Rare 1844 plan of Charleston South Carolina

W[illiam] Keenan, Plan of the CITY AND NECK OF CHARLESTON, S.C. REDUCED FROM AUTHENTIC DOCUMENTS & ENGRAVED BY W. KEENAN. [Charleston: W. Keenan?], Septr. 1844.
Separately-issued engraving, 19 3/8”h x 14 ¾”w at neat line plus margins.

An extremely rare antebellum plan of Charleston South Carolina, engraved and printed in the city.

This 1844 plan by Charleston engraver William Keenan depicts the city during a period of rapid development, with the population growing from some 29,000 in 1840 to nearly 43,000 in 1850. It depicts the street plan as well as the boundaries of the districts, or “boroughs;” identifies dozens of wharves; and shows important features of the urban infrastructure including the line of the South Carolina Railroad and the Mill Pond and mills along the Ashley River.

A legend at lower left identifies now fewer than 80 “Public Buildings,” including for example banks, quite a few fire companies and above all places of worship, and a small circular symbol indicates the locations of eight “fire wells.” The emphasis on fire prevention no doubt reflects the devastating fire of April 1838, which damaged more than 1000 buildings in the city. Other interesting features include the “Hebrew Orphan House” (#8), the “Hebrew Synagogue” on Hasel (now Hasell) between King and Meeting Streets (#55), and the “Hebrew Burial Ground” (#76). Charleston had had a large, prosperous, primarily Sephardic Jewish community since the early 18th century, which by 1800 had grown to no fewer than 2000, making it for a time the largest in North America. The synagogue is a landmark Greek Revival built in 1840 by the Sephardic congregation Beth Elohim and is still in use today.

David Rumsey writes of his copy that it is “Beautifully lithographed … so well done that at first it seems to be engraved.” Indeed, his example lacks a plate mark and does have the look of an early lithograph. However the impression offered here is unquestionably an engraving, with the plate mark clearly visible at a ¼” remove from the neat line.

Though a number of small maps of Charleston were issued earlier by Melish and others, this appears to be the first large-scale plan of the city published in the 19th century. It is also extraordinarily rare. I find no record of another impression having appeared on the antiquarian market since an 1890 auction and no confirmed institutional holdings—though surely one more reside in the city’s libraries and historical institutions (There is mention of one held in the South Carolina History Room of the Charleston County Public Library, but the catalog entry suggests it is a photocopy.)

According to Deak “William Keenan, the engraver, was born in Charleston around 1810 and worked in Philadelphia from 1830 to 1833. He is listed as an engraver in Charleston city directories from 1837 to 1859.” (Picturing America, vol. I p. 209) His most prominent production was The City of Charleston, So. Carolina (ca. 1837), a large aquatint view of the city printed in sepia and based on an original work by Charles Vignole. Reps locates Keenan in the mid-1850s at 250 King Street Corner of Hasel and cites him as the publisher of a set of four lithographic views of the city (Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, #3895-3898) He also engraved book illustrations, testimonial silver and medals.

Rumsey #3151. OCLC cites only the Rumsey example and a 1960 reproduction. Not in Phillips, Maps of America. Background on Keenan from Anna Wells Rutledge, Artists in the Life of Charleston, pp. 156-57.


Lifted from backing board and washed, with some mended cracks, reinstatement of small areas of paper loss, and some reconstruction of margins at top and right.