An early and very rare large-format map of West Virginia

M. Wood White / Engraved & Printed by H.J. Toudy & Co. Philadelphia, WHITE’S COUNTY AND DISTRICT MAP OF THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA From the most recent Surveys & Authentic Sources. Grafton, W. Va: M. Wood White, 1875.
Lithograph, 37”h x 52”w at neat line plus margins, outline and wash color by county. Segmented and mount on linen, as issued, with marbled paper self covers. Minor wear and scattered water staining, quite faint and not immediately noticeable.

A fine, large-format map of West Virginia, published to promote investment in the years following the Civil War.

The map is exceptionally detailed, locating counties, towns, post offices, railroads, roads, rivers, lakes, mountains, and, not least, the coal deposits that formed the basis of the state’s economy.  The title block includes a fine image of the state seal, while the margins hold some interesting commercial adverts, not only for White’s map but also dealers in watches, “dry goods and notions,” and “all appliances to steam boilers and engines.”  A marginal note encourages West Virginia landowners to solicit White’s services as agent while pitching his services as a mapmaker:

“English Capital is now seeking investment in this State. Eastern Capital is now seeking investment in this State. M. Wood White the proprietor of this State Map of West Virginia, is now prepared to act as Agent for the sale of West Virginia land, being in direct communication with New York capitalists, whose attention is now directed towards the vast Coal, Iron, Mineral and Timber Lands of this State.  Send a description of land, give good title, name the price and the time it must be sold in. We are also prepared to publish sections of State Map, and locate lands by coloring each tract of land separate, and show the survey with the Coal, Minerals and Timber. Dealers in West Virginia lands, and those having lands to sell, will find it to their advantage to have their lands located on a correct map of the State.”

The map is quite rare, and I am aware of only two or three others having appeared on the antiquarian market. Examples changed hands at Swann in 2008 and Cowans in 2016, and I handled an example in 2016, acquired from an ABAA dealer but possibly one and the same as the Swann or Cowans copy. I have been able to locate just three institutional holdings of this edition and one of an 1877 edition.

After the chaos of the Civil War years, the late 1860s and early 1870s were a period of recovery and growth for the new state of West Virginia. Though this map was produced during the depression that followed the Panic of 1873, its size and content suggest an effort to portray the state as a structured and stable environment for outside investment, perhaps to counter lingering perceptions of it as a frontier or conflict zone. This reflects a common post-war strategy: Many parts of the South and regions like West Virginia sought Northern and foreign capital to help rebuild and modernize their economies. Promotional maps such as this were seen as an effective tool in this endeavor, emphasizing as they did the availability of natural resources, existing and planned transportation infrastructure, and an active market for land.

The map’s inclusion of coal deposits reflects perhaps the most significant aspect of West Virginia’s post-war development—the rise of the coal industry. The state’s vast coal reserves began to be heavily exploited during this period, spurred by the growing demand from the steel industry and other industrial sectors. This exploitation led to a population surge, with immigrants and workers from other states coming to West Virginia to work in the mines and related industries. Between 1870 and 1880 alone, the population grew by almost 40%, from 442,000 to 618,000, while coal production almost tripled.

The map’s detailed treatment of railroads, both existing and proposed, underscores the significant role that rail infrastructure played in the development of the coal industry. Already by 1857 the Baltimore & Ohio had been completed to Parkersburg on the Ohio River, but it was only in 1873 that the Chesapeake & Ohio line was completed in the state. These, along with other, future routes “proposed” on the map, connected West Virginia’s coal and timber resources to both the Ohio River and to eastern cities and ports.

M. Wood White
Searches in Google, Ancestry, and have yielded almost no biographical information on White… no dates of birth or death, and not even what the “M” stood for. Scraps of evidence from his maps and from a couple of contemporary news articles indicate that he worked as a surveyor, mapmaker and -publisher, and land agent.

White was responsible for a number of large-format maps of West Virginia. He compiled a huge six-sheet map of the state, Mitchell’s County and Township Map of the State of West Virginia, published in Philadelphia in 1872 by Samuel Augustus Mitchell. This earlier map is even more rare than the one offered here, and I have been unable to locate an image to compare the two. Then in 1873 White and Mitchell combined to publish White’s New County and District Atlas of the State of West Virginia, the maps drawn by William H. Gamble of Philadelphia. A printed note on the 1875 map offered here mentions a “pocket edition just from the press”, and I have also found records for a reduced-scale edition published in 1879.

I have found no advertisements or other information relating the publication of the 1875 map, but on Feb. 6, 1875 the West Virginia House of Delegates voted to “giv[e] to the Boards of Education of the various Districts of this State, power to purchase for use of the schools, White’s County and District Map of the State of West Virginia…” (Huntington Advertiser, Feb. 11, 1875, p. 2)

In all, an impressive map of the young State of West Virginia at an important moment in its post-Civil War development.

Phillips, Maps of America, p. 1068, listing the Library of Congress example. OCLC 948201324 records a single holding of this 1875 edition (Osher Map Library). A third example of the 1875 edition is held at the National Archives. OCLC 557920952 records an 1877 edition, held only by the British Library. Not in Rumsey.