survey. The sub-committee convened to discuss the plan responded favorably, and the proposal was submitted to the Senate on December 12, 1815 and the House of Representatives the following day. Both supported the proposal and agreed to an appropriation of $5000 a year for three years. The Governor, Andrew Pickens, appointed Blackburn to head the project.

By 1820/1821, individual district maps – Union, Lexington, York, Newberry and Fairfield Districts – were beginning to be completed and published in Charleston. Around this time Blackburn was replaced by Paguenaud, and the Assembly somewhat revised the terms of the project:

“For the engraving and publishing the map of the State, and for the balance due on contract to E. Paguenaud, for compiling the same, twenty-one thousand dollars, if so much be necessary.


“And it shall be the duty of the Board of Public Works, as soon as the said map is engraved and struck off, to reserve, for the use of the State, fifty copies; and after sufficient notice given in one or more of the Gazettes in Charleston, to sell the copy right in the said map to the highest bidder, and to report their proceedings to the Legislature, at the next session.” (December 20, 1820)

Paguenaud worked quickly, and already in early 1821 the following announcement appeared:

“MAP OF THE STATE. E. PAGUENAUD has completed the drawing of the Map of this state, on the scale of six miles to an inch, executed by order of the Legislature. The Map, for its accuracy and elegance of execution, reflects the highest credit on the talents and skill of the artist. We congratulate the public on the completion of this work, which has long been a desideratum. It has been compiled from minute and separate surveys of each district of the state, made with great care and exactness, and is therefore, for its entire correctness, to be fully relied upon. — Patriot.” (Charleston Courier, March 16, 1821)

However, this moment of apparent triumph is also the last record of Paguenaud’s involvement. Though Paguenaud did complete and publish three undated maps—York District, Fairfield County and Union District—oversight of the project passed to John Wilson. Indeed, it is unclear what, if any, relation, Wilson’s finished map bears to Paguenaud’s manuscript; although a subsequent newspaper announcement suggests that the map was rejected by the Board of Works, as defective in parts, ordering that Sumter District be resurveyed.

The engraving of the map was originally given to Charleston engravers James Wood, Charles Cushing Wright and Daniel D. Smith, but they either resigned from the project or removed. Ultimatley it was engraved by Philadelphian Henry Schenck Tanner, then the most significant single figure in American cartographic publishing. In a “Memoir” published to accompany his 1829 Map of the United States, Tanner noted that “Wilson’s map is decidedly one of our best and most scientific maps” (Reps, p. 128).

The completed map was advertised in the Charleston Courier for July 24, 1822.

“Map of the state. Just Published, AND for sale at the Book store of JAMES R. SCHENK, Agent, A Map of the State of South Carolina, drawn and constructed from the District Surveys, ordered by the Legislature, By JOHN WILSON.


“It is handsomely mounted colored and varnished. Price $10 each.


“This Map was originally compiled by Mr. Pagueaud, from the District Surveys, as they were given in to the Executive, since which the board of Public Works caused a new survey to be made of one of the upper districts, and a revision and correction of the others; from these and other materials, the present Map has been re-drafted, and is now presented to the public neatly engraved by Mr. H.S. Tanner, of Philadelphia.” (page 3).

As was often the case in these early state mapping projects, the cost had soared from an original projection of about $15,000 to more than $90,000.[4] Unfortunately, sales were also poor, and the State made increasingly desperate attempts to recoup money from the unsold stock, offering the map through agents for $5 and then $4.50 in 1830 and then for $4 in 1831. Indeed, the majority of examples of the map seen for sale are actually uncirculated unsold examples, in original colour, uncut in sheets, found in storage in the late twentieth century and put out to the market.

The example offered here is unusual for having been joined, colored and mounted as a wall map. The verso bears a presentation inscription from “John Haslett, Esq. of Charleston S.C. March 24, 1823”.

John Wilson
John Wilson (1789-1833) was born in Stirling, Scotland, into an army family. His father, also John Wilson, was present at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780, where he was badly wounded, while serving as an officer of engineers with the British besiegers. The younger John emigrated to the U. S. and, on the outbreak of the War of 1812, volunteered for the American forces, and was employed as an officer of engineers engaged on fortifying Charleston, in case of attack.

In recognition of his service, at the end of the war he was promoted Major in the Topographical Corps, but he chose to pursue a career in private practice, in 1818 appointed Civil and Military Engineer of South Carolina, but he held this post for only a couple of years before returning to private practice, to supervise the survey work, as an Agent of the Board of Public Works.

In all, a remarkable accomplishment reflecting the contributions of many men operating in difficult circumstances, and a monument in the mapping of South Carolina.

John Reps, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 126-128.